CEO has vague feature requests, gets frustrated nobody understands him

How do I handle this? He has a very vague feature request and I’ve presented him multiple options, with diagrams and descriptions and he gets frustrated I don’t “get” what he wants. I’ve asked him to write down his ideas, since I’m not a mind reader and he says he will but he hasn’t. Instead he goes behind my back and re explains his ideas to the UX team, who quite frankly are junior and don’t understand the CEO either but want to please him.

I’m getting close to my wits end and am looking for a new job currently, but in the interim how can I better handle this scenario?

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Oh you poor soul. I have this issue with our CEO (just joined 3 months ago), but I’m VP of Product so at least I have a fighting chance of coaching him. Get out. A CEO should never tell the team what to build. Leadership should set the strategy and the goals. The scrum team (mainly PM, UX Designer, Researcher) figure out what solutions to build.

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Super keen to hear peoples feedback on this. I was in a similar position and in the end decided to move. In my case it was a PM manager who was unclear on asks. One thing I found was - trying to clarify does not work. In fact it made the situation worse ! I defaulted to agreeing in vague terms which seemed to pacify him and reduce the amount of stress I was personally under but yeah , not a great work environment this my decision to leave.

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I feel the exact same way. I’m highly paid, and this is what kept me in my role for this long. Regardless, I’m kind of at my wits end. The UX team doesn’t seem to respect my opinion anymore, as the CEO has taken such a liking to spending time with them to tell them his vision - which being in the software space, is so highly technical - the UX team has no idea what the hell he’s talking about and how to execute on it, so they flounder. They come to me and ask me how they’re supposed to do it, and I’m kind of running out of answers at this point. I’ve had conversations with the CEO before about this kind of behaviour, as it goes over my head, and it doesn’t inspire confidence in myself or my ability to command the team and their attention if hes’ going to swoop in and throw me under the bus implicitly. It sucks because I’ve been a part of this org for over 2 years and we’ve built this product from the ground up from nothing. I guess it’s just time to move on. I kind of feel like the CEO has his own personal complexes he needs to work through before he’s ready to command a real world class product org.

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It looks more pivot in product strategy or product-market fit. Maybe CEO is not able to articulate why this different feature is better for the long-term than existing keystone customers. I take the approach of trying my best to convince the CEO of my approach, but in the end, the CEO gets to decide in the end. My job is to make the best out of it. Either I put up with it as best as I can. If its an ongoing thing, then time to bail out.

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He shouldn’t be making feature requests, he should be telling your team what outcomes he’s looking for or problems that need solving and letting y’all figure out how to do that. Your job is to listen to his requests to clarify exactly why he’s making this request, and then be a broken record and remind him that your team’s job is to solve problems and his job is to set goals for the company. Sitting down with him and making a RACI chart of the product development process can help in these situations to show him where his responsibilities end and your’s and your teams’ begin. From the sound of it I think you’re doing the right thing by looking for a new job, and this may not work, but do your best and it’ll be a good story for when your interviewer asks about how you handle difficult stakeholders.

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See if he can describe what problem he is trying to solve and why it is important to him and the business. What he really cares about solving the problem, so that gives you the space hopefully to come up with concepts with the team, including the one he is pushing. If he can’t explain what problem he’s trying to solve and just wants you to build it, then that’s a different issue altogether and you need your VP product to help guide him to a different way of approaching things (or you can try yourself).

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I agree with Naominwosu. I would not take your first discussion with the CEO on a feature idea and then work up a bunch of mocks or diagrams with the UX team… it sounds like there is a bit of a communication problem between you and the CEO. I would start first with understanding the outcome the CEO wants from the feature (or what problem is being solved), then make sure you can tell a user story or journey back to the CEO that he agrees with.

Also a little advice: In most instances I do not find it helpful to ask anybody to document what they want. If they cannot articulate to anybody verbally what they want and why they want it, no amount of writing will help the situation. Teasing out the intent behind the ask is a key skill most product managers need to have.

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This! A lot of us have heard of Amazon’s model of writing long briefs before meetings and using the meeting time to read the document together as a team. This all sounds good but it requires a high level of clarity to put your thoughts in words. This requires the CEO to lead the charge in setting up a culture of thoughtful use of people’s time. @jesusrojas it doesn’t seem like your CEO is building that kind of a culture so it is good to focus on what Naomi and Ross have mentioned – what is the problem we are trying to solve? Agree on that and then move forward.

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