HIPPOS - a hippo with its head half underwater

One of the hardest parts of product management is saying no and it’s related quite closely to stakeholder management and prioritisation.

In our VFQ Prioritisation book, we introduce 9 different techniques that are commonly used. One is affectionately known as HIPPO. That is HIghest Paid Persons Opinion. This technique comes into play a lot in big and small companies. It’s not always about how highly paid, but where someone sits in the hierarchy of decision making. The challenge is that there is often quite a bit of distance between the understanding of these sorts of stakeholders, the work and the product direction.

The HIPPO, in some cases, might be better described as:

  • The Loudest Stakeholder – this is the squeaky wheel that never gives up or tries to represent everyone else’s point of view. They may never go away. You do something to please them just for a quiet life.
  • The Largest Current Customer – this is either the customer themselves or a representative of the largest current opportunity you have. They may represent the current product position, but not the future roadmap. Often this type of stakeholder can dominate backlogs because of their current importance. But, remember, there are potentially bigger customers in the future if you can build the right product!
  • The Boss – this is actually the current Product Owner or Team Leader who is controlling the work going in or out of the development team. The positional power allows control of the priorities and directions.

In many organisations, all of these factors are at play at once. As a Product Manager, there needs to be a way of managing this approach and enabling a team to focus on building the product according to the strategy, satisfying opportunities that exist, running the right experiments and getting the best feedback possible. The best ways to do this are:

  1. Have a structured, visible approach to work intake, prioritisation mechanisms and demonstrations.
  2. Have a value model that ensures you’re really focused on the most valuable items.
  3. Develop KPIs that allow you to ask questions as to whether the focus will indeed make the desired improvements. If it does, great. If it doesn’t you have a basis for rejecting work.
  4. Have a plan or roadmap that describes where you’re heading.


Do you have an approach to deal with different type of work requests that can be explained to stakeholders that keeps you on track?