Doing feature or product prioritization is no joke. Most product managers believe that product prioritization is more of an art than science.
To prioritize a product you’d first have to align internal stakeholders and executives around your short-term goals, but also have to sell them on how this aligns with the overall product strategy. Convey how some of the things you’re doing now might unblock future feature development. Next, explain why you’re dealing with some tech debt now vs. later. On top of that, you’d have to accommodate requests from customers. And also whilst juggling everything, you’d also have to keep all the customer-facing teams happy.
That’s a lot of things as a product manager you’d have to keep track of. I don’t blame them for thinking it’s an art. Without proper systems, when they’re winging it, it sure feels that way.
The problem is they’re trying to draw a straight line without using a ruler. Sure, you can and you probably would draw a straight line 7 out of 10 lines, but the truth is they’re just winging it. What they need is to invest their time in learning to use a ruler and using it to draw lines.
In product management, rulers are prioritization frameworks that help you make the finer decisions.
But first, before we start talking about all the jazzy frameworks and how you can use them to prioritize features for your product, here’s what you should avoid doing.
Avoid these 4 feature prioritization mistakes
- Loudest stakeholder first: This often is the biggest culprit of bad product prioritization. You try to please the loudest and ignorant customer, or the highest-paying customer, or the stakeholder who think they know where the ship should sail. In all these cases, you’re making a decision based on the sheer angst they cause you. A bad apple spoils the bunch. For example, you get an email from a customer who wants to solve their problem in a certain way
- Feature factory: You’re entering a really competitive market, where existing incumbents have a full-fledged product and tons of features. You’re given the helm of this ship, where do you choose to steer? Chances are you’ll pick the feature parity lane because why not. It’s the no-risk zone but can mess up your whole positioning.
- Trend chaser: You try to keep up with all the next technological advances and bring them to your team –– at the cost of poor strategy. You get easily persuaded by the team of devs who just want to do another rewrite. It happens more often than not when you don’t have a strategy.
- Building for yourself: One of the things most founders do when they’re trying to solve their own problem is to build a product they know does exactly that. It’s not only effective but a clear strategy in the early days. But as your startup grows, you have customers and internal stakeholders, and this strategy where you’re just intuition-driven falls flat on the face. You get confused between must-haves vs good-to-haves and can lead to down the rabbit hole if you’re not listening to your users constantly.
Now that we have a clear understanding of what you shouldn’t do, we can move to greener pastures and actually decipher how can we prioritize features like a pro.
The Urgent vs. Important Matrix
It’s one of the most popular product prioritization strategies that help you decide on the real priority of each task.
Here, all you need to do is write down your product objectives, including what goals the company has and what you need to do to achieve those objectives. You can update these objectives monthly, quarterly, or yearly.
Now, create a matrix and label the Y-axis as Important and label the X-axis as Urgent. It should now consist of 4 quadrants that break down your tasks according to two parameters: level of urgency and level of importance.
Quadrant #1 - Do
These are the pressing tasks that need your team’s attention and time now. They’re both urgent and important. If certain tasks are grouped in this quadrant, they should absolutely be scheduled on your sprint.
Quadrant #2 - Schedule
These are the tasks that are not urgent at the moment, but very important to get done. For example, writing an email to get product feedback from a customer. Not urgent, you can delay it inevitably, but it’s very important to get useful insights.
Quadrant #3 - Delegate
These are the tasks that are urgent but not important enough for your team to do. Few tasks will ever fall into this quadrant, but if they do, try to delegate as much as possible.
Quadrant #4 - Eliminate
Busy work with no clear impact on the company’s goals and/or your objectives. These tasks are neither important nor urgent, eliminate them from your backlog.
Value Vs. Effort matrix
Value versus effort is a prioritizing model where you can ask your team to assign each feature with a value and a measure of effort. The value, in this case, is the revenue potential of the feature, and the measure of effort would be the amount of time it takes to achieve that feature.
Thanks to the value versus effort method, your team can identify which feature is going to make a bigger impact on your audience and what it’s going to cost the company. Moreover, if you combine this with the important/urgent matrix, you can reduce the risk of doing the grunt work.
There’s a small downside to this method, and it is that your team must make a thorough research to determine what a feature’s value truly is. Some teams may under or overestimate a feature’s value, causing problems down the line.
How to best measure value?
When considering value, you should run it through the mental model of how much does it align with your business goals and objectives. How much value can it add to your customers? Here’s what you need to thoroughly consider:
Business value - Your business runs on KPIs and OKRs, and all your decisions should be based on how much value it drives to those objectives. For example, your business might have objectives like reducing churn or increase the click-through rate, etc.
Customer value - Your customers are the biggest stakeholders in your business. You should consider their pain points and how far it goes to reduce them. Or have they requested this feature on your feature voting board?
How to best measure effort?
You try to measure the amount of effort required to perform this task. Most product teams try to use a “story point” based system or the number of hours it will require is predecided by the collaboration of the team during the start of the sprint. You must consider developer hours, costs of external services, and risks to external stakeholders.
Pros of Value vs Effort Matrix
- Super intuitive to use and implement team-wide
- Extremely flexible without wasting a lot of hours
- Can be utilized by any product team
- Clear prioritization can help you easily get buy-in from stakeholders.
Cons of Value vs Effort matrix
- Sometimes teams underestimate the effort required which may lead to spillovers across sprints
- Harder to adopt in big organizations with large pipeline harder to adopt
The Kano model is another effective prioritization framework you can use for your team. Overall, it focuses on prioritizing features based on their likelihood to delight customer. In essence, the primary difference between this model and others is that this one uses a “Value vs. Satisfaction” graph. You view each potential feature through the lens of customer delight.
It’s a bit complicated than the other prioritization methods but it’s well worth it since it can help you uncover some amazing insights when you’re stuck.
You can classify your product’s new features based on the following three categories and emotional responses:
- Basic Features - The basic features are the foundation of your product, and they’re what the customer typically expects from it. Not having the foundation inplace is dissatisfying. If you’re missing the key pieces in your product, schedule them as soon as possible.
- Attractive Features - These features trigger feelings of satisfaction and delight, but users are not dissatisfied if the feature is not included. These features fall more in what they don’t know they need yet bucket.
- Performance Features - These features result in delight if they’re present and dissatisfaction when they’re not.
- Unattractive features - There are also a few features that can make your product super complex and overall undesirable. Avoid these at all costs.
The Kano model is one of the best ones you can implement since it’s simple to understand and implement.
You may know this model as ‘opportunity scoring’ or ‘opportunity analysis.’ Here, you’re going to use a ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Importance’ graph to measure your opportunities for a particular feature.
In essence, you can come up with a list of ideal outcomes for your product’s features and then ask users for their feedback. Once you’re done, you’re going to end up with a list of the features that matter the most to your users but have low satisfaction scores.
The features with these ranks are the ones that you must prioritize. Opportunity scoring is a great way of identifying solutions to ongoing problems, and it may be easy to use for most people.
Opportunity mapping is designed to identify and capture emerging business opportunities and provides clarity on where and how to allocate resources. For a business to implement this method, they begin by identifying and assessing potential projects, providers, and ideas before they implement them, thus minimizing potential wasted resources.
In the case of weighted scoring, your team is going to rank tasks, ideas, or projects numerically. Overall, all you have to do is assign a number to score your ideas, rank them, and choose which features to prioritize based on the list you ended up with. Initiatives are scored and then ranked by their scores
The weighted scoring method is perfect for companies who want an easier approach to prioritizing features since it’s easy to customize. Still, it’s important to note that the scores may be subjective to each team member’s ideas.
The overarching goal of this model is to derive an objective value for each item on the list. So you can then determine which items should be prioritized.
Pros of Weighted Scoring
- Easily align your initiatives to company objectives
- Different product teams can collaborate more effectively
Cons of Weighted Scoring
- Scoring can get biased With this model, scoring may be biased
- Since weights are assigned by team, it’s very subjective
- A tad harder to implement in bigger organizations
The MoSCow Method
MoSCow stands for “Must-Have, Should-Have, Could-Have, and Won’t Have.” Generally speaking, this method allows you to classify your features into four priority themes, which are:
- Must-Have: Features that need to be present from the beginning for the product to work.
- Should-Have: Features that aren’t necessarily urgent to have but are still important to get done.
- Could-Have: Features that aren’t urgent nor important but may still be a nice addition to the product in general.
- Won’t-Have: Features that aren’t necessary at the moment and may be considered for future releases.
The MoSCow method is highly dynamic, and it can help your team come up with a solution in a short period.
Pros of MoSCoW method:
- Customer needs are always put on top
- Facilitates collaboration between team
- Highly intuitive since premise is very straightforward
- Simple to implement in new product teams
Cons of MoSCoW method:
- The pecking order starts from “must-have” and can cause spillage of “should-have” and “could-have”
- Urgency is not accounted for in the order.
This method was created by Bruce Hollman, and it consists of shaping the product in a way that matches the customer outcomes that provide the highest value to the company.
In essence, you must draw a tree with big branches. The trunk of the tree represents the features of your product. On the other hand, the outermost branches represent future features, and the rest represents unavailable features at the moment.
You can ask users to write some potential features they may want in your product, and these ideas are going to be represented as the tree’s leaves. This allows you to identify the most vital features to prioritize in a fun and more graphic way.
The RICE framework allows you to measure your features against four factors:
Reach: How many people the feature may affect within a specified period.
Impact: How much the feature is going to impact individual users.
Confidence: How confident the company is about the feature’s impact and reach scores.
Effort: How much time the company is going to need to invest in the feature.
Overall, you’re going to turn these individual scores into a general one using a pre-established formula, which helps the company prioritize everything better.
RICE is a scoring system developed by the Intercom team to help prioritize ideas on your product roadmap. RICE invites teams to think about their priorities by firmly considering available resources, audience, and return on investment. Moreover, RICE is an acronym for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort, where each factor is assigned a score to determine what would involve the most effort, reach the most people, have the most impact, and how confident we feel about all of this.
To calculate your RICE score: (Reach * Impact * Confidence) / Effort = RICE Score
Pros of using the RICE method:
- Before you quantify your initiatives, you must convert the product metrics into SMART ones. This means your product metrics should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound because RICE heavily relies on a different metrics to be accurately evaluated.
- RICE method helps you bring the entire team to a consensus since it requires estimation effort, impact analysis, etc. to be determined before development begins.
- It also helps you remove biases from your prioritization since each initiative is put under a microscope by the team and evaluated objectively without any speculations. Inherent bias by one team member doesn’t let the initiative get affected.
Cons of using the RICE method:
- Quite complex to calculate without specialized spreadsheets or software to facilitate the scoring.
- Assumes your product team is already using SMART metrics.
- There is a learning curve with this method, which can require you to give explanations and do trial runs with your team.
- Each developer has a different confidence level for doing a task, so it can become quite burdensome.
- Hard to easily answer the question: “What should we build next?”
ICE stands for “Impact, Confidence, and Ease.”
Overall, your goal is to assign a numerical score to your features based on their value according to these three parameters.
You may rank these features from one to 10 in each category and multiply those values together to get the features’ ICE score. In essence, “Impact” represents how much impact the feature is going to have according to the objectives. “Confidence” refers to the certainty the company has that the feature is going to have the predicted impact.
Finally, “Ease” refers to how easy or complicated reaching the objective is going to be.
Feature voting allows your customers (or team) to vote for the features they care the most about. You can easily use a tool like Rapidr to create a roadmap, capture feature requests, and collect upvotes.
Pros of using Feature voting:
- Features that customers vote will not take into account wider aims like profitability, time to develop, etc.
- It’s an easy way to get your customers involved and make them feel valued.
Cons of using Feature voting:
- Reviewing the feedback can be quite time-consuming.
- For smaller businesses, it may result in low voter turnout.
Story mapping is one of the most popular product features prioritization models out there. Here, you’ll need to map out your product’s standard “usage” process for the user, such as signing up/purchasing, testing it, etc.
Once you’re done with that process, you must write a detailed overview of all the steps a user must take in these stages. Finally, your team may go over these tasks and arrange them in order of importance.
The best thing about the story mapping process is that it focuses on improving user experience rather than considering internal opinions. Additionally, the process for story mapping often involves the entire development team, so it also promotes teamwork.
Unfortunately, the story mapping method doesn’t consider factors like business value and complexity, which can be a disadvantage for some.
Story mapping enables product managers to shift their prioritization focus from their company to their customers. To start, you need to map out the typical stages of a user’s product journey e.g. content search, signup, product search, trial, churn. Then, write all the steps a user takes in each of these stages. Lastly, with the journey mapped out, you can go ahead and label a y-axis with “priority” and rearrange each step in order of perceived priority.
- Focuses on improving user experience rather than considering internal opinions.
- Easy to implement in your product team.
- Product prioritization initiatives are led by customer requests.
- Mapping out the customer journey may be time-consuming.
Final thoughts on feature prioritization
There’s always a ton of excitement in the air when you start talking about things to build. New features are exciting. You can picture all the amazing places your product could go, the results they could bring, and what the best-case scenario is. But as a product manager, you need to be the voice of reality.
As you go through and prioritize features into your product roadmap, remember that your overall strategy and product roadmap always need to be front and center. Don’t lose focus on the bigger picture by some exciting idea. Long-term strategy always trumps short-term results.
Be conservative and try to live by the mantra of “less is more”. Big features can just as easily be big risks if you don’t have the data and user research to back them up. Whenever possible, use Agile development practices to launch early and often.
Lastly, make time to regularly re-prioritize. Business needs change. Markets change. Leadership changes. And despite all the work you put into prioritizing features, those priorities will change as well. Set aside time to go through your list and make sure everything is still aligned with the bigger picture.