Mastering Product Prioritization: Your Comprehensive Guide to Smart Feature Selection
During the ’70s, Kodak was a market leader – responsible for over 90% of film and 85% of camera sales.
Yet by 2012, they’d gone bankrupt! What went so badly wrong for them? 🤔
Their customers yearned for digital cameras. A Kodak engineer even invented the first one 📷
Yet the company failed to capitalize on their invention because they’d decided to prioritize their film sales 🤦
What happened next was unsurprising. Their rival, Canon, took the lead, dominated the market and the rest is ancient history 💹
This example may seem extreme, but it’s a perfect demonstration of what can happen if a company doesn’t correctly prioritize its latest product iterations or features.
Luckily for you, we’re quietly confident you won’t be responsible for the failure of your company. Why? Because you’re reading this article, and you’re about to learn all the main frameworks for prioritizing product requests. Let’s dive right in!
Setting priorities – Creating a matrix
Setting priorities helps you distinguish the important from the urgent, and shows you where you should focus your efforts.
To state the obvious: every company has limited resources. Namely, time, budget, and employees at your disposal.
That’s why before we hone in on prioritizing product features, we’ve decided to share a cool productivity and time management framework that will help you think about your overall objectives for your product. It’s used by both successful individuals and big companies such as Google and Apple among others.
Introducing: the matrix! 😛
Here’s how it works:
- Write down your product objectives (yearly and quarterly), what needs to be done, and your current resources.
- Then, separate your list into four different categories: urgent, not urgent, important, and not important.
- Now that you have your matrix, start by writing down in each of the categories every task you have to accomplish. Make sure to place them in the right place according to their importance and urgency to get a fair idea of what needs to be done today and tomorrow.
Not only can this help when thinking about your wider product objectives, but this matrix can also be applied to other aspects of your business too!
The importance of prioritizing product features
Once you’ve created your matrix, figured out your strategic priorities, and noted the resources you have at your disposal, it's time to think about feature prioritization.
Feature prioritization is a key component of the overall operational effectiveness of an organization, helping you to plan the order in which you will create features, based on your product’s roadmap.
If you screw up your prioritization, you will:
- Consume key resources to build something that doesn’t impact your business positively, and can, in fact, negatively impact your business.
- Give your competition the chance to get one step ahead of you (seriously, don’t become Kodak!)
- Fail to retain customers that have been patiently waiting for a new feature
- Look bad in front of your boss when he/she pulls up a report showing a poor NPS score, high churn rates, and disappointing customer support interactions...
10 ways to prioritize features
Now that you understand why prioritizing product features matters, it's time to learn a few ways you can do it:
Value vs effort
This popular lean methodology model is utilized to prioritize features and build a practical roadmap.
It involves assigning each feature with a value and a measurement of the effort required. Unlike some others, it considers the effort rather than the resources needed to implement such features. And, thus, the more effort required, the more value it offers to justify the investment. The aim is to create a product that offers maximum value but with a manageable level of effort.
Number of requests
Another way to prioritize features is by the number of requests. Although it may sound obvious, you'd be surprised how many businesses seem to ignore this. You cannot waste time and resources developing a product that will not receive enough demand to even recover the initial investment. Therefore, you should always run market research, gather feedback from your customers, and only then prioritize your features by the number of requests – especially if you're a small business or startup.
Specific clients, segments, industries
Great product managers know how to identify the needs of specific groups within their customer base. Each customer and each industry will want different things and in the era of personalization, it’s no longer profitable for companies to mass produce without segmentation.
Using a CRM, you can separate the product feature requests of:
- Different industries (e.g. SaaS vs eCommerce)
- Different Segments (e.g. B2B SaaS vs B2C SaaS)
- Different Client Types (e.g. B2B SaaS with 100+ employees vs B2B SaaS with <10 employees)
And then prioritize based on which subset is the most profitable, or strategically important to the business.
This framework is designed in such a way that you can break down your product by the monetary value it promises. In this sense, consider how a new or different feature supports your overall strategy and market requirements. Once you gather all the data, discuss it with other relevant executives or product managers to assess whether this new feature is worth it considering your customer base and industry as a whole. You’ll need to bear in mind other variables, like regulations, legal issues, financials, and the effort it takes you to make such changes, which leads us to...
Effort refers to the features that are most important to work on first. And the effort technique is a simple and quick way to do this. This technique is represented by a 2x2 grid, where each square comprises a different level of effort compared to its potential impact. The goal of this model is to find the features with the highest impact for the lowest effort. To do this, write down each feature idea on a sticky note and paste it on a whiteboard where you can then draw your matrix.
The sole focus of this technique is to find the features that will have the highest impact. By focusing on the impact, you make sure that your product or feature will be highly desired by your customers. All you need to do is create a simple x-axis with low impact on the left and high impact on the right, then rank proposed new product features along it.
Overall conception and engineering time
Needless to say, time should always be placed among your main priorities. For this particular step, it might be beneficial if you sit down and analyze the costs that time may imply, such as employee hourly rate being allocated to a certain project and product. Really assess whether the time investment is worth it before you begin the plans for production.
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.
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.
Affinity grouping consists of brainstorming ideas on Post-It Notes. After the brainstorming session, the team must then organize the notes into related groups. Once these are classified, the team votes to rank them. This fun, but highly effective method is perfect for any type of business regardless of its size and industry. And, the beauty of this technique is you can always save the best-voted ideas for future projects.
Prioritizing a framework can be fun and fruitful, besides it’s a great team bonding opportunity that can lead to massive sales and business opportunities. The cool thing about this is that, because of its nature, it’s pretty collaborative. You can even conduct affinity grouping sessions with your product teams and allow them to freely brainstorm opportunities.
Pros and cons of the most common strategies for product feature prioritization
Value vs. effort
As we saw, this model takes into consideration the effort instead of the number of resources invested. The aim is to create a product that offers maximum value but with a manageable level of effort.
- Very intuitive, straightforward, and widely used
- Helps to easily avoid projects that may not add much value
- The value may include a lot of subjectivity
- Relative prioritization of features of projects may not be answered
- It doesn’t take into account the wider product strategy e.g. which customer segment is worth pursuing
Feature voting allows your customers (or team) to vote for the features they care the most about. You can easily use a tool like ProdCamp to create a roadmap, submit features, and collect upvotes.
- 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
- Reviewing the feedback can be quite time-consuming
- For smaller businesses, it may result in low voter turnout
Used to prioritize potential features with customers and stakeholders, this approach consists of creating a list of potential features with an assigned price for each one based on the effort of its development.
- Feature scoring is a fun and easy exercise, and it’s ideal for teams
- Can be easily replicated on a number of projects
- Takes into account that different features require different resources – time/money/staff
- Price is subjective and estimated before development, so may not reflect reality
- It’s very formulaic – when sometimes decisions also need an element of instinct and vision
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
-------------------------------------- = RICE Score
Or to give you an easier example to follow:
- Much more scientific than other approaches
- Takes into consideration a wide range of factors
- Confidence is a good indicator that is not used in other frameworks
- Involves a lot of calculation, considering all the metrics that need to be taken into account.
- Due to the complexity of this method, it may take longer to prepare
- The impact metric is heavily charged with subjectivity as there is no clear definition of impact
The MoSCoW method is based on the idea of prioritization upon what is actually doable. In fact, its name stands for:
- M for Must Have - Meaning your non-negotiable features.
- S for Should Have - Meaning, important, but secondary, features.
- C is for Could have - Meaning, non-essential, and optional.
- W for Won't have but would like to in the future - Meaning, not doable now for a lack of time or resources, but that could be done in the future.
- Helps to ensure that basic customer needs are always met
- Facilitates a lot of discussion and consensus building
- Very simple – there’s no need to have prior knowledge or training to understand the concept
- Doesn’t take into account the urgency of having a feature
- Oftentimes, requirements that fall into "should" or "could" won't get done
- Time spent discussing things that "should", "could" or "would" happen may delay progress
The Kano model prioritizes features based on their likelihood to satisfy and excite customers. It’s done by weighing up the “cost” of implementing a feature vs the satisfaction customers are likely to gain.
After drawing up a list of potential new features you could build, you need to classify them as either a:
- Basic feature – Any feature that is a basic expectation of a customer in order to feel satisfied
- Excitement feature – Any feature that will disproportionately increase customer satisfaction as you invest in them
- Performance feature – Any feature that will deliver a proportionate increase in customer satisfaction as you invest in them
Once you’ve decided on this, you need to survey these features with your customers to get feedback and map them on a Kano graph. Your graph should have an x-axis with the implementation cost, or the level of execution and the y-axis with customer satisfaction.
- Very easy to understand and can be implemented almost by anyone
- Very customer-oriented, making it an ideal option for consumer-based products or features
- It doesn't capture the business impact or the cross-feature impact
- Multi-step and time-consuming, particularly when it comes to surveying customers
- There’s subjectivity on which features and likely to excite, and which will perform
Priority Poker is an interactive, collaborative tool to prioritize and make group decisions. This model allows you to upvote or downvote projects, ideas, and features with your team. It is a fun and easy tool.
- Allows everyone to share their opinion
- Ignites conversation and team building
- Helps to make team decisions faster and get consensus
- Need a deep understanding of the problem area to assess the effort required
- A more knowledgeable person might be outvoted
Weighted scoring prioritization is based on numerical scoring to rank tasks, projects, or ideas. So, initiatives are scored and then ranked by their scores. The 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.
- Easy to customize depending on what’s deemed most important to your company
- Excellent at bringing different departments together to provide their view on each parameter
- With this model, scoring may be biased
- Weightage may be subjective unless agreed
Importance and Satisfaction / JTBD (jobs to be done)
In a nutshell, jobs-to-be-done can be described as the execution of any job. These metrics describe precisely how customers measure the value of our products or services. In theory, this technique involves asking yourself: “What job is your product or service hired to do?”.
So, this framework allows you to understand that your customers or leads don’t just buy products and services; they hire a variety of solutions or jobs to be done.
- Very customer-oriented
- Focuses on customer problems that require to be solved or jobs that need to get done
- Provides a clear ROI in terms of the features selected. Meaning, the maximum opportunity in terms of satisfaction
- Offers a relative prioritization amongst different problems
- The importance and satisfaction model helps you understand where NOT to focus
- This method may require qualitative research to understand different problems
- Defining a job at the right level may be subjective
Whatever you choose as a prioritization method, remember that the main thing you should keep in mind throughout the entire process is the customer. If you don’t have a clear picture of who your ideal customer is and what they like, what they dislike, and even what they do on a daily basis, you’ll always fail to recognize both the best ideas and best business opportunities.
That’s why ProdCamp doesn’t just help you to prioritize product features, but also to centralize all your customer feedback in order to see the wider picture.
In terms of feature prioritization, you can:
- Create a roadmap and allow customers and stakeholders to upvote proposed new features
- Sync with your CRM to understand the revenue impact – so you can prioritize based on customer value
- Share with your customers to help them understand why certain features are being prioritized over others
- Provide ETA’s and updates on features you’re working on
- And lots more...
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