3 Essential Steps to Mastering Prioritization

As product people, we all know how important it is to prioritize correctly — but it’s easier said than done. 

Almost everyone looks back on their workflow and finds there was obvious room for improvement. The problem with hindsight is that you’re only noticing these issues after the fact. 

Issues caused by poor prioritization include simple, minor annoyances such as trying to cram too much work into too small a timeframe (we’ve all been there!). Yet, if these issues are happening every single time, those small stresses will turn into overwhelmed, poor quality products, and a huge amount of wasted time. 

So how do you solve prioritization issues… before they become an issue?

How to master prioritization in product management

Post-Its notes, models, and frameworks at the ready! Adhere to the following steps and you’ll be a product management master of prioritization in no time at all.

1. Align your team and set OKRs

Prioritization 101: make sure your team knows what they are doing!

You can use the best prioritization software on the market, but if your team doesn’t know what the objectives are specifically, what the desired outcome is, and what success will look like, then you’re going to run into trouble. 80% of employees spend half their time reworking tasks because of poor communication.

The golden rule? Set clear objectives and circulate them across the team. Assign certain activities to certain members of the team to increase accountability and touch base frequently to see how they’re getting on.

Better still, get into the habit of setting OKRs. OKR stands for ‘Objective’ (a clearly defined goal) and ‘Key Results’ (objective measurements of progress towards the goal in mind). This is something airfocus has embraced as a business — and something we’ve written extensively about before.

The more room for speculation you leave, the more chance there is for subjectivity and error — triggering a domino effect. All it takes is for one member of your product team to assume a priority, decide on what they want to achieve, and then perpetuate that confusion among the rest of the team.

This is all the more important when working as a remote or distributed product team, as 88% of remote workers suffer miscommunication with their fellow team members.

2. Run discovery and focus on which problems to solve

Not all product initiatives are created equal. Small, easy-to-tackle initiatives could carry significant value for your product. At the same time, they say that everything worth doing requires hard work — so what are the true priorities for your product team?

That’s when we turn to product discovery for answers. This stage of product development already involves understanding the needs of your customer and the market you’re operating in, so why not use that information to help prioritize your product work?

Think back to the OKR(s) you set before: which features will help you achieve your objectives? Which benefits the user as well as the business? 

Start by sorting the quick wins from the potential time sinkers. Then, in coordination with your team, you can begin organizing a to-do list of builds with the features that’ll deliver the greatest value and impact prioritized at the top.

3. Use a pre-agreed framework to foster and focus discussion 

Managing and building a product always throws up fresh challenges. That’s what we all love about it, right? And while every decision-making moment will be different from the rest, you can still standardize your decision-making approach to work better as a team.

Models and frameworks exist to standardize your prioritization, but also to standardize the way you make decisions as a collective. Working within pre-agreed constraints helps your team discard data points, feedback, insights and, let’s face it, gut feel that simple isn’t relevant to the decision at hand.

Frameworks can be used to encourage conversation and create talking points around prioritization. They replace ambiguity and disagreement with facts in black and white — explaining why a certain decision was reached and why your priorities are as they are.

There are plenty of prioritization and decision-making frameworks available, but not all of them will be suited to your product or team. To identify which is best for you and where you are right now, consider:

  • The strategic level of the items you’re prioritizing
  • The lifecycle stage and current complexity of your project
  • The size of your team and company
  • Your company culture and organizational structure — products teams comprised of all or mostly remote workers may require different frameworks than in-office groups.

Essentially, you want a process that’s scalable and repeatable. It also needs to have full backing from everyone you’re working with. 

Your team should be free to utilize as many frameworks as they want for different decision-making tasks (there’s not one single framework that’ll fit all eventualities — that would be product management magic!). That said, the team needs to agree on which framework will be used when, so they’re all working in the same way. After all, if your team can’t agree on the framework you use… chances are they won’t agree with the outcome of the exercise either.

And so we come full circle: communicate with your team, set clear objectives, align everyone together on what needs doing, when, and why, and always come back to your end user. At the end of the day, we’re building products to be used and enjoyed by our target customers — let that be your northern star.
>> Prioritization forms a major part of what we do here. In partnership with our partner airfocus, we created a new ebook to empower you and your team to become master prioritizers too.

Get your copy of our latest ebook, ‘Mastering Prioritization: The Ultimate Guide for Product Managers’, for free today.

Meet the Author

Malte Scholz is the CEO and CPO of airfocus, a prioritization and roadmapping software for product management teams. He’s obsessed with reducing waste (time, energy and money) and helping people solve problems.

mastering prioritization

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