Prioritization for Impossible Product Decisions with HSBC Head of Product

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One of the most important things you’ll ever do as a Product Manager is to make decisions based on competing demand, and limited resources.

It’s the art of making impossible choices, which is what Product Managers call…life.

As a Product Manager, you hold a great level of responsibility. Often, you’re the one who makes the decisions that no-one else will. 

To help make these decisions, with so many outside influences and interlocking web of things to consider, Mariano Capezzani came up with his own prioritization system.

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The 4-Step Excellent Prioritization Technique

1. Know the context

Before you can begin making a big decision, you need to look around you and know where you are. You need to know what your competitors are doing and what’s happening in your industry. Ask yourself, will you be a sheep going with the rest of the pack, or are you on a different mission? Will you be focusing on a particular trend in the market, leading it, or responding to it?

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You’ll also need to look at your own business, namely what the goals and ambitions are. In the end, whatever you build will be tied back to the KPIs of the company.

And of course, if you’re in a regulated environment like banking, you need to be aware of any current and upcoming regulations.

2. Understand the need

As Mariano says, if you are a parent you know not to feed your children nothing but candy even if they scream for it. 

When you feel the heat of customer expectation, you probably know not to commit to delivering features at any cost, despite knowing that they’re not possible. As a Product Manager, you need to make sure to deliver real value over the perception of value.

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Of course, customers are not the only ones asking things of you. Your internal partners and team members will have their own demands. For example, people on your design team will always advocate for spending time and resources on the best design, most elegant UX, etc. 

Your engineers will want to spend a lot of time making sure your product is resilient. People working in operations will tell you that it’s time to move onto other platforms. You’ll need to listen to everyone, painfully closely, and discern the best path to take based on real value over perception.

3. Consider the execution

Ultimately, there’s cost and effort in building anything. The outcomes you want to deliver to your customers come down to the expenditure of resources. At this point, the most important question you can ask yourself is “do I have what I need to deliver?” If you’re a chef in the kitchen, you need to gather your ingredients before you can begin. 

Are you aware of the intricate network of dependencies and their interlock that are needed to deliver something? Sometimes you are not the one building the pieces you need. Sometimes the teams that you depend on have other priorities, and you need to know whether or not they are in line with your priorities.

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Sometimes you don’t have all the answers, but that’s not uncommon in Product Management. It’s a risk tolerance exercise. When taking those inevitable risks, it’s important to listen to your Risk Managers to understand what the blast radius is if it goes wrong. Because sometimes it will go wrong.

This becomes a complex relationship between value, satisfaction, complexity, reach, cost, and effort. Fortunately, there are frameworks you can use, for example, the very basic Value Over Effort matrix, RICE Scoring Method or KANO model.

4. Arrange the sequence

Here’s where it all comes together. In the last step of Mariano’s 4-step technique, he goes back to recommending that you follow the story. The narrative you created to articulate your product vision will now help to articulate what sequence of events should be happening.

Customers (and your business) will always want more from your products, so plan for continuous increments of value. If you have a cadence of improvements on the jobs customers need to do or improvements on the existing jobs, you’re probably already winning.

At some point, you may need to pause and think about the bigger pieces. You need to re-platform and enable your business to grow by spending cycles and calories on building new tools. 

The choice is between continuing an initiative or stopping to pivot to something else entirely. It’s a tough decision often faced by Product Managers, and ultimately it’s a decision only they can make.

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In this last step, you’ll also have to ensure that all teams involved are working together harmoniously, and work efficiently towards each other. 

If there’s some enabler or dependency that you know won’t be available, don’t build elements towards it until those are at least understood. It’s a complex game of interlock, but if you play it right you’ll come out with a beautiful and consistent cadence.

If you’re in a hurry (as most of us are) you can apply a quick acid test. Ask yourself a series of questions before beginning on a new feature:

  • Is this feature required for my product to operate?
  • Does it contribute to the company’s strategy, goals, and vision?
  • Does it benefit a significant, addressable market?
  • Does this maximize value over cost?
  • Once built, can it be released, measured, and supported?
  • If it doesn’t work, can I handle the consequences?

Finally, Mariano compares Product Management to juggling live chainsaws. If you make the wrong choice, it can be painful. So use models, get ready, and get prepared.

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