One of the challenging aspects of Product Management is prioritization. You’ve got a list of unprioritized features and tasks splayed out in front of you. The engineers are telling you that Feature A will be cool and will take you to the next level. But a key stakeholder is gently suggesting that Feature B be included in V1. Finally, your Data Analyst is convinced that Feature B is completely unnecessary and that users are crying out for Feature C.
What is Feature Prioritization?
Product Managers rarely have enough resources to achieve everything on their to-do list. Prioritization is the art and science of deciding what is important to do now, and what can wait until later, based on balancing cost with benefit (resources required versus potential reward).
Benefits of Feature Prioritization
Why should you start prioritizing now? The benefits of feature prioritization are endless, but here are a few that can get you started!
- By prioritizing you are reducing your own, as well as your teams, stress levels while simultaneously increasing productivity levels. This heightened focus on what currently matters most and gives you flexibility for other features.
- Prioritization helps you allocate sufficient time to complete tasks and make necessary adjustments leaving wiggle room for errors.
- Gives you a chance to breathe and think straight! This gives you time to clear your head and recharge your brain and bring your A-game.
- Keeps you motivated so that you can notice results quicker than if you don’t prioritize.
How to use Feature Prioritization Frameworks?
There is never a simple checklist but here are a few things you can consider before going straight in. While this is a huge step for you, it can be exciting! You’re choosing the future path of your product and helping pick features you know your customers will love and use that will help forward your company and its vision.
We need data and trends to back up our claims, correct? Now we need to understand how we can take this vision and align it to the larger company strategies to avoid any bias. We also know we need to avoid falling into the short-term thinking trap.
By complying with these guidelines you will certainly be left with a ton of great features to pick from. So how do you know which ones to focus on now?
Luckily, there are some incredibly simple and effective methods for diving deep into product decisions and help you prioritize features, improvements, and ideas.
We’ll guide you through these frameworks:
- The MoSCoW Method
- RICE Scoring
- Kano Model
- Break down product features by feasibility, desirability, and viability
- Score options on an Value/Effort scale
The MoSCow Method
Known as the MoSCoW Prioritization Technique or MoSCoW Analysis, MoSCoW is a method commonly used in Agile PM to understand what’s important and what’s not.
It’s a particularly useful tool for communicating to stakeholders what you’re working on and why.
The name is an acronym of four prioritization categories: Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have.
Let’s take a closer look at what these categories mean:
‘Must have’ represents the features that you absolutely should not launch without.
This could be for legal reasons, safety concerns, or business reasons. If it’s something that has been promised to your users and is a huge driver for the buzz around your upcoming release, it would be a terrible idea to launch without it.
To work out if something qualifies as ‘Must have’ think about the worst and best-case scenarios for not including it. If you can’t picture success without it, it’s a Must have!
‘Should have’ is for things that would be better to include, but you’re not destined for disaster without them.
‘Could have’ things would be nice to include if you have the resources, but aren’t necessary for success. The line between ‘Could have’ and ‘Should have’ can seem very thin.
To work out what belongs where, think of how each requirement (or lack thereof) will affect customer experience. The lesser the impact, the further down the priority list the requirement goes!
Many seasoned Product Managers have said, “we’ll include it in V2!” When we say ‘Won’t have’ we don’t mean “this requirement is trash and it will NEVER be included’, we just mean ‘not this time.”
It could be for a variety of reasons, like a lack of resources or time. In any case, it helps you and your stakeholders agree on what won’t make it in your next release, which greatly helps to manage their expectations.
Image credit: Dan Olsen
- Delighters: The features that customers will perceive as going ‘above and beyond their expectations. These are the things that will differentiate you from your competition.
- Performance features: Customers respond well to high investments in performance features.
- Basic features: The minimum expected by customers to solve their problems. Without these, the product is useless to them.
The main idea behind the Kano model is that if you focus on the features that come under these three brackets, the higher your level of customer satisfaction will be.
To find out how customers value certain features, use questionnaires asking how their experience of your product would change with or without them.
As time goes along, you may find that features that used to be delighters move down closer towards ‘Basic Features’ as technology catches up and customers have come to expect them, so it’s important to reassess periodically.
You can find out more about how Kano applies to PM in Dan Olsen’s The Lean Product Playbook
Another key prioritization methodology is the RICE scoring system, which again has four categories to help assess priority; Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort.
To start, Reach helps us bring the focus back to the customers by thinking about how many people will be impacted by a feature or release. You can measure this in the number of people at a certain time period. So you can ask yourself, “how many customers will this impact per month?”
As with all things in Product, make sure your answers are backed up by data and not just off the top of your head.
Now that you’ve thought about how many people you’ll reach, it’s time to think about how they’ll be affected as individuals. To do this, think about the goal you’re trying to reach. It could be to delight customers (measured in positive reviews and referrals) or reduce abandonment.
There’s no real scientific method for measuring impact. Intercom recommends a multiple-choice scale:
- 3 = massive impact
- 2 = high impact
- 1 = medium impact
- 0.5 = low impact
- 0.25 = minimal impact
So much of Product Management has to be unscientific. Although data should be used as much as possible, sometimes you have no choice but to rely on intuition and gut-feeling.
A confidence percentage will help you with that. You can give your estimates a percentage to boost their priority-level when you’re lacking the data to prove its importance. You can also use it to help de-prioritize things you’d rather not take a risk on.
Generally, anything above 80% is considered a high confidence score, and anything below 50% is pretty much unqualified.
You’ll need information from everyone involved (designers, engineers, etc) to calculate effort.
In an ideal world, we would want everything to be high-impact/low-effort. However, this is so rarely the case, but it’s what we should be aiming for.
Think about the amount of work one team member can do in a month, which will naturally be different across teams. Estimate how much work it’ll take each team member working on the project. The more time allotted to a project, the higher the reach, impact, and confidence will need to be to make it worth the effort.
Calculating a RICE Score
Now you should have four numbers representing each of the 4 categories. To calculate your score, simply multiply Reach by Impact, and then by Confidence. Then divide by Effort.
Your final score represents ‘total impact per time worked.’ The higher the number, the closer you are to high impact/low effort.
Product feature breakdown by Feasibility, Desirability, and Viability
The best way to look into feature prioritization is through an objective lens. Where you have a set of criteria you and your team members refer to when mapping the following:
- Feasibility: Talk with your technical team to understand how technically possible or practical the feature is given the set of resources and tools that you currently have? By aligning your feature with your back-end engineers, UI designers, and front-end developers you will be avoiding what’s impossible or highly improbable).
- Desirability: Is the feature wanted by users? Make sure you use all your tools and resources to understand whether this is something your users desire or not. This includes discussing this feature with your researchers, UX designers, marketers, and support, as well as going through any already completed user tests and validation.
- Viability: Last but not least, is your new feature aligns with or supports your overall strategy and the requirements of the market? You need to further dig into how this feature works in the bigger ecosystem by talking to your executives and other PMs. This would include looking at both your own (other features, strategies, and goals) and the industry as a whole (regulations, legal issues, financials).
While these points may come from individuals’ opinions, it’s also important to cross-examining and investigate them thoroughly with multiple lenses to keep things in check with your overall objective. And of course, looking to bring in any additional supporting or complementary data can always help to keep you extra honest.
Value vs Effort scale
A simple way to map out which features are most important to work on first is by laying out a simple Value /Effort matrix.
This matrix consists of a 2×2 grid, where each square showcases a different level of effort to build the feature and the potential impact it will have:
The objective is to pick the features that will have the highest impact with the lowest effort. However, it’s not always easy to know where a feature fits on the matrix.
You can use this method in a group setting where you write down each feature idea on a sticky note and draw your matrix on a board.
- Gather a diverse group of teammates and then one at a time
- Take each sticky note, explain it, and let the team vote on how much effort it will take and then the potential impact from it.
You’ll still have the final say on what features get prioritized, however, this method will help you efficiently gather input from a different group of people on your team.
Methods of product prioritization should not be used to replace human decision-making. A good structure is a way to get everyone on the same page when it comes to the product’s overall goals. Prioritization approaches are exercises in weighing the numerous options available for any given feature or concept.
- There are many ways to validate your product via experiments.
- Use experiments to validate assumptions without expending valuable engineering resources.
- You can be more iterative about the products you roll out.