Product prioritization is one of the toughest parts of product management. At any given time, Product Managers deal with multiple conflicting requests from teams across the company. Which features and experiences should be built next? Which should be cut? Should you listen to higher-ups, directly to customers, or to prospects? Everyone has needs, and as the one making decisions, it’s hard to please everybody.

Despite these challenges, product prioritization must be done right. Get it wrong, and you risk building features that your customers won’t like or use — a result that impacts the sustainability of your business.

What your organization needs is a product prioritization process. This helps standardize the way you prioritize new features, keeps your team aligned on strategy, and prevents random decision-making. We’ve compiled five steps to help you get you started:

1. Start with a product vision

Creating a product vision and aligning your team behind it isn’t easy, but it is a crucial step in standardizing your product prioritization process.

Your vision keeps you focused
Your product vision provides transparency into the direction of where your product is headed and why. If a feature doesn’t line up with your overall vision, it shouldn’t be a priority.

Your vision gives you a reason to say “no”
Having company-wide alignment behind your product vision makes it easier to justify your product prioritization decisions to stakeholders who have their own needs and ideas. This way, even if someone has to accept a “no,” they understand your reasoning and know that it’s not an arbitrary decision.

2. Establish a process for gathering new feature ideas

product prioritization insights

Richard Banfield wrote that “prioritization is personal,” meaning that different people in your organization have their own product priorities. Unfortunately, you can’t always drop everything to pursue the latest and greatest idea. That’s why you must establish a streamlined process for gathering and organizing feature ideas:

  1. Organize feature ideas in one place. A good product management system is a great source of truth for all incoming insights, feedback, and requests.
  2. Require data to back up all incoming feature ideas. Data is key to product prioritization. So next time someone pushes an idea, say “show me the numbers.”
  3. Designate one decision-maker. One point-person should have the final say on prioritization decisions. As Product Manager, this could be you. It could also be your CEO or another stakeholder within the company.

3. Learn to say no

Saying “no” is hard, but it is a crucial skill that must be mastered by every great Product Manager. Why? Building a great product isn’t about linking tactically useful features together. It’s about creating something cohesive that solves a real problem for real people. This means being firmly opposed to anything that doesn’t meet this criteria — something that is much easier said than done.

It gets tricky when data supporting a feature looks good, when a customer is about to churn unless they get a feature they want, or when your boss really wants that shiny new feature idea built. Still, your answer must be “no” unless it contributes to the bigger picture.

Basecamp experienced both the challenges and rewards of saying no when they launched version three of their product. Customers were asking for a calendar, which seemed easy enough to build. However, they soon realized that proper calendars require a lot of work and that only 10% of their customers (though a very vocal 10%) would actually use that feature.

Basecamp’s solution was to say no to the initial request. Instead, they conducted additional research to find the exact problem that customers sought to solve with a calendar. They ended up building another simple feature in just a few weeks that solved that problem.

To get better at saying no, first understand why your stakeholders are making a feature request, then review the data-backed reasons they’re requesting it. Next, see if it aligns with your product vision. If any of those steps raise red flags, say no and be transparent with the stakeholder so they understand your decision. Then let them know what’s being built instead and why.

4. Find a framework that works best for your organization

There are numerous frameworks for product prioritization. Our three favorites are the RICE method, Value vs. Complexity framework, and the Kano model.

The RICE method

The RICE method helps you turn subjective decisions into objective, data-driven ones by assigning a score to each feature idea.

You’ll evaluate each idea based on four factors: Reach, Impact, Confidence and Effort.

Each factor gets assigned a score, which are then weighted to give you an overall prioritization score for that feature idea. This is best done in a spreadsheet (like this one) so you can automate the calculation.

product prioritization RICE

(Source: Intercom)

The Value vs. Complexity framework

The Value vs. Complexity product prioritization framework is a graph that charts your feature ideas based on how much value they deliver vs. how complex they will be to build. The idea is that you’ll pump out the highest value, easiest-to-build features first and then work your way around the chart. This allows you to avoid ideas that are low-value and complex.

product prioritization value complexity

The Kano Model

The Kano Model ranks features based on how they impact customers. You’ll rank each feature idea on a scale that determines how much it will satisfy customer needs versus the investment needed to build it.

The Kano Model requires that you categorize all feature ideas into four categories:

  1. Performance — Features that improve the performance of your product.
  2. Must-be — Basic features that your product needs to be competitive.
  3. Attractive — Features that are unexpected but your customers will love.
  4. Indifferent — A feature that won’t positively impact your customers.

product prioritization kano model

(Source: Folding Burritos)

The features that fall into the Performance, Must-be, and Attractive categories should be built. Features that fall into the Indifferent category should be scrapped.

5. Back your priorities with data

Regardless of what framework you use, what your product vision says, what your CEO thinks, or what your gut tells you, you need to support all of your priorities with data. And be objective. Don’t find data that confirms your feature just because you want it to.

Here are a starting point for collecting data:

  1. Use customer feedback to gather data. This is another thing that a good product management system can help you with.
  2. Surveys are a great way to gather data about feature ideas. You can survey your customers, company stakeholders, your target audience, and more.
  3. Fake door testing involves adding a button to your product that looks like a new feature. When a user clicks on that button, they’ll get a message telling them it’s in development. You want to track how many people click that button. Use this tactic sparingly.

The high stakes of product prioritization

Product prioritization is one of the most important tasks in product management. The stakes are high, and your business can suffer as a result of not prioritizing properly. However, do it right and you’ll earn loyal customers who will use and love your product — the most rewarding feeling for any Product Manager.

. . .
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Dottie Schrock Jul 22, 2019