Product Prioritization Techniques

PIN Product Prioritization Techniques Rafael Ferraz

Prioritization is one of the most popular topics on PM communities, and it is a top concern for most Product Managers.

Product prioritization isn’t just about making a stack of features in a specific order—it also involves juggling the many inputs and opinions of stakeholders. Narrowing that list of demands and feature requests for a sprint or a product roadmap can be the most challenging part of a product manager’s job.

A prioritization challenge product managers face is knowing how many team members, stakeholders, and customers they should involve, and to what degree they should vote on which features, tasks and updates you’ll work on next. For these many reasons, we need a process to determine the sets and sequence of things that should be done on the product to deliver the most value at each point in time, given our constraints. If you search for the product prioritization, you’ll find countless articles with recommendations, techniques, and approaches to this severe problem. However, each method’s usefulness depends on the specific product or project where it’s applied.

Here in this article, my idea is to provide an overview of the most popular product prioritization techniques. I will explain in details and show real examples per each method in another article here on the blog.

The Kano Model

Noriaki Kano, a Japanese researcher, and consultant. His published a paper the early 1980s with a set of ideas and techniques that help us determine our customers’ satisfaction with product features. These ideas are commonly called the Kano Model and have based upon the following premises:

  1. Must-haves or basic features: If you don’t have these features, your customers won’t even consider your product as a solution to their problem.
  2. Performance features: The more you invest in these, the higher the level of customer satisfaction will be.
  3. Delights or excitement features: These features are pleasant surprises that the customers don’t expect, but that once provided, create a delighted response.

The core idea of the Kano model is that the more time you spend investing resources (time, money, effort) in creating, innovating and improving the features in each of those buckets, the higher the level of customer satisfaction will be.

kano model @rzarref rafael ferraz

Story Mapping

Jeff Patton first introduced story Maps in this 2005 article and followed-up by another one writing up his more recent experience. Both are excellent reads that I can’t recommend highly enough.

The beauty of this product prioritization framework is in its simplicity. It also puts the focus on the user’s experience, rather than on the subjective opinions of your team and stakeholders. The main idea behind Story Maps is that single-list product backlogs are a terrible way to organize and prioritize the work that needs to have done. A more productive structure is necessary.

The main idea behind Story Maps is that single-list product backlogs are a terrible way to organize and prioritize the work that needs to have done. A more productive structure is necessary.

In broad strokes, a Story Map has to organized like this:

  1. There’s a horizontal axis that represents usage sequence.
  2. The vertical axis stands for criticality.
  3. Groups of related user stories have to group as Activities.
  4. You draw a line across all these stories to divide them into releases and sprints.

Opportunity Scoring

This framework builds on the core precept that people buy products and services to get some job done. That is, it’s the expected outcome that matters. Clayton Christensen’s jobs-to-be-done concept shares this line of thinking, and it’s been a hot topic that has gathered a lot of attention lately.

Opportunity scoring uses a Satisfaction and Importance graph to measure and rank opportunities. After you come up with a list of ideal outcomes, you then survey your customers to ask them the following questions:

  1. How important is this outcome or feature?
  2. Ask your customers to rank them.
  3. How satisfied is the customer with the existing solutions?

The Product Tree

Asking customers to place their desired features on the tree, you can identify the most significant clusters or branches. It will allow you to determine which areas of your product need more work, which features need to be changed, and what product feature areas can be deprioritized from all immediate future releases.

Having a shared view of the entire span of the product with customers can be very insightful when planning new releases. From this visual balance, you derive relative value among features, understand which strategic shifts might need to has done and which areas of the product are good candidates for being dropped in the future.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. First, draw a large tree with a few big branches on a whiteboard or a piece of paper.
  2. Ask your participants (in this case, your customers) to write some potential features on sticky notes. These will be the leaves of your tree.
  3. Then, ask your customers to place their feature leaves on a branch.

Value vs. Complexity

In this framework, before you start, you need to think about how to Defining the Business Value Measures and Defining the Implementation Complexity Measures.

The basic premise of the concept is every feature under consideration has a basic level of Business Value that it brings to the table and an associated level of Implementation Complexity that it presents in delivering it. The final priority of any feature is the composite score of both. If you assume some mechanism for scoring these candidate features along both the Value and Complexity axes.

The principle of this methodology is simple: your initiatives with the highest value and the lowest efforts will be the low-hanging stuff for your roadmap. It can be presented like this:

Plot your features in a grid. Place them in one of the four quadrants, discuss and analyze each quadrant separately.

  1. The features, which have low complexity and high business value, are of utmost importance.
  2. The top left issues are potential to be reconsidered. They are of the least value.
  3. The issues in the bottom left are quite straightforward but not of the high importance for your business.
  4. The issues in top right define the path for businesses and help to achieve strategic goals.

Although, it essential to know and how to apply the correct framework, the most important thing than the process is to answer before start these questions:

  1. How can we know what’s valuable? How valuable is it? 
  2. How can we define the set of things that should go together in a product release? How should we sequence those releases?
  3. How can we get the necessary buy-in to follow through and understand these things to the market?
  4. How can we know if our assumptions are right? Are we on the right track? Are we delivering value? 

I hope this article can be useful for you and feel free to ask and comment anything 😉

Also published on Medium.