In product management, feature prioritization is the process of ranking and organizing features in a product based on customer value, business goals, the amount of time and cost, and technical viability. Organization here is critical to building an effective roadmap for stakeholders. This allows product managers to focus on the most important features and make better decisions about which features to develop and release on the roadmap.
Product managers need a system (i.e. a feature prioritization framework) to prioritize features because, without one, they can easily get overwhelmed and make poor decisions.
A system can help product managers compare the value of different features and make informed decisions about which ones to work on first. It also helps them manage customer feedback and keep their team aligned.
Data-driven Thinking vs Gut Feelings: Which Is Better?
When it comes to making decisions about product features, there are two main schools of thought: those who rely on system (or data-driven) thinking, and those who rely on their gut feelings. Which is better?
There is no easy answer, as both approaches have their own merits and drawbacks. System thinking is often seen as more objective and logical, while gut feelings are usually quicker and easier to act on.
When I started my last project, we had a good sense (gut feelings) of which features customers desired, but we needed a way to prioritize that list in a meaningful & quantitative way to solve the customer “pain points” as efficiently as possible. I was able to first apply the MoSCoW Method to break the features into Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, and Won’t Have, making it very digestible for stakeholders. Next, I applied a Weighted Scoring of these features within each “bucket” to enable me to prioritize each release’s features from highest to lowest value to the customers.
At the end of the day, it’s important to use a mix of both system and gut feelings when making decisions about product features. System thinking will help you to avoid confirmation bias and make more objective decisions, while gut feelings can help you to quickly identify and act on opportunities. Here are the feature prioritization frameworks you can use to help:
There are a few different ways to prioritize features, but the most common is to use a weighted scoring system. In this system, each feature is given a score based on its importance and how well it meets the needs of the user. The scores are then added up and the features are ranked in order of priority (higher scores = greater value to customer).
Generally, this framework uses a 10-point scale, but various scales can be applied given the scale is consistently used.
Another common method is to multiply the points by factors representing a weighting for the organization’s priorities. i.e. free trial-related features may get 50%, 30% to increasing retention-related features, and 20% to increasing revenue. So a 6-point trial feature may be worth 3 points (6 points X 0.5) in relation to the factor, whereas a 10-point retention related feature is worth 3 points as well (10 points X 0.3).
The use of a weighted scoring system is important for feature prioritization because it allows for a more accurate representation of the importance of each feature. This is important because it assures that the most important features are given the attention they deserve, vice versa.
A weighted scoring system helps to ensure that the product roadmap is followed and that features are delivered in a timely manner.
To implement the weighted scoring system, simply:
Assign features to a point value (typically 1-10)
Decide if you will apply a factor (see example above)
Order and prioritize in descending order
When using the weighted scoring system, consider if the complexity of your features can be captured with the point and or factor system. If the organization does not have a good “product sense” of which features are generally more valuable than other features, another method should be used.
2. RICE Method
The RICE acronym stands for:
R: Reachability – how many people will be able to use the feature?
I: Impact – how much impact will the feature have?
C: Confidence – how confident are we about the influence?
E: Effort – how much effort will it take to implement the feature?
The goal is to produce a RICE score that can be used in the prioritization process and help product managers focus on the most important features. It helps ensure that their product is successful and meets customer needs.
Originally, Intercom pioneered the RICE framework, you can read all about it on their blog.
3. Value Vs Effort
The value vs effort framework helps you to weigh the benefits of a particular feature against the amount of work that is needed to implement it. This is an important consideration, as it can help you to make sure that you are focusing your efforts on the features that will provide the most value to your customers.
Another important factor to consider is how a feature will impact other parts of the product. Will adding this feature require updates to other aspects of the product? If so, those updates will need to be prioritized as well. It’s also important to consider how a feature will impact your team’s ability to deliver on other commitments. Adding a new feature may require additional resources, which may impact your ability to meet deadlines for other features.
4. Kano Model
The Kano model framework is based on the idea that there are different types of customer needs, which can be divided into three categories: basic, performance, and delight.
The Kano Model can be used to help prioritize features based on the needs of the customer.
Basic needs are those that are necessary for the product to function.
Performance needs are those that improve the performance of the product.
Delight needs are those that make the product more enjoyable to use.
5. Story Mapping
The story mapping framework organizes features into a hierarchical tree diagram that shows the dependencies between them.
The first step in using story mapping is to create a backlog of all of the features that need to be prioritized. This can be done by brainstorming with the team, reviewing customer feedback, or looking at data from analytics tools.
Once you have your list of backlog items, you can use sticky notes across a large empty wall or whiteboard. Then, team members can place the sticky notes as needed to build the “story”. This allows team members to break down feature requests, make product decisions, and develop a visual view of the user stories.
A real-life example of story mapping is when I sold one of the companies I co-founded, BankerBox, to SS&C Intralinks. We did a deep dive across the executive, product, engineering, and design teams to identify from the ground-up the User Stories involved in the product offering to sanity check them.
The MoSCoW Method is a framework that helps product managers decide which features to work on first. The framework is based on four priorities: MUST, SHOULD, COULD, and WON’T.
MUST features are the most important and need to be implemented as soon as possible.
SHOULD features are also important, but can be implemented later.
COULD features are less important, but could be implemented if time permits.
WON’T features are not important and should not be implemented.
Working as a principal product manager, MoSCow Method is one of my favorite tools to use. I like to copy the relevant stories to sticky notes in Miro and allow stakeholders to collaborate with me as we order items into the MoSCoW Method grid.
Tip: A great way to double down in the feature prioritization process is to take the results from one framework, and then re-apply in another framework, this is a great sanity check.
7. Priority Poker
A priority poker framework is based on the idea of using a poker deck to rank features.
The first step in using the priority poker framework is to come up with a list of features. Once you have a list of features, you will need to assign a value to each feature. The value can be based on anything, but it is typically based on how important the feature is to the success of the product.
8. Opportunity Framework
The opportunity scoring framework also takes into account the business value of the feature and the feasibility of implementing it. This makes it a more accurate and efficient way to prioritize features.
The product tree framework is significant for feature prioritization because it provides a way to visualize the product and all of its features. This can help to ensure that all features are accounted for and that the most important features are given priority.
There are a few different ways to prioritize features with the product tree framework. One way is to use the importance of the feature to the customer. This can be determined by talking to customers and understanding their needs. The most important features will be those that address the biggest problems for the customer.
10. Cost Of Delay
The cost of delay framework uses business value for prioritization, focusing on the value of the feature, the risk associated with delaying its implementation, and the impact that it will have on the user experience. It is important for product managers to consider all of these factors when making decisions about which features to prioritize.
The buy-a-feature game gives you a fun opportunity to think about the value of each feature and how it impacts the customer. It helps ensure that you are focused on the right features and that the customers are getting what they need.
There are a few different ways to play the buy-a-feature game. One way is to have each person in the group write down a list of features that they think are important. Then, each person takes turns buying features from the other people in the group. The person who buys the most features wins.
12. ICE Scoring Model / Scorecard
The ICE scoring model or ICE scorecard is popular because it takes into account the impact, confidence, and ease of implementation of a feature in order to determine its priority. This can help ensure that high-impact features are given precedence over lower-impact ones, while still taking into account the feasibility of implementation.
13. KJ Method
The KJ method is also known as the sorting method, the matrix method, and the paired comparison method.
When using the KJ method, a group of people first brainstorm a list of features. Each feature is then written on a separate card or piece of paper. The cards are shuffled and each person in the group picks two random cards. The two features on the cards are then compared, and the person chooses the feature they think is more important. This process is then repeated for all of the pairs of features.
The final step is to group the features together based on which ones have the most votes. The features in each group are then prioritized based on importance.
14. Weighted Shortest Job First
The Weighted shortest job first framework (or WSJF) is a popular technique that assigns a weight to each feature and then orders the features according to their weight. The highest-weighted features are then prioritized first. Although there are different ways to assign weights, the best practice is to calculate the Cost of Delay (CoD) and divide by job size (Level of Effort or LOE).
Features that drive the most value (highest Cost of Delay) in the fastest possible time frame, will provide the best “bang for your buck” for feature prioritization.
The WSJF is attractive because it gives a clear indication of which features are most important. However, it can be difficult to determine the weight for each feature. One way to do this is to consider the value of the feature to the customer, and then assign a weight that reflects this value.
15. Constraints Framework
The constraints framework helps product managers think about how they can prioritize features by taking into account the various constraints that they face. This can be a great way to categorize basic features for an MVP.
The first step is to identify the constraints that you are facing. This could include things like time, budget, or resources. It’s important to be specific when identifying the constraints, so you can accurately rank them later on.
The next step is to rank the constraints. This can be done by simply assigning a priority number to each constraint. Alternatively, you could use a weighted ranking system, where higher priority items are given a higher weight.
The final step is to prioritize the features. This can be done by ranking them according to their importance and then selecting the top few features that you want to focus on.
How To Select The Right Framework: Comparison Chart
Selecting the right framework for Feature Prioritization is critical to the success of the product management process. There are a number of frameworks available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The most important factor in selecting a framework is ensuring that it meets the specific needs of the organization.
Some factors to consider when selecting a framework include:
The organization’s culture and values
The industry and market the product is in
The stage of the product life cycle
The resources available to the product management team
Quickly determine priority order for sets of features
Need a quick “back of the napkin” way to prioritize similar features
Does not take into account risk, or business goals. May be difficult to compare unrelated features
Prioritize a large set of features
Have several stakeholders with strong opinions
RICE is time-consuming, requires a high level of discipline, and the data needed isn’t always available
Value Vs Effort
Quantify OR qualify features quickly
Align stakeholders by reaching common ground on how to prioritize features
Could be subject to systematic error and is hard to scale with large number of stakeholders
Understand how customers perceive relative value
Identifying possible add-ons or enchantments
Does not take into account effort, risk, or business goals
Get a clear path of critical path items needed by users to accomplish their “task”
Need a holistic view of the user journey for a particular feature
Sometimes it’s difficult to get an accurate picture of the end-user. Deep understanding of acceptance criteria is required
Communicate release criteria
Feeling uncertain about what needs be included in a product or release
Does not explicitly set priorities, only groups them together into buckets
It’s difficult to rank features in a single dimension
Need to remove biases. Ranking first around usefulness and then cost
Simplicity can take away importance of the underlying business goals and big picture view of the product
Visualize prioritization in a chart.
Identify innovative ideas and solutions to common issues
Feature importance and value can easily be overestimate or underestimate
The Product Tree
Collaborate with customers to get a sense of where they want to see investment in the product
You want to prioritize features with customers in a structured way
Overly simplistic, generally used to get a general sense of direction vs. quantitative prioritization
Cost of Delay
Ranks ideas according to impact and risk
Weighing multiple factors and/or a long list of possible problems to solve
More complex model requires alignment on value of feature, understanding risk, and how a delay could impact border picture
Buy A Feature
Get a list of features to prioritize when “design by committee” is prevailing in prioritization efforts
Forces stakeholders to “choose” features to deliver out of many options
Does not scale as well when prioritizing across large number of teams and more than one product/major feature set
ICE Scoring Model
Get prioritization in a fast and simple way, whole bringing a high level of quantification to the approach
Provide a speedy way for teams to prioritize and get momentum going, allows for collective consensus
ICE Scoring Models tends to live in a gray-area, it can be very subjective as results can change depending on who and when you ask
Reach consensus quickly when qualitative and quantitative data is available
Get stakeholders to quickly set top priorities
If too many teams are involved, and there is not a clear “constraint” for resources it can be difficult to drive as much value out of the framework
Weighted Shortest Job First
Ask the “right” questions around prioritization for customer and non-customer facing items
Cognitive bias is too high and you want to level set. The business needs and scale are critical
Requires a lot of math. Can be very time-consuming. High level of effort to “tune” formula
Prioritize features based on “constraints” vs. “value”
When time/level of effort is quantifiable, capacity is predictable, or budget P/L data is available
Can overlook business impact and alignment for features. This approach focuses heavily on constraints instead of business value
Once a framework has been selected, it is important to stick to it. Consistency is key when prioritizing features, as it allows for better comparison and understanding of trade-offs. Prioritization should also be revisited on a regular basis, as the needs of the organization and product may change over time.
It’s important for product teams to frequently measure development output and metrics, to ensure that potential features and new features developed meet customer satisfaction levels. Using a framework or prioritization process can be highly scientific, but at the end of the day it’s all about customer feedback. You must ask yourself, are our product prioritization efforts paying off per the response back from the market?
Tip: A great way to communicate with customers about potential features and new features in a tool called Intercom. It’s a little widget that allows for 2-way real-time communication with users.
Remember, feature prioritization is just one part of an overall product management organization’s responsibilities. If you want to learn more about product management check out this beginners guide.