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The endless product backlog that will be ever-present in your product management career can be tricky to navigate, but using a feature prioritization framework can help you guide your team. How do you determine which tasks should be at the top of the to-do list? Enter the value vs effort framework.

What is "Value Versus Effort" in Product Management?

When you work in product management, every task feels like a priority, and the product backlog can be overwhelming. Thankfully, there are various prioritization frameworks like RICE, Eisenhower matrix, MoSCoW, and value vs effort matrix to help you along—which we’ll dive into momentarily.

Each task or feature holds a certain business value. While some may seem essential, they consume a lot of time and resources without promising much ROI. Finding a balance between value and effort can be pivotal.

A Simplified Definition Of Value Versus Effort

Think of the value vs effort method as the scales of justice in product management:

"It's the act of weighing the potential ROI of a task against the resources it demands, ensuring the highest value tasks get precedence."

How to Use the Value vs Effort Matrix to Manage Your Product Development Roadmap

  1. List all features and tasks: Write down everything in your product backlog. The first step to effort prioritization is visibility.
  2. Score the value: Engage with stakeholders and use established metrics to figure out the potential value. Sometimes, tasks that seem insignificant at first glance have a lot of potential when you look at them through the lens of long-term goals or stakeholder feedback.
  3. Score the effort: Use the effort model or method to estimate the resources you need for each task. Product management tools like Jira can be invaluable here, offering templates and automated scoring based on historical data.
  4. Plot and prioritize: With the value vs effort matrix you can visualize each task in quadrants. This visualization offers a clear decision-making tool:
    • Quick wins (high value, low effort): These tasks give instant gratification. They’re like the low-hanging fruits—easy to tackle and promise good returns.
    • Big bets (high value, high effort): These tasks or initiatives are long-term investments. They demand a substantial amount of resources and possibly a longer timeframe, but their potential returns are massive. It’s the world of launching new product lines or entering new markets.
    • Maybes (low value, low effort): Often dubbed as fill-ins, these tasks don't drastically affect the product's trajectory but can be tackled when there's downtime or to achieve small, incremental improvements.
    • Time sinks (low value, high effort): Beware of these. They appear important but eat up resources without offering equal returns. They’re like quicksand in the world of product management.
  5. Templates and tools: Thankfully, modern product management has no shortage of tools. Whether you're plotting tasks on an Eisenhower matrix or using MoSCoW for feature categorization, there are plenty of ready-to-use templates to streamline prioritization methods.

How to Evaluate Value vs Effort In Product Development

Product teams constantly juggle various tasks. Their product roadmap evolves, reflecting market changes, stakeholder feedback, and internal innovations. Here's a refined approach:

  1. Stakeholder interviews: These interviews are more than formalities. You’ll gain valuable insight and capture the gut feeling of those who are closely aligned with market demands and organizational objectives.
  2. User feedback: Users often see the product from angles that internal teams might miss. Their feedback, whether it's praise or criticism, is a goldmine.
  3. Effort estimation: Tools and prioritization techniques will help you estimate effort. Beyond just the effort score, understanding the context and potential roadblocks can offer a clearer picture.
  4. Data analysis: Metrics offer a non-biased view of what’s working and what’s not. In the age of data-driven decision-making, analytics is the compass every product team needs.
  5. Revisit and reassess: The dynamism of the market and user preferences demands agility. Reevaluate tasks periodically, ensuring alignment with the evolving business landscape.

The value vs. effort framework ensures each step taken is deliberate and purposeful. It can offer clarity in terms of product direction but also allow you to communicate your strategy effectively to stakeholders and the wider team. 

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By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The Product Manager. Following six years of experience in the tech industry, she pivoted into the content space where she's had the pleasure of working with some of the most brilliant voices in the product world. Driven by insatiable curiosity and a love of bringing people together, her mission is to foster a fun, vibrant, and inspiring community of product people.