Product managers often have to tackle requests from multiple stakeholders at the same time. Whether it’s about the maintenance of existing features, or new feature ideas, every stakeholder will naturally find their request to be the most important one.
However, it’s up to the product manager to decide what gets worked on next by the development team. But how do you choose which features to develop next? What criteria are important when considering this?
In this guide, I’ll show you a selection of popular prioritization frameworks that can help you evaluate the importance of product initiatives and prioritize them efficiently.
This is what we’ll cover:
- Prioritization definition
- Why prioritization is important to product managers
- What is a prioritization framework?
- Types of prioritization frameworks:
1. Prioritization definition
In product management, prioritization is the process of evaluating tasks, features or ideas and thereby finding out their impact on the success of the product.
This can be done with the help of one of the many prioritization frameworks that are freely available. More on those later!
2. Why prioritization is important to product managers
Arguably one of the most important tasks of a product manager is prioritization. This is because PMs have to decide which features to build at what time, taking into account user needs and business goals on the one hand, and the available resources of the development team on the other.
A proper prioritization ensures that the team works on tasks that have a high impact on the value creation for the business as well as the users of the product, which prevents a waste of resources. Continuous prioritization is also a good way to keep projects on track.
3. What is a prioritization framework?
A prioritization framework is a systematic approach to evaluating and ranking tasks, ideas or features based on specific criteria.
These criteria vary from framework to framework and a PM should choose the framework that fits best to their team’s processes, to their product and their business goals.
4. Types of prioritization frameworks
Let’s have a look at some of the most common prioritization frameworks used within product management:
This prioritization framework focuses on the possible reaction of the idea on the user or customer. How satisfied will they be with this idea? The following categories are used within this model:
If an idea is classified as indifferent or dissatisfaction, it shouldn’t be developed. This is a great framework to understand and prioritize user and customer needs.
Jobs To Be Done (JTDB)
The jobs to be done framework helps shed light on the true customer or user needs. It focuses on understanding the “job” a customer or user hires a product to do.
What is their motivation to use the product? What do they really need to solve their problem? The product team will have to dig deep to develop features that directly address user requirements.
The acronym stands for the following metrics: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue and Referral, which are also called ‘Pirate Metrics’. This is a growth oriented framework, which starts by identifying conversion metrics for each of these five user behavior categories within the product.
Then open tasks or feature ideas are classified within these metrics and it can be evaluated which ones have the most impact on them.
To learn more, we’ve created a full guide to AARRR metrics.
A prioritization matrix usually has two axes that visualize important criteria on which to evaluate product initiatives on. Those two axes could for example be impact and effort. In total there will be four quadrants in which initiatives fall into.
High impact and low effort means that a feature should definitely be prioritized. Whereas a low impact and high effort task should not be considered. This gives the team a clear idea what to work on next.
Within this framework, the product team will think of the journey that the user goes through when using the product. What is each step and what will bring the most benefit to the user?
The steps are written in a user story format, which specifies the type of user, the action they take and its value to the user. Story mapping focuses on the user and their needs.
The product tree is a visualization of the product roadmap and shows an image of a tree, with roots, branches and leaves. The roots show the technical infrastructure of the product.
The branches represent the main product functionalities. The leaves represent new feature ideas. This image helps to have a more holistic view of the roadmap and it will give indications on where to grow next to have a more sustainable growth.
Within the RICE framework, each task or idea gets to be scored on four factors, namely reach, impact, confidence and effort.
Reach is related to how many users or customers will benefit from the idea.
Impact concerns how much the idea will affect a specific goal.
Confidence looks at the data backing up the previous scores, thus deciding on how confident one can be about the reach and the impact scores.
Effort measures how many resources will be used to develop the idea.
Each of the four categories gets a numerical score, which will then be turned into an overall score. That way the ideas that are being prioritized against each other will have a balanced reflection of value and effort in their end scores.
The acronym stands for impact, confidence and ease. The tasks or initiatives in question are being evaluated on their potential impact on a certain KPI, the confidence level of whether this will work and how much effort it will take to build it.
Again, this is a model that takes into account impact and effort and lets the team focus on high-impact tasks, similar to the RICE score.
Based on their necessity, this framework sorts ideas into the following categories: Must-haves, Should-haves, Could-haves and Won’t-haves:
- Must-have initiatives are non-negotiables and need to be included in the product roadmap.
- Should-haves are essential but not critical, thus can be done later.
- Could-haves are initiatives that are nice to have, not essential and also not critical.
- Won’t-haves will not be taken into the roadmap.
In this method, product teams will ask customers or users about existing features of the product. They’ill have to rate the feature’s importance to them and their current satisfaction with it.
Features that are important but rate low in satisfaction, show a high potential in being further developed, since they will raise user or customer satisfaction.
Value vs Effort
This lightweight framework estimates the value of the initiative to the user, the customer and the business, as well as the effort to develop it. This way, the team can focus on high-impact and low-effort initiatives.
Cost of Delay (DoD)
This model quantifies the economical impact of delaying a feature. In order to calculate the CoD, a product manager needs to first estimate the monetary value that a feature would bring in during a specific timeframe (e.g. a week, or month) if it was already released.
And then this number gets multiplied by the time it is estimated to require to build. The framework helps figuring out time-sensitive features and prioritizing them.
Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)
This is a framework that is used within the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to prioritize initiatives based on the cost of delay. Additionally to the CoD, the job duration is another factor in the calculation here, meaning how long it takes to develop a feature.
The Weighted Shortest Job First method helps a team focus on initiatives that have a high CoD and a low job duration score.
As you can see from the explanations above, some frameworks focus on the relationship between impact and effort of tasks, while others focus on the user needs. Either way, prioritization is an important part of product management, in order to set the right focus for the roadmap and to effectively allocate resources.
Prioritization should be a continuous process, as the digital landscape is ever-changing and thus priorities might change fast. A lot of these frameworks are easy to understand and to apply and many of them can be visualized in whiteboard tools, such as Miro.
Have a look at which tool fits best to the way your company operates and try it out! You’ll see that it will help tremendously in building an effective roadmap.
If you want to learn more about what it’s like to be a product manager, check out this free product management short course, or have a look at one of the following guides: