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  • Writer's pictureElena Leonova

4 Powerful Ways to Prioritize Your Product Roadmap | The Essential's Guide

49% of product managers, who participated in the Mind the Product survey, highlighted that their primary challenge is setting roadmap priorities and validating that the market truly needs what they're building.


Prioritization is one of the most important but one of the most challenging product manager responsibilities. There's typically more work that your team can do within the time they have. Therefore, for the company to succeed in meeting customer needs, the most important thing that their product manager should do is focus on setting product roadmap priorities correctly.

Prioritization also becomes a much more laborious exercise the more people are involved in the process. Your stakeholders, peers, engineering & design counterparts, sales, and customer support teams all have their perspectives on what's important and what they would like to be worked on next. That's why product managers need to know how to navigate all of these inputs correctly and make the right decisions for the customers and company.

Luckily, product prioritization frameworks help you make objective decisions and use a common language to seek alignment with everybody involved. There are qualitative and quantitative frameworks. Most of them more opinionated, but some are adjustable to your needs. Some focus on the business value only, and some take the effort estimate into account.


There're many options to choose from, but it's crucial to pick a framework that works best for you to start with, align with your peers and stakeholders, and start using it consistently to start seeing results.


Let's look at a few most popular product prioritization frameworks and their pros and cons.

 

How to choose the right product prioritization framework?


There are about 120 product prioritization frameworks available to you as a product manager. So how do you choose one that works for you?

A formal prioritization framework is needed to eliminate the gut feeling from the prioritization process. To do so, you need to align on a common prioritization approach that everybody involved understands. The alignment process is typically very eye-opening and it surfaces all the misunderstandings and misalignments that might exist within your teams. For example, maybe one person thinks that reducing the support burden is an essential thing that the team should be working on, while the other person might be thinking about driving new customers to the product. The third person might believe that existing customer engagement is more important than anything else.

So the first step is to get all the critical people in a room and open up a conversation about their perspective on the company and product goals. This will be your foundation to get aligned on the product prioritization framework.


Main Characteristics of a Good Prioritization Framework

Ultimately your product prioritization framework should be:

  1. Objective. There should be no place for gut-feeling prioritization. There might be informed hypotheses and bets, but they still need to be backed by the data.

  2. Agreed upon. You want to make sure that there's a common language used within your company regarding roadmap prioritization. There should be no debates about what drivers are being considered while prioritizing one feature vs. another.

  3. Transparent. Transparency is vital in decision-making. It needs to be very obvious to everybody involved why feature X is more important than Y. So they can get on board with the decision or challenge the priority based on their alternative point of view of its relative priority. It always opens an excellent conversation.

  4. Easy to use. The roadmap prioritization framework ultimately should be easy to use so it doesn't become a burden. As with any process, it should be helping to make the right decisions instead of going in a way.

 

The Most Popular Prioritization Frameworks


Of 120 product prioritization frameworks available to product managers, a few gained the most popularity:

So let's take a look at each of them, and look at their pros and cons for using it for roadmap prioritization.


The MoSCoW Method


The MoSCoW method is one of the oldest but the most widely used prioritization methods. Dai Clegg developed it in 1994, and it gained extreme popularity in business analysis, project management, and software development.


It's most helpful when you need to reach a common understanding with stakeholders on the importance they place on the delivery of each requirement, especially if time is limited.

The term Moscow itself is an acronym derived from the first letter of four prioritization categories: M - Must have S - Should have C - Could have W - Won't have.


The MoSCoW Method

While the MoSCoW method is widely used, it lacks objectivity. Since these ratings are qualitative, stakeholders can interpret each of them differently; a Must-Have for one might not be for another. Things get even more complicated when you need to prioritize features for a broader customer base, as it might be challenging to say what is a Must-Have vs. Could Have if you're trying to serve thousands of customers. And lastly, if your product serves multiple customer types with disparate needs, you won't be able to use the MoSCoW method to say what's important or not for them. At a minimum, you'd need to prioritize per customer type.


The RICE Scoring


The RICE scoring system is another critical prioritization framework. The RICE scoring system has been developed by Intercom to help them make their product roadmap prioritization decisions. And once made public, it got widely adopted by a broader product management community.


RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort, where each represents each unique category helping assess its relative priority. The RICE scoring requires product managers to be more data-driven and gives the best results when quantitative hypotheses are made.

Reach


Reach represents a number of customers that will be impacted by this particular feature or idea. You can define your timeframe and assess customer reach by answering the question, "how many customers will this impact within a month?" It requires making adoption hypotheses and being backed by actual data.


Impact


Once you know the number of people this new feature will reach, the next step is to assess how they are going to be impacted. Is it one of the game-changing experiences for them, or is it not going to make a significant difference in their day-to-day life?

There's no scientific way of assessing the impact but based on your customer interviews.


However, it would help if you had a sense of its implications, reflecting in the Impact score.

Intercom recommends a multiple-choice scale:

  • 3 = massive impact

  • 2 = high impact

  • 1 = medium impact

  • 0.5 = low impact

  • 0.25 = minimal impact

Confidence

The Confidence score helps you assess your willingness to take risks. This score should be your guide to how confident you feel about a particular feature. For example, how confident are you that it will make a significant impact on your customers? How confident are you in your technical approach? Are there any risks that you foresee with this specific feature?

You will use percentages to qualify your confidence level. Anything above 80% is considered a high confidence score, and anything below 50% is pretty much unqualified.


Effort


It's always essential to compare the value you're planning to deliver to the effort it will take to get there. This is where your team's ability to provide high-level estimates comes in very handy. To get a complete effort estimate by taking into account engineering time and design, development, and testing.


In an ideal world, you will be looking for high-value / low-effort initiatives. However, at times you'd want to make a large-effort investment in the future of your product.

You'll need information from everyone involved (designers, engineers, and others) to calculate effort.


You can use any estimation units of your choice, whether its Story points, Epic points, SWAGs, T-shirt sizes (but you'd need to come up with a numerical number for it), or hours.


Calculating a RICE Score


The RICE Score Calculation

Now you should have four numbers representing each of the four categories. To calculate your score, multiply Reach by Impact and then by Confidence. Then divide by Effort. Your final score means the "total impact per time worked." And as always, most of the time, you want to look for high-impact / low-effort items.



The KANO Model


The KANO Model has been created by Dr. Noriaki Kano, a professor of quality management at the Tokyo University of Science, in 1984. Its primary focus is on customer satisfaction and loyalty.


The Kano Model Graph

Using the Kano Model, you need to pull together a list of potential new features considered to be prioritized on a roadmap. And then, you would need to weigh these features according to two competing criteria:

  1. Their potential to satisfy customers.

  2. Investment is required to implement them.

All the features can be placed into one of three categories:

  • Delighters. The features that customers will perceive as going above and beyond their expectations. These are the things that will differentiate you from your competition.

  • Performance features. Customers respond well to high investments in performance features.

  • Basic features. The minimum functionality expected by customers to solve their problems. Without these, the product is useless to them.

The main idea behind the KANO model is to focus on customer satisfaction by delivering as many delighters features as possible. And typically, the questionnaire is being used to assess customer experience if they had a particular feature available to them.

While the KANO Model works great for some companies, it's very tedious to have a questionnaire to assess potential customer impact by a particular feature and doesn't consider the other goals the company might have. But it's still imperative to evaluate all of your available functionality and feature gaps using the KANO model to understand which of your features are being considered delighters and which ones have moved into the basic category.


The Custom Weighted Score / Priority Scorecard


We're very passionate about the custom weighted score, also known as the priority scorecard method. In a nutshell, it's very similar to the RICE scoring system but allows you to tailor the scores to your product & company goals.


Let me give you an example. Let's say you're working on Fitness mobile app, and your goals are:

  1. Drive Adoption

  2. Increase Customer Engagement

  3. Improve Operational Efficiency

You can decide on as many factors as you need to represent your product & company focus accurately; however, the best practice is to have five or fewer scores. And set percentages next to them as the measure of its importance, for example:

  1. Drive Adoption - 40%

  2. Increase Customer Engagement - 35%

  3. Improve Operational Efficiency - 25%


The Custom Weighted Score Calculation

For each score you can set the weight of 1-5 or 1-100 as you see fit, and based on a percentage calculate the overall score. For example, 1 x 40% + 4 x 35% + 4 x 25%= 2.8


This tool allows you to have a prioritization framework that genuinely addresses your company's needs and can be used as a great tool to get cross-functional team alignment. But as always, it's vital to have the data backing up your scores instead of relying on gut feeling. Another benefit of using the Custom Weighted Score framework is that it consistently prioritizes all items under one theme. This way, you are comparing apples to apples. And while this framework relies on some opinions on the score definitions, it still provides much credibility to the overall prioritization score.



 

Takeaways


Product Roadmap prioritization is the most critical activity that product managers should do for the success of their product and company. Choosing what to build and what not to is essential, and it's vital to have an objective used prioritization framework within the company that everybody is aligned to, transparent, and easy to use. There are a few popular prioritization frameworks, such as the MoSCoW Method, the RICE scoring, the KANO model, and our favorite, the Custom Weighted Score (aka Priority Scorecard).

All these frameworks are built into OneRank that allow product managers and the rest of the stakeholders to have a single source of truth for prioritization and always answer why feature X is more important than feature Y.


Illustrations are done by Storyset

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