Product Managers have a myriad of prioritization frameworks and techniques to choose from when it comes to organizing and ranking the most important work. We take a look at why it’s important to use a product prioritization matrix, which frameworks are out there and how to choose the one that best suits you, your team and your business.
What is a prioritization framework?
When thinking about product management, a prioritization framework provides a way for you to evaluate and organize the relative importance of customer problems, ideas, product features and other potential solutions or requests.
As a Product Manager, it’s important to keep focussed on the highest value work that is going to provide impact for your customers and your business, as well as taking care to minimize waste during product development. Prioritization frameworks can help provide a strategy for all of this.
Why is it important to use a product prioritization matrix?
Product prioritization is an effective way for busy Product Managers to understand what the next most important thing to work on might be. This work is not done in isolation – there will likely be a lot of collaboration with other parts of your organization and a lot of requests and ideas coming your way which need to be effectively organized for maximum impact.
In short, prioritization matrices are great time savers and provide a way to have meaningful conversations with other people in your cross-functional team and business
Product prioritization matrices can provide you with a set of principles, which can help you to form a solid strategy on how to develop your product over time. They should also help you answer questions such as:
- Are we working on things that will bring the most value to our users and customers?
- Are we operating in the realms of feasibility, with regard to time and effort required?
- Are we contributing to the wider business objectives?
- Are we working on things that are possible within the constraints of our business?
- Will this work help us move closer to our product vision?
Well executed product prioritization also provides transparency for your team and stakeholders, enabling them to understand the process that has taken place when it comes to organizing requests, ideas and potential features and as a way to show that focus has been put on the work that has the most impact for the business and your customers.
8 best product prioritization frameworks
With so many product management prioritization frameworks to choose from, we help you understand what some of the key ones are and the main pros and cons of each.
User story mapping
Hopefully your product team is all about user-centricity, and if so, user story mapping is a great framework. It involves working as a team to map your users’ interactions with your product (e.g. sign-up, add a product, add to basket, checkout etc) and identify which parts of the journey provide the most benefit for your audience, as well as any pain points they may currently be experiencing.
- Heavy focus on customer needs and benefits
- High value / impact work is prioritized
- Collaborative process with your team
- Other factors such as effort, feasibility and business viability may have less weighting in this framework
Popularised by customer communications platform, Intercom, the RICE scoring system focuses on generating impact for any given product goal. The acronym stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence and Effort.
When considering reach, you’re thinking about how many customers will this particular idea or feature affect within a given timeframe.
Impact considers how much users will be impacted by your idea or feature – this is measured on a scale from 0.25 (minimal impact) to 3 (massive impact).
With confidence you are thinking about what level of certainty you have on your reach and impact data and metrics (above) – where 50% might equal low confidence and 100% would mean high confidence.
Effort looks at what investment of time might be needed to realize any particular idea or feature – considering product, design and development.
Finally you can take all of the above information and calculate a RICE score using the following formula: Reach x Impact x Confidence ➗ Effort.
Once you have scored all of your ideas and features, you can rank them from highest score to lowest.
- Encourages product teams to think about SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant) metrics – as seen with the Reach element – thinking about both how many users and during what time frame
- Removes inherent biases in the prioritization process by focussing on relative confidence
- Less weighting given to factors such as cross-team dependencies or viability
- Calculations will never be completely airtight as the framework is based on the confidence the team members have on its estimations
This framework is heavily focussed on improving customer satisfaction and looks at 2 key axes: the horizontal looks at to what degree a customer need is met and the vertical maps the level of customer satisfaction.
When considering to what degree a customer need is met (horizontal axis) you focus on 3 key levels:
- Table stakes / basic features – without these your customers would consider your product a poor solution to their needs or problems
- Performance features – these are things that sit a level about basic features and the more you invest in these, the higher your customer satisfaction levels will be
- Delighters – these are features that your customers may not expect to see and that result in moments of delight
In order to measure customer satisfaction you will need to run a Kano questionnaire with your users to understand how they would feel when provided (or not) with a given feature. Customer feedback is key!
- Encourages product teams not to overfocus on delighters or under focus on basic features
- Helps balance good product planning and decision-making with customer expectations and satisfaction
- Running the Kano questionnaire can be time-consuming as you will need to get a fair representation of your customer base
- Customers may not fully understand the features you are surveying them on, which can skew results
Value vs. effort
This prioritization framework pretty much does what it says on the tin – take your list of ideas or features and plot them on a chart with value on one axis and effort on another.
When considering value you might want to consider benefits to current customers, benefits to potential customers, business value (revenue etc) and impact on strategic outcomes or goals.
Effort criteria may encompass things like cost, risk, complexity, development or operational effort.
- Criteria for defining value or effort is flexible and can be tailored by what’s most important to your team or business
- Lean and simple to use – no need for complex calculations
- Collaborative process that provides alignment for teams
- Room for cognitive bias as there’s a lot of estimation and guesswork involved
- Levels of effort can be difficult to agree on (e.g. development effort)
Originating from Anthony Ulwick’s Outcome-Driven Innovation concept, this prioritization method focuses primarily on scoring opportunities based on satisfaction and importance. When you have your list of ideas or features, you can run a survey with your customers to understand:
- How important is this idea or feature? (Ask customers to rank them)
- How satisfied are your customers with your existing solutions?
Once you have gathered these insights you can plot them on a graph with importance on the horizontal axis and satisfaction on the vertical axis to see whether your customers are overserved, underserved or appropriately served.
- Heavily focussed on customer satisfaction
- Simple framework for plotting opportunities
- Easy to visualize on a graph
- Customers may over or underestimate the importance of a opportunity
Dai Clegg developed the MoSCoW framework in 1994 during his time at Oracle. The acronym stands for “Must-Have”, “Should-Have”, “Could-Have”, “Won’t Have” – the two “o”s were throw in to make the acronym more memorable!
More commonly associated with project management (as opposed to product management), MoSCoW helps you to organize work to deliver into 4 unambiguous buckets:
- Must Haves
- Non-negotiable, must be worked on first
- Without these, the product is not viable (could be Legal restrictions / other)
- Part of your MVP feature set
- Value / impact cannot be achieved without these
- Should Haves
- Important items, but not vital for success
- Solution is still viable and valuable without these
- May cause some pain / negative results but workarounds are possible
- Could Haves
- Items still desirable but not as important as Should Haves
- Can be tackled if there is extra time
- Won’t Haves
- Out of scope this time around
- Nice to have but no real impact or value
- Good way to eliminate any pet projects or work that won’t have any impact for users or customers
- Range of criteria to organize features
- Works well for single time-boxed release
- Not always clear to stakeholders what happens to the “Should-Have” and “Could-Have” features
- No clear ranking within the “Must Haves”
- Too much time can be spent on separating “Should-Have” and “Could-Have”
- Sometimes time and budget are used as criteria as opposed to value or impact
- Doesn’t scale across multiple releases or product roadmaps
Perhaps a little less conventional than some of the other prioritization techniques we have discussed so far, Buy-a-Feature is a great technique for getting stakeholder input and understanding the value that they place on particular ideas and features.
The concept is based around “placing your bets” where each stakeholder or participant has a set amount of poker chips/similar with a set monetary value. Product Managers can then take it in turns to describe the feature or idea that they are putting forward (be sure to keep it to a sensible number so as not to overwhelm people taking part).
Then your stakeholders can use their chips to “place bets” on each feature or idea – the higher the monetary value they place, the more important that particular item is to them. At the end the chips are added up and participants can see which ideas or features are the “winners”.
- Great for involving your stakeholders and other parts of the business in prioritization
- Generates good discussion about what your stakeholders see as valuable and why
- Can help untangle long “wish lists” or requests from other parts of the business
- May set expectations that “winning” ideas or features will be delivered
- Only takes stakeholder opinion into account
- Less focus on effort, viability, feasibility and customer value
Cost of Delay
his prioritization framework places a heavy emphasis on revenue-generating ideas or features and the time it takes to deliver those. The basic premise is to assign a monetary value to each feature you might build and to also quantify the amount of time it would take to deliver. You can also assign monetary value to features, imagining they have already been built.
This technique encourages you to consider questions such as:
- If the product had this feature, what would it be worth right now?
- How much would our product be worth if we delivered this feature sooner?
- How much would it cost if we delivered this feature later than planned?
- Allows you to assign monetary value to product work
- Focuses on business value and financial return
- Less emphasis on customer value, feasibility and viability
- A lot of guesswork involved to assign monetary values
- Can result in long discussions to agree on assigned monetary values
How to choose the right prioritization framework for you?
When it comes to choosing the right prioritization framework for your product team, it can be a total minefield with so many to choose from (there are nearly 40 out there!). So how do you go about finding what works for you, your product and ultimately for your business? Here are some themes to consider.
If you’re the kind of Product Manager who understands the world through cold, hard data then you might consider prioritizing using the RICE framework. There is little room for objectivity and the use of weighted scoring also plays into the preference for arithmetic, if that’s how you best make sense of things.
The output of this framework is also very unambiguous – there should be a clear priority order of ideas or features, ranked from most important to least.
User / customer-driven
While all good prioritization frameworks take customer value and impact into account, there are some that focus more heavily on it. If you’re the kind of Product Manager who prefers to put your users or customers at the centre of all you do, then you might consider using the Kano Model or Opportunity Scoring frameworks.
Both put heavy emphasis on customer satisfaction and also consider implementation effort. However, there is less focus on business viability and feasibility in these techniques, so something to watch out for!
When it comes to prioritization, the “how you get there” can be as important as what you end up with at the end of the process. Close collaboration with your cross-functional team and stakeholders can result in a much richer set of prioritized ideas and features.
You might consider the User Story Mapping prioritization technique where you can co-create a map and have your users / customers front and centre. The MoSCoW method can also be a collaborative exercise, encouraging discussion about how to organize your features into the four different buckets.
Sometimes there comes a crunch point in product development where you need to make trade-offs based on how many people you have available to work on your product. If this is the case then the simple Value vs. Effort prioritization framework could be the one for you.
Focussing in closely on these two factors can help ensure you keep user, customer and business value front and centre but also sharpen the conversation about who you have on hand to do the actual work.
What do you do as a Product Manager when you have a huge wish list or set of requests from stakeholders and not a lot of time to sift through them and have conversations about why each is/isn’t important? Play a game, of course!
Buy-a-Feature is a really fun and engaging way to involve your stakeholders in the prioritization process and the time-boxed exercise means you can collect a lot of insights from your colleagues without having to set up tons of meetings individually.
In short, there are many different ways to prioritize product work and ultimately you have to find what works best for you. Some teams prefer to more heavily focus on users and customers while other businesses may demand a more weighted approach that also incorporates business value, effort and viability. We hope you have found something useful here to help you on your product journey – good luck!