7 questions to gut-check your feature prioritization

Feature prioritization can be a complex and challenging art. Often involving intricate spreadsheets, Moneyball-esque scorecards, and a lot of healthy debate. It’s up to product managers to digest everyone’s suggestions, desires, pet peeves, stray thoughts, blue-sky ideas, personal biases, and 4am emails—then turn all that noise into a neat little list of product priorities. With so many variables to consider, even the most clear-thinking PM can easily lose focus. So we’ve put together this handy collection of gut-checking questions to make sure the right features get top rank.

Before locking feature priorities, ask yourself…


Do these features fit inside our 3 quarterly goals?
Feature prioritization is inevitably responsive: you’re listening to your stakeholders and integrating their viewpoints. But it should also be proactive, taking assertive strides toward pre-established goals. At Roadmunk, we set 3 key goals for our product each quarter, and ensure each new feature contributes to the attainment of those goals. Focus on where you want your product to be in a few months—not trendy distractions or quick-fixes—and set feature priorities that get you there.


Am I meeting the users’ needs? (Or: Am I keeping their attention?)
The most important of all these voices is, of course, that of the user. But with so much day-to-day chaos, it’s easier than we might think to lose track of their perspective. When establishing feature prioritization, product managers should ensure they hear and understand their users. Are you actually empathizing with your users, and if so, how deeply? Make sure your customers have a place to create “firehose of feedback” from which you can glean insights and understand how to meet their needs. This isn’t just about adding new functionality. You also need to know how they feel when using your product. Getting a ho-hum response? It might be time to prioritize novelty and delight over practicality. Before moving forward, put yourself in their shoes.


Have I weighed the satisfiers, delighters and basic expectations according to the KANO model?
Speaking of delight, we live and breathe the KANO model. This is a simple, two-axis grid mapping product investment against product satisfaction. The KANO model refutes the idea that fixing everything about your product makes for a better product. Instead, offering delightful (but often simple) features has the potential to greatly improve customer satisfaction—with less effort. When setting feature priorities, plot them on a KANO graph. Make sure you’re meeting customers’ basic expectations—but only invest in basic features to the extent that customers are satisfied. Then focus on consistently delighting them.


Is my process transparent to executives, sales, marketing and engineering?
To gain support for your priorities, executives and stakeholders need to understand how you set those priorities to begin with. So much of a product manager’s job is about alignment—which is not easy to come by. But alignment can be much more smoothly attained when everyone understands why they are aligning. Offering a transparent framework for stakeholders to see how you prioritize will take some of the hiccups out of the process. (Using our roadmap templates is an excellent way to establish a transparent framework, by the way.) Setting priorities isn’t just about making a list—it’s about getting buy-in for your plan.


How balanced is my engineering resource pie?
If you’re like us, you probably allocate priorities according to a pie model—say, 50% of your resources go to new features, 25% to bugs, and 25% to infrastructure and R&D. When strategizing a new set of priorities, make sure you’ve balanced your breakdown. Of course, you’ll never divide priorities exactly according to your pie each quarter. Which is why product managers must also ask themselves to assess imbalances in their previous pie—and aim for an even allocation over the year.


How much weight am I giving the challenges?
During the feature prioritization process, product managers shouldn’t just assess the challenges—they should assess how much weight they’re giving those challenges. A particular feature may present a bunch of technical hurdles, but by no means does this invalidate its worth. On the other hand, ignoring feature-related challenges could get you into trouble. The best way to assess the merit of tackling certain challenges is to plot potential features on a Value vs. Complexity graph. Features that offer high value and low complexity should get top billing, while low-value, high-complexity features don’t merit your muscle. Before establishing your priorities, ensure you’re not taking on features that will drain your resources with minimal payoff. In other words, don’t fall into The Trap.


Am I building features for only short-term or long-term value?
Are you too fixated on quick fixes? Or pumping all your resources into an elaborate upgrade that won’t be ready for months? A solid list of feature priorities aims for consistency. Customers want short-term payoffs: squashed bugs and cool new widgets. But they also want the type of quality that can only be achieved by more complex, core upgrades that ensure retention. When setting priorities, make sure you’re considering both the immediate gratification and long-term satisfaction.

What other questions should product managers ask themselves before solidifying their feature priorities? Tweet ’em at us!