Feature prioritization is one of the most important jobs of a Product Manager. Yet it continues to be one of the most difficult and debated topics in the community. So let’s take away the confusion and start with the #1, most simple rule that should guide your feature prioritization.
Setting the priority of features is one of the most important aspects of Product Management. All the work that we do–all that customer development, internal horse-trading, market research, etc.–culminates with a list of prioritized features for the development team to build.
And yet, if prioritization is so important, why is it so difficult to do? Why is there so much confusion around it? Look at some of the most popular Product Management forums in LinkedIn or Quora, and you’ll see that how to create a roadmap and prioritize features continues to be a big issue for Product Managers.
In many cases, the struggle to prioritize features is just a symptom of something bigger. The real problem is usually lack of strategic vision or direction.
When you prioritize features, ask yourself:
- Are you prioritizing features without a solid strategy and prioritization criteria?
- Are you only listening to the loudest stakeholder, biggest customer, or squeaky wheel?
- Are you just chasing after the features of the competition (feature parity)?
- Are you trying to chase the latest trend in your industry?
If you answer yes to any of the above questions, then your prioritization will not only be difficult, but it’ll be highly ineffective.
So here is the simple rule: Your feature prioritization should flow from your overall product strategy.
Your company’s strategy will inform your high-level roadmap, which tells you what type of functionality you need to build in the short- and mid-term, to satisfy your customers needs as well as other internal company needs.
If you don’t have a clear strategy and high-level roadmap that was crafted based on customer development, then there’s no point in trying to prioritize features yet. So before jumping into reorganizing individual features within your Product Managment tool (if you are lucky to have one), take a minute to revisit your overall strategy and long-term roadmap.
That’s not to say your strategy needs to be set in stone for all of eternity. Depending on the maturity of your company, it’s not rare for strategies to adjust or “pivot” (to use the Lean lingo) every so often based on new learnings gathered via Customer Development. But you do need to have a defined strategy at all times, which remains mostly consistent, most of the time.
By the way, getting here is a lot of work, and that’s where a big part of the value of Product Managers lie. If you’d like some great resources on developing and executing a customer-driven strategy, I highly recommend these books. They are aimed at startups, but the insights are equally applicable to established companies.
- 4 Steps to the Epiphany, by Steve Blank
- Running Lean, by Ash Maurya
- Lean Customer Development, by Cindy Alvarez
I also recommend Bruce McCarthy’s posts on creating roadmaps: The Dirty Dozen Roadmap Roadblocks.
In my next post, I share a method for prioritizing your features using a scorecard approach. Be sure to not miss that one!
Photo by Peter Reed