Product Management

6 min read

The Top Product Management Prioritization Frameworks to Boost Your Product's Success

As a product manager, you know your product. You watch the analytics. You talk with customers. You get near-constant updates on development. So you have a good feel for what features need to be added to the queue and in what order. 

But when you have an executive suggesting one feature, your engineering team excited about another feature, and your support team begging for something different, it can be difficult to know what to prioritize—and get alignment from all stakeholders. That’s why it’s important to use a prioritization framework to identify what’s truly valuable for your product. 

Product management prioritization frameworks provide order to what is often a tangle of demands, and using a consistent system gives product managers a way to make informed decisions on how features should be prioritized.

5 Product Management Prioritization Frameworks You Need to Know

A variety of product prioritization frameworks have been developed over the years, each putting an emphasis on a slightly different element of the ideation process. Here’s a breakdown of the five most popular.

1. Kano Model: Putting Customer Satisfaction First

The Kano framework focuses on the customer’s perception of value, categorizing features into four buckets: basic/expected, normal/performance, exciting/attractive, and indifferent.

  • Expected features: These don’t increase satisfaction, but if you don’t have them, customers get frustrated (such as a mobile-friendly site).
  • Performance features: The more you have, the better the customer experience, such as battery life and storage space.
  • Attractive features: Features in this quadrant provide the “wow” factor. Be careful not to overdo these at the expense of performance and expected features. (These would include integrations into common programs.)
  • Indifferent: These are time sinks because they don’t affect customer satisfaction.

The Kano model can be more time-consuming than other frameworks because it requires a survey asking customers two questions: how would you feel about the addition of a certain feature, and how would you feel without a certain feature. The possible responses are I like it, I expect it, neutral, I can tolerate it, and I dislike it.

Pull the answers into an evaluation table to determine which features to prioritize. Fulfill what customers expect and what makes the product perform well. When you have resources, include features that delight customers and differentiate your product. Ignore features that customers are indifferent about.

Be aware of the “natural decay of delight.” Over time, features customers loved when they first launched will move to expected features as users become accustomed to using them or technology evolves so that a feature becomes standard.

2. RICE: Comparing Disparate Feature Options 

Developed by the product management team at Intercom, RICE stands for the four criteria the team uses to determine which projects get added to the roadmap.

  • Reach: This is the number of customers who will be impacted by the change, measured by people or events per time period, such as users per month or transactions per quarter.
  • Impact: Intercom uses a scale of 0.5 to 3, where 3 is massive impact, 2 is high impact, 1 is medium impact, and 0.5 is low impact. The impact should be tied to a clear and measurable KPI, such as increasing conversion or improving positive customer reviews.
  • Confidence: This metric quantifies how confident you are that your data around this feature is accurate, represented by a percentage. You might know how many people it will reach, but you may not be sure of the impact, so it might be 80% confidence. This helps prioritize projects with a known contribution.
  • Effort: Measured in person-months, this is a total of all the time required to complete this feature from everyone on the team, including planning, design, and development. Use whole numbers (or 0.5). Effort is a negative factor.

Once you have assigned metrics to the criteria, calculate each feature’s RICE score: Reach x Impact x Confidence / Effort. Intercom even provides a spreadsheet to help you calculate the scores. Features with the highest RICE score are most likely to reach more people, have a larger impact, and take the least amount of effort.

3. Value vs. Effort Matrix: A Quick Way to Prioritize

For this model, a simple 2x2 grid gives you an easy way to visualize the value and effort for each potential feature. The first step is to define what value and effort mean to your organization. For example, you might include the value to customers as well as to the business. Effort might include not only the time and skills of the team but also operational costs and the technology available.

Once you’ve plotted the features in the matrix, you can see the quick wins (high-value, low-effort) and big bets (high-value, high-effort) that should be prioritized. Use low-value, low-effort projects for fill-ins when you have resources, and avoid low-value, high-effort projects.

This model is great for new projects with short feature sets or when you need to make prioritization decisions quickly.

4. The MoSCoW Method: Focusing on Functionality

The MoSCoW prioritization framework is common in Agile environments. For each launch, you divide product features into four categories: must have (Mo), should have (S), could have (Co), and won’t have (W).

  • Must-haves are required for the feature to exist or are legally required. For example, your data analysis feature must be able to pull data from the website analytics tool. If the feature is not required—no matter how excited your team or customers are for it—it should be moved to a should-have or could-have feature.
  • Should-have features may not be required for the feature to launch, but would severely hurt user satisfaction if not available. For example, users need to be able to do basic data manipulation.
  • Could-have features are benefits that can be added as time and resources allow. To decide if a feature is a should-have or a could-have, determine how much discomfort your users would have if the feature were not available.
  • Won’t-have features are considered out-of-scope for this release. All features start in the “won’t have” category until there is justification to move them up. A feature that stays in the “won’t have” bucket may get prioritized in a future release.

The MoSCoW method can help your team weed out pet projects that will be fun to develop but not instrumental for the product.

5. Buy a Feature: Making Prioritization a Game

This is an innovation game disguised as a product management prioritization framework and works best with a set of engaged customers or your internal team. 

Put your potential features and upgrades into a list and assign a value to each feature. The value should align with what it would take to build that feature. Provide the group with a pot of “money” for them to buy the features they would most like to see developed. Have them provide a reason for their decision.

Prioritize your project list based on what customers are most likely to spend the most on and what they value most highly.

Implementing Product Prioritization for Your Team

The product prioritization process should be collaborative and continually evolve. Here are some best practices when implementing your prioritization framework:

  • Involve stakeholders in the prioritization process so you understand how these features might impact other parts of the business. This includes your customers.
  • Use data to inform prioritization decisions. Avoid emotional decisions by being clear on your key metrics and personas for this product. 
  • Keep a prioritization backlog with a good mix of quick, one-off projects, medium-term projects that get to the next stage of the roadmap, and long-term architecture work that fulfills the ultimate vision for the product.
  • Re-prioritize regularly based on new information. Review your list monthly or quarterly to incorporate new customer feedback, include new technology, and address resource availability.
  • Communicate prioritization decisions to all internal stakeholders, including support and marketing teams, so they can keep customers aware of imminent updates. House the prioritization queue in a place where everyone can access it.

Use the Prioritization Framework That Works Best for You

Use these frameworks to identify what works best for your organization. You may find it valuable to use one method to cull a long list of ideas into the most important to your customers (Kano method) and then a different method to prioritize the remaining list (value vs. effort matrix). Or you might find pieces of one or another prioritization framework that meets your needs.

Customer feedback is crucial to prioritizing your features, no matter which framework you use. If you are ready for a single place to house, manage, and analyze your customer feedback, sign up for a free trial of UserVoice today.