8 Steps of Product Prioritization : Impact & Empathy

Prioritization of features : Meaning & Complexities

Prioritization is a key skill for a Product Manager. It ensures that Product companies invest on most important products features and build a space for innovation. It comprises of a detailed impact-effort analysis and intense stakeholder management. Product Managers have to use quantitative tools to lay down objectivity and fairness while managing stakeholders’ opinions and satisfaction. In quantitative frameworks, often even a strong opinion be it from a customer or a business stakeholder is undermined as numbers are emotion agnostic. A good Product Manager is the one with a high degree of objectivity and empathy.

Below are some situation examples where even though customers may really need a feature, prioritization can easily fail.

  • Number of users of a feature are less in number but it’s emotional value for customers is high
  • Feature’s true impact on customer’s daily lives is not accurately measured
  • Impact of unhappy customers (or to be unhappy) on business is not well understood

Failure to analyse customer’s emotions during prioritizations have caused many Product failures and PR disasters. In the famous “New Coke” disaster of 1980’s, a functional aspect (sweetness preference of new customers) was prioritized over emotions of loyal coke customers who swore by the original bitter taste.

Coca Cola lost millions and finally had to recall “New Coke” after massive public outrage. Also, since Product and Business objectives are tied together, product prioritizations have to be considerate of business stakeholder’s opinions and priorities. Imagine a Product with successful metrics on paper but with dissatisfied stakeholders.

The below steps explain the product prioritization process which manages empathy & satisfaction among stakeholders (including customers). New impact factors like emotional value and priority of the customers are introduced within the standard framework of Impact vs Effort.

To make it more meaningful to stakeholders, “theme” based grouping of product features is used. PMs first prioritize the “themes” as per stakeholder objectives. Afterwards, the relevant product features are listed and prioritized.

Themes : Feature bundles with common objectives

1. List and prioritise Product themes 

While collaborating with stakeholders, Product leads build consensus on prioritizations and timelines of “product themes”. It is an outcome driven strategy in which multiple themes of one or two objectives are prioritized in the roadmap. PMs build themes from the annual goals and prioritize them across quarters/sprints as part of long term planning.

Product themes are generally groupings of similar set of product features but product vision is more important than the feature details. Theme prioritization helps teams to focus by avoiding conflicts. It also makes prioritization more transparent and predictable for the stakeholders.

Lets assume that as per stakeholder alignment, the below Themes A and B has greater priority than Theme C in current prioritization cycle

  • Theme A – Enhancing customer satisfaction / service (existing features)
  • Theme B – Value added services / new features for increase in repeat rates
  • Theme C – Improving customer experience of checkout flow & increasing booking conversions  

Note: Themes could be spread across multiple quarters or sprints. Working on more one theme at the same time could also be common

2. List the plausible product features for prioritized themes 

Each theme is split into multiple features with the defined objectives. Product Manager’s own experience may not be the only way to define this feature list. This can be done creatively with contributions from different teams. The below ways could be used to build feature list –

  • Brainstorming sessions with Business, Design, Engg. & Product teams
  • Backlog of feature requests
  • Market/industry trends
  • Competitors
  • Existing product extensions/modifications

Themes:

  • Theme A – Enhancing customer satisfaction / service (existing features)
  • Theme B – Value added services / new features for increase in repeat rates

Features:  

Note:- Since the features are not detailed or analysed yet, product vision is more important than feature detailing at this stage

Impact Value of features

3. Identify “Business / Opportunity Value” of features 

Business /opportunity could be measured by projecting historical data of business metrics like revenue, profit and efficiency. The opportunity cost e.g. GMV loss per day can also indicate the sense of urgency.

  • Revenue impact – Increase in GMV
  • Customer acquisition – rate of growth of new customers
  • Profit impact – increase in profit margins
  • Operational efficiency – Manhours saved

Note :- For products with Customer satisfaction as primary objectives, emotional value can already be included in NPS/CSAT scores

4. Identify “Customer Satisfaction Value” of features 

Customer Satisfaction Value is often less deterministic as compared to business/opportunity but it can be partly measured using proxy metrics like usage, engagement, CSAT, NPS.

  • User experience – Number of users/usage (Reach), Emotional value for target customers, Priority of target customers – CLV, NPS/CSAT impact
  • Customer Engagement – Number of users (Reach), Emotional value for target customers, Priority of target customers – CLV, NPS/CSAT impact

Kano model is a popular prioritization tool used for prioritization. It is very effective when used for defining Emotional Value / Customer Satisfaction. Customer’s satisfaction from features can be determined by classifying them into attractive needs, performance needs or basic needs and checking the stage of the feature.

  1. Asking open questions to sample of customers directly
  2. Survey data on how much customers love that feature
  3. Using usability studies with and without the feature
  4. Finding out number of feedbacks the feature received from customers.
  5. In some situations, you can also look at how many customers complained when the feature was not working properly (downtime) and how strong, quick user feedback was

Cost of features

5. Identify estimated Effort for features

Effort could be measured in terms of manhours required for the product / feature to be built. One must also check if relevant expertise is available for feature development. In other words, Effort must also include probablistic time-effort required to identify and resolve technical complexities and time for testing. e.g. XXL, XL, L, M, S (called T-shirt sizes) assuming a Large (L) effort feature takes 30 days or 2 sprints for development and testing. Based on the effort and resources at hand, we can identify the possible timeline and schedule for each of the feature.

6. Identify Risk / Confidence for features :

The products features should also be weighed against Risk and confidence. E.g. The Business value impact for feature X may be high but confidence on its impact achievement may be low.

Also, there could be predictable or unforeseen operational/technical failures during development and execution. During prioritization, one must carefully assess and quantify those risk for better decision making and risk mitigation.

Prioritized Feature Set

7. Rate features based on each factor 

Points or ranks or categories (High, Medium, Low) are given for each of the factors (business and customer value, effort and Risk) against the feature. Customer and Business value can be aggregated as ‘Impact value’ with appropriate weightage. 

8. Rank the features or set the overall feature priority

Considering Impact Value, Effort and Risk/confidence, PMs should be able to come up with a clear priority of product features in Ranking or Points. It can also be useful to give different weights to different factors before arriving at final priority of features.

It is important to not just logically quantify the priority based on multiple factor but is also important to represent the priority and communicate it to the stakeholders in understandable fashion. The below graphical representation is a useful way to represent the overall priority in the dimensions of value, effort and risk/confidence  

Note: For overall prioritization, Product feature can be classified as:

  1. P0- High priority/Most Urgent
  2. P1- Medium priority/less-urgent
  3. P2-Low priority/least-urgent.

Alternatively Product feature could also be classified as

  1. P0- Sacrifice others for this
  2. P1- Try to keep
  3. P2- Sacrifice these for others

Starting from Themes, we have now finalized a limited number of prioritized features for our upcoming roadmap (or sprint). Having a properly documented and well-rehersed prioritization process helps all team members and stakeholders.

It gives a logical structure to otherwise distributed arguments during prioritization. Also, since a PM is as good as his communications, it communicates the prioritization clearly, effectively and saves more time for more creative discussions within teams 🙂

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