Our simple feature prioritization process

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Prioritization product development is pretty easy in the early days when you’re building the first version of your product. Well…maybe I shouldn’t say ‘easy’, but certainly not that hard. 

But then you get your first users and/or paying customers.

And then you get a couple more employees - maybe a couple of departments start to form. 

And then you start talking to investors.

And then maybe you get some press. 

And then prioritization becomes…not so easy. With a lot more stakeholders, it becomes much more complicated, stressful and, often times, ground zero for internal strife & infighting. Prioritization activities can become an arena where tech and non-tech teams clash in heated battles of egos, biases, instincts, and conflicting accountability. 

But it doesn’t need to be this way. It can be better. It’s never going to be easy, but it can be better. 

We have a process that we’ve been using for a couple of months at Knowtify that has been working very well for us. Thought we’d share. 

FIRST, THE UNDERLYING PRINCIPAL 

Before we get into detail around the actual process, it’s important to share the underlying beliefs and principals from which the process is borne. 

We have a strong believe that there are various perspectives and considerations that contribute to good product decisions. Perspectives from sales, customer success, marketing & engineering all play important roles in these decisions. We don’t subscribe to a “Product Ownership” model of product development. In fact, quite the opposite. We realize that the product is at the core of everything our business is and will ever become - so to relegate “ownership” of this to one person or department is something that seems nonsensical to us. 

Given this, it was super important to us to insure that our product prioritization process included a way for each of the various perspectives and voices to be represented.  

THE PRIORITIZATION SCORING EXERCISE

Every week, we hold a 45 minute prioritization meeting. Yes, every week. At our stage, things move very quickly - both from a product development to a customer development perspective - so a weekly meeting is the right cadence for us right now. Probably won’t always be this way, but for now, this is working. 

The goal of this meeting it to create an ordered list of priorities that will determine our work for the next week or two. 

To aid in this, we created a quick prioritization “calculator” (ok, Google spreadsheet) that enables us “quantify” these decisions. Our scoring methodology is super simple and is based on only two factors for each feature/project:

  1. Impact on our business

  2. Amount of work required

Yup. It’s that simple. Yes, we could get a lot more robust with this, but simplicity was very important for us.

Our “calculator” looks like this: 

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You can see it for yourself on this Google spreadsheet. More details on the calculations:

Potential Impact

Each feature is assessed for its potential impact on the business as a whole (this is important). Every person on the team is required to score each of the features on this metric before the meeting. We give each feature a score between 1-10. The higher the score, the more potential impact it could have on our business.

Amount of Work

This is obviously a score that is mostly driven by the engineering team. But other team members are able to contribute to this score if there are other unusual, non-technical activities that are required for the feature that should be considered. Will it require an elaborate landing page to be built? a separate explainer video? etc. Anything out of the ordinary. 

The Amount of Work is also given a score between 1-10, but in this case 1 means “a lot of work” while 10 means “piece of cake”. This is opposite the way Impact is scored, but you’ll see why in a minute. 

Total Score

To get a total priority score for each feature, we simply add the scores for Impact & Amount of Work together (I told you it was simple). So a feature that would have big impact (call it a 9), but would require a lot of work (score of 1) would have a total score of 10. This would be the same as a feature with low impact (2), but is easy to build (8). 

The point of this scoring system is to help identify the features that are going to give us the “biggest bang for our buck.”

THE DISCUSSION

While we use this calculator to quantify our prioritization, by far the most valuable piece of this process are the discussions we have during our prioritization meetings.

At the beginning of each meeting, we go down the list of features and everyone around the table explains his/her Impact score for that feature. This is where we really get to understand the various perspectives in the company and it’s always enlightening. This meeting becomes a forum for things that often go unsaid or under-communicated during the week. Engineering is often not aware of the things for which the  customers are asking. And very often, the customer teams are unaware of the pieces of the product that engineering find most important.  

These discussions also lead to a great deal of clarity on how each person on the team defines a feature. The customer team may think of a feature one way while engineering may think of it as something different. Through these discussions, we are able to mold, shape and better define these features. On a few occasions, we have been able to split some of the features into separate chunks, each with their own Impact rating. 

After each discussion, everyone is able to adjust his/her score for each feature. We then take the average of the scores to determine a final Impact number for each feature. 

We then have a quick discussion around the Amount of Work for each feature, confirm the scores in that column and add these number to the final Impact numbers to come up with a Total Prioritization Score.  

The higher the Total Prioritization Score, the better. Generally, we simply take the features with the highest score and get to work on them. 

It’s simple & collaborative. It has proven really effective for us. 

If you’re interested in trying it out, I have made our spreadsheet public. You can find it here - it will save you a few minutes in setting it up.

As always, would love your feedback on this or on any other process that is working for your team. 

Thanks!