10 Tips for Product Prioritization

Product prioritization is one of the hardest things to do in product management. That’s why I tried to tackle it on a regular basis, as it is like a muscle that needs constant practicing. I hope the following tips will be helpful!

Note: I originally published each of these tips as a short video on LinkedIn. At the end of each tip below you will find a link to watch the video post.

1 Identify the Product Vision

I’ve seen companies developing products without clear vision for what the product should be. This creates a lot of confusion and chaos in making prioritization decisions. If we can’t tell where we want to be in the future, how can we decide on the details to get there?

The vision should be a long term look at where you want to get with your product. There are different ways to define your vision, but think about 5 years from now, or even 10 years. Don’t be afraid to think big!

Last, but not least, your product vision should be derived from the company’s vision. If they are not, again you will find miss-alignment and chaos.

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2 Define the Strategy

Strategy is the way to get to your vision in broad-strokes. There are many ways to get to your vision, and you probably cannot try all of them at once. Pick up the specific ones you want to try, and that will be your strategy.

The strategy could cover different goals for your product, so it’s okay to have multiple strategies for different areas.

The best set of articles I have seen about Product Strategy were written by Gibson Biddle, former VP/CPO at Netflix/Chegg, “How to Define Your Product Strategy“.

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3 Look at quantitative data

When you need to prioritize between different competing product features, look for relevant data on each one of them. This will help you identify which one is more urgent to do, or fitting better your vision and strategy.

Quantitive data is the one that comes in quantity – many users, interviewees, survey respondents and actual user activity in your product will provide data on what they use, what they like and what not, etc. Use this data to drive insights into what is important to people and make decisions accordingly.

There are many ways to collect quantitative data, you just have to do it. Look at it daily and drive insights from it. I’m a big fan of Pendo.io, but don’t forget your SQL or NoSql databases if that’s your only source. Your BI team and data warehouse should be your best friends. Look for data everywhere!

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4 Look at qualitative data

Qualitative data is the second type of data you should look at to help you make prioritization decisions. Qualitative data is the one that comes in the form of comments from people. You can collect it via surveys using open questions, user interviews, usability testing done in person, feedback via customer support or success calls, sales calls etc.

The trick with qualitative data is to collect it from all the different resources, and drive insights from it. There are several systems out there that help with that. I don’t have a specific one to recommend at this time, but maybe in the future.

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5 Get stakeholders’ buy-in

This is one of the tricky ones, but it’s very important. There are no two stakeholders alike, and getting their buy-in is not a science. You need to talk their language, tell them a story they relate with, have empathy to their needs their Job-to-be-Done.

Try to:

  • Socialize with them outside of the work meetings. Get to know them as people and build your rapport with them.
  • Keep them in the loop regularly. Keep things transparent, including the reasons for making the decisions you made.
  • Show them the data! No one can argue with that.
  • Show them how product decisions align with the organization’s vision and strategy.

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6 Learn different ways to prioritize

There are so many ways to prioritize, and you might been doing one or more of them, even without knowing their “official” name. Some are quite intuitive, while others are more complex and need to be learned.

The best resource I found for prioritization techniques was written by Daniel Zacarias, who put together on his Folding Burritos site “The Periodic Table of Product Prioritization Techniques“. Check it out, you will love it too!

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7 Experiment

You should experiment with different prioritization techniques, as not all of them will work for you, and you might find one or two that makes the most sense for your case.

Extermination also goes for different product ideas and/or product solutions that you and your team comes up with. Not every idea is a good idea. You should find quickly and cheaply (a) if the problem is real, and (b) if the suggested solution will work for the users. Once you experiment you will find the qualitative and quantitate data you are looking for to make an educated decision!

A great resource on experimentation is the Strategyzer book “Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation” by David Bland and Alexander Osterwalder. Don’t let the name confuse you – building a new product is just like testing business ideas.

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8 Keep a balanced product

This idea comes from Adam Nash, ex-VP of Product & Growth at Dropbox. The idea is that you want to keep your product balanced between 3 areas: Metric Movers, Customer Request and Delight. Usually requests or ideas from each of these areas will not overlap also into the others, and to keep your product balanced you need to develop from each of them on a regular basis.

You can read more in Adam Nash’s presentation Be a Great Product Leader, (Amplify October 2019) on SlideShare

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9 Think Product-Led

Product-Led means that the product is in the centre of everything. You want the product to sell itself, and give your prospective users ways to make these decisions without a lengthy and expensive sales cycle. You also want them to promote the product for you. To do so, Product-Let organizations would provide things like: full-featured free trial period to try the product in it’s fullest, self-served training and on-boarding to help user learn the product quickly, amazing UX and beautiful UI to make the product easy and fun to use, etc.

All of the above determine prioritization decisions as you will need to provide specific functionality to support it.

You can learn more what Product-Led is all about by checking Wes Bush and ProductLed for articles. Also, Todd Olson from Pendo.io released the “Product Led Organization” book recently.

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10 Prioritize all the time

As product managers we prioritize our backlogs on a regular basis, but there are other things we should prioritize all the time:

  • Our daily activities. We are like jugglers with lots of balls in the air. We must prioritize these so that we don’t drop anything.
  • The features and requests coming in. Don’t wait for the last minute. Keep a prioritized list and use the prioritization method that works for you to add these in the right place.
  • The long term roadmap. Work with your stakeholders and make sure the roadmap is up-to-date and still aligned to your vision and strategy.
  • When things don’t work – Pivot. Pivoting is important as you don’t want to get stuck with previous bad decisions, and when you pivot your entire prioritization will change.

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I hope you’ll find these tips helpful! Please let me know if you have additional tips for Product Prioritization.

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