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Transparent roadmap prioritization

As a product manager, you are in charge of prioritizing what the team builds. You must decide what to build now and what to defer in order to make your product and company successful.

There is no one-size-fits-all prioritization metric. To prioritize the product roadmap, a product manager must use many different sensing mechanisms to uncover valuable information, a combination of business metrics, usage data, qualitative interviews with customers, feedback from sales and customer success, market research, and tons more. In addition, you’ll have company priorities, engineering investments, internal team requests, and more.

This poses two main challenges for roadmap prioritization:

  1. How can you as a product manager balance all the inputs from various sensing mechanisms in your prioritization?
  2. How can you help others understand the finalized prioritization and the various considerations that went into it?

Start with company priorities

If your company’s executive team is worth their pay, they’ve established a clear set of goals for everyone to rally after. You must start your prioritization with these goals in mind. How does your product fit into these company initiatives? What is the key metrics that your company is seeking to improve? Should you prioritize specific types of users or markets as part of a broader company strategy?

If you’re not clear on the company strategy, get that clarity first. Talk to your manager or division leader. You will fail as a product manager if you optimize for your own metrics or local product goals rather than the company’s overall priorities.

Build a framework to evaluate requests

Evaluating features or initiatives must be a mix of data and judgment. A sample list of things you should consider include that initiative’s impact on:

  1. New customer acquisition
  2. Customer retention
  3. Cost to build
  4. Cost to support
  5. Differentiation from the competition
  6. Strategic value
  7. lots more.

For some of these factors, you will have clear data or forecasts, while for others you’ll rely on an estimate or intuition.

To simplify your prioritization, define the most important factors or themes that will go into your prioritization, then score each initiative across those factors. A popular prioritization framework for this would be the RICE framework, which looks at Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. I’d recommend starting with it and adjusting it as you see factors that need more/less consideration.

Personally, I’ve used a simple spreadsheet as follows.

  1. The first column lists all initiatives being considered.
  2. The next set of columns contain the various factors identified as important. For each initiative, I scored it from 1-10 on each factor. In the factor description I’d explain what it would take to get a 5 or a 10 on a given factor (e.g., a 10 on revenue potential would indicate $XXMM in incremental revenue potential over the coming 3 years).
  3. After the factors, I add a blended score for the feature. If the company is prioritizing one factor, such as cost reduction, then instead of a simple sum, I may multiply by two the value on “cost reduction” factor so it contributes more to the total blended score.
  4. Finally, I have a column for notes to add any special considerations that went into that initiative’s scoring.

By scoring each factor separately and showing how it contributes to the overall prioritization of an initiative, you distill the information that you have into a set of scores and some notes. This helps others understand your prioritization process.

Communicate and show your work

Once you’ve prioritized your features, make sure to share the prioritization framework and process with others. Don’t just share the output. By showing how you arrived at your prioritization, you benefit in multiple ways:

  1. Others will trust your prioritization more by seeing what went into it.
  2. Your colleagues can effectively see what you’ve considered and can provide you with information that you may have missed.
  3. When discussing priorities, the conversation can be more focused. Rather than general arguments (“why is feature A more important than feature B”, you can focus on specific factors (“what data shows that feature A has more revenue potential than feature B”, or “why are we focusing so much on cost reduction instead of revenue potential?”)

The format doesn’t matter, you can share your work in spreadsheets, slides, document write-up, or a number of other ways. The important thing is that it shows what you prioritized, why, and what didn’t make the priority list.

Whatever you do, keep it transparent

Your approach to prioritizing features will invariably be a mix of researching information coupled with a final judgment call. You will regularly sit down and write out a list of initiatives that you may pursue to make your product successful. You will discuss this with many colleagues, customers, and more to reach a prioritization. Don’t make the mistake of keeping this information in your head. Take the time to write this information out. Keep this prioritization criteria accessible to everyone in your company. Whenever someone has a question as to why something is or isn’t being built, this resource should help them understand the prioritization. They may learn of considerations that they weren’t aware of given their role in the organization, or they may uncover that you’re missing important context. By sharing your prioritization process both of you stand a chance to learn, and avoid inefficient discussions.

Last Updated on March 24, 2023 by Omar Eduardo


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