How to Become a Guru of Prioritization?
Managers who are able to determine priorities are successful strategists.
There are dozens of smart technologies and methods to improve these skills. However, any methodology is effective in its context and can have absolutely no sense in applying to a particular product.
Dozens of methods, how to choose the best one?
There are no ideal methods and every product manager has the right to choose something of his own.
Fortunately, today you can find many methods for determining priorities from gaming to the most complicated, quantitative and qualitative, for internal and external purposes, etc.
In this article, I describe some popular methods and tools for setting priorities that will be useful to product managers, project managers, company owners, entrepreneurs and all who care about time, money and workflow optimization.
“The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule but to schedule your priorities”.
Where does qualitative prioritization begin?
Even without powerful methods and tools, you can master the basic planning recommendations:
- Start with the main thing – determine the values. Even on an intuitive level, you can understand which task will bring more benefits, and which will not.
- Make lists. It will take a few minutes during your morning coffee but it will definitely help to organize the whole day. Unload thoughts from your head to papers.
- Be flexible. It is always worthwhile to be ready to change priorities for factors beyond your control.
- Do not forget about tasks with fewer priorities.
- Set realistic goals. Here you may use special methodologies, for example, setting SMART-goals. According to this concept, any qualitative goal should be:
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant /realistic and Time-bound
It may look like this (on the example of the goals for Hygger blog):
Incorrect: I would like the blog articles to be shared on social media
Correct: The last 5 Hygger blog’s articles should be shared on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Incorrect: Next week we’ll add some plugins to Hygger blog
Correct: Next week we’ll add 3 useful plugins: a,b,c.
Incorrect: Next month we’ll be able to increase Open Rates by 20%, and next month by 30%.
Correct: Next month Open Rates will be better than previous months’ by 3-4%.
Incorrect: In 2 months, Hygger blog will be the most popular in the industry.
Correct: In 2 months, the number of blog’s subscribers will increase by 5%.
Incorrect: We need to increase the number of long reads the next quarter.
Correct: By March 1, the number of long read articles on the blog should be 5-6 per month.
“The mind has a tendency to do what it is comfortable doing and what interests you. Of course, at work, this might not always be the things that you should be doing. However, you know when something is urgent and so you will get it done if you value your job.
In the research for my book I found three interesting points about prioritizing:
- The formal approach to prioritizing, creating a list and allocating priorities like a,b,c, etc., just take more of your valuable time in managing it and creates stress.
- People with a lazy disposition only do what needs to be done, and are often more efficient at doing things that people who have an industrious disposition.
- Successful people have valued their time and have a good daily routine that automatically builds in some time to reflect and decide what 3 things they will today”.
Well, such conclusions can easily exist. But all popular methodologies and prioritization techniques have been developed on the basis of detailed studies and have repeatedly proved their effectiveness. Let’s dive in!
Opportunity Scoring by Anthony Ulwick
This method is derived from the concept of Outcome-driven Innovation (ODI) of the American researcher Anthony Ulwik.
The basic prescription of the method is that people buy products and services to get some job done. That is to get the expected result.
One of the main conclusions of the assessment is that customers are not the best sources of solutions because they are not experts. However, their contribution is extremely important for understanding the results that they want to obtain from the product.
Custom research and other methods allow you to create a list of desired results for the product. Then you need to ask clients to evaluate each result /update, how important it is for them, and also to find out the degree of satisfaction from 1 to 10.
Ulwik proposes the following formula for using the ODI method:
Importance + max (Importance – Satisfaction, 0) = Opportunity
This determines the most interesting opportunities for innovative areas, including for areas with a high degree of product importance and low level of satisfaction.
These results can be plotted on a chart that visualizes the data for the better understanding of where the opportunities are.
The Japanese researcher Noriaki Kano published his work in 1984 in the article where there were many ideas for determining customer satisfaction with product features.
These ideas are usually called the Kano method or “Theory of attractive qualities”.
This theory makes it possible to clearly describe the satisfaction of what needs leaves the consumer indifferent, dissatisfied, or makes him happy.
The model is based on the following premises:
- Customer satisfaction with product features depends on the level of functionality provided (how well they were implemented).
- Features can be categorized, depending on how customers react to the level of functionality provided.
- You can determine how customers feel about a feature through questionnaires.
Kano identifies 3 main components of the quality profile:
- Basic, which corresponds to the mandatory characteristics of the product.
- Expected, which should correspond to the “quantitative” characteristics of the product.
- Attractive, which corresponds to the characteristics of the product, which is admirable. This is a kind of surprise.
But customer’s requirements change over time. Something that is fascinating today will be a quality standard tomorrow and after a while may simply become an indispensable condition of quality.
Kano model is really useful because it helps to determine relationships between the product update, the level of customer satisfaction and market dynamics.
MoSCoW Prioritization Method
MoSCoW is the method of prioritization that is widely used in many areas to reach consensus among stakeholders.
The name of the technique is an acronym, where each consonant letter defines a priority category:
M – Must. The requirements that are critical and must be applied to a product as a matter of priority. If even one of them is not taken into account, the release is considered to be unfulfilled.
S – Should. Important but not critical requirements for the release. Such requirements are not very sensitive to time.
C – Could. Desirable but not mandatory requirements for your release. These are usually low-cost improvements for the product.
W – Would. These are considered the least critical or may not correspond to the product strategy at all. They can be ignored and be revised for future releases.
Here’s how we “decomposed” some Hygger tasks that were originally planned.
Must Have – to implement Priority Chart – a chart where you can select the most valuable ideas and give them to the development, to rank ideas according to the Value /Efforts metrics, to provide Kanban and Sprint boards, add the Burndown Chart for tracking the sprint progress.
Should Have – to implement time tracking to record time worked, Cycle /Lead Time Report to control the process, make integration with Slack to get updates on the boards.
Could have – to add My Tasks section, where users can view all tasks in different statuses, implement Client Access to invite clients to the project.
Would Have – to provide SAML SSO /G Suite SSO for single sign-in of employees to the app, add Calendar View for the board, add integration with project management systems (JIRA, PivotalTracker, Trello, etc.)
The method offers a quick and easy solution for prioritization issues. However, often such classification by categories may not be enough.
Therefore, it is believed that MoSCoW is better suited for internal projects but not for products with a large number of customers.
Story Mapping Method
The method of story mapping was first described in Jeff Patton’s article in the early 2000s, where he shared his experience.
The main idea of Story Mapping is that the product backlog is not enough to organize and prioritize the work. You need to find a more detailed structure.
In general, Story Mapping Methodology is organized as follows:
There is a horizontal axis representing the sequence of use. User stories (or tasks) are placed along this axis in the sequence in which they are performed by the user.
There is a vertical axis, which means criticality. Tasks are arranged vertically relative to how important they are (from top to bottom). Equally important stories can be kept at the same height.
Groups of related user stories can be grouped as Activities:
- Create a vertical line to separate task groups from others.
- For example, the activity can be “managing email”, while “sending an email to one or more addresses” is a user task.
- Actions are located above the vertical axis and do not have any sequence. They can not be a priority or not.
This method of structuring backlog has many advantages, but the most important for prioritization are:
- This is a visual tool that allows customers, stakeholders and members of development teams share a common understanding of what is happening.
- It clearly defines how to gradually produce product iterations that deliver full product releases.
Gaming technique “Speed boat”
This gaming method focuses on the reverse aspect of prioritizing – on identifying the least-priority product features.
If you ask people to tell you about drawbacks and complaints about the product, you may be surprised and upset. This will give a large amount of uncontrolled feedback.
If instead, you ask to talk about the possible optimization of the product in a positive way, you can get really important feedback. This is the main key for this game.
Here’s how it happens:
Draw a large boat. This is the boat, which is set to go very fast. Unfortunately, it is held by several anchors. The boat is your product; the anchors are features that have disappointed the customers.
Ask customers to tag features that do not suit them and assess how much faster the boat can move without such anchors.
Each anchor and speed rating will give you a measure of “pain”. Later you can work to improve it.
Therefore, the game visualization method considers a group approach and suggests the possibility of “sharing their complaints”.
Value vs Cost Technique
This is a very common method of determining priorities. It is popular because it is simple.
Features are scored on their Value and Cost of implementation. Those with better coefficients will have a higher priority.
The main goal of the method is that at a certain release period we work on the most valuable tasks that can be accommodated in this period.
To visualize this method, use the Value vs Cost charts. Spread out all the features that are considered in the perspective of their value in each dimension. Priority ranking will be displayed as the slopes of the lines going from the origin to each feature. The higher the slope, the higher the priority.
The method designed by Jiro Kawakito is often used in project management as a group process for setting priorities.
It quickly helps to come to objective group agreement from the series of subjective data.
The concept focuses on stakeholders in one company.
This is an 8-step process for groups of any size, designed for an interval of about an hour. First, the following requirements must be met:
- Many stickers of several colors.
- A room with a spacious wall.
- One person to be the facilitator
- Flipchart or board for results of prioritization.
If everything is observed, you can start by steps:
- Define a focus question. This question drives will results. Every session will have its own focus question (for example, “Who are the users?”, “What are their needs when they come to the site?”, etc.)
- Organize a group. Here people should be from the different parts of the company. It will bring more diverse perspectives.
- Put opinions on sticky notes.
- Put sticky notes on the wall. Each participant puts their sticky notes up on the wall in random order.
- Group similar items. Once everyone has added their contributions to the wall, the facilitator instructs the group to start grouping similar items in another part of the room.
- Name each group. Everyone should assign a name to every group, using the second color of sticky notes.
- Vote for the most important groups. Participants vote to choose which groups are the most important to answer the focus question.
- Rank the most important groups. All sticky notes are placed on the whiteboard and ordered by the number of votes. Participants can combine similar groups, which adds their votes and moves them up the ranking. When a couple of groups have much higher ranking than the rest, the facilitator may stop the process.
Feature Buckets prioritization method
The technology of prioritization proposed by Adam Nash is also very popular and simple.
Its author believes that feature prioritization differs greatly in different types of products and industries, and that is why he emphasizes that this method was defined specifically for consumer online products.
According to him, feature concepts should be placed in one of the four buckets:
- Metrics Movers. Features that will significantly move the target business and product metrics. Specific goals and strategies behind the decision to invest in a product should be here (AARRR (Pirate Metrics) will be helpful.
- Customer Requests. Features that have been requested directly by customers.
- Delights. Innovative features that are internally generated based on insights in design or technology.
- Strategic. Features that are included for strategic reasons related to future goals.
A well-balanced product release should typically include features from all of these buckets.
What are the tools for prioritization?
There are smart tools and services that were designed for large and small product teams. They facilitate planning, scheduling, analyzing your tasks and help in prioritizing tasks quickly and easily.
One of them is Backlog Priority Chart by Hygger.io.
No one issue will be lost on this chart, and a convenient Value & Efforts system together with 4 quadrants will help to systematize them using criteria:
- Quick Wins – for ideas of prime order.
- Big Bets – for ideas with high priority, but which can be performed after Quick Wins.
- Maybes – for ideas with less value and urgency, they can be postponed.
- Time sinks – it is better to completely forget about such ideas.
Hygger also allows structuring the backlog with universal Scrum and Kanban boards, labels and Swimlanes.
Having studied these and other methodologies for determining priorities, you do not need to try them all.
I hope you’ll be fond of one of the most popular prioritization techniques and it will help in your daily work and personal matters. Do not hesitate to share the results!