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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Product Features Prioritization

What are the features of a product and how to prioritize them professionally?

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One of the most essential responsibilities of product managers is dealing with product features. Working with features, they have an obvious need – to prioritize them.

What are the product features and benefits? What is feature prioritization in product management? This is a fundamental chapter of a very important book! This chapter involves planning the order of features a team works on, based on their product roadmap.

For any product manager, it is crucial to prioritize features because he/she has limited time, money, and actually so many potential features.

Secrets of product feature prioritization

What are the key features of a product? What are the prioritization techniques in Agile? Here we combine everything you need to know about this subject and even more!

What is a Product Feature?

A product feature is a separate area of new and upgraded functionality that delivers value to clients. In general meaning, features can refer to capabilities, user interface design, components, and performance upgrades.

A product manager (PM) is a person who owns the product roadmap and what exactly will be created. Defining, evaluating, and prioritizing features is a significant part of this job. Features can also contain status, timing, assignees, and other details.

Features vs benefits: what is the difference?

  • A feature represents a specific piece of the product functionality that has a corresponding benefit(s) for users.
  • A benefit is a value that the user gains from using that functionality.

Experienced product managers know how to articulate benefits and explain why the feature ultimately matters to the audience.

For example, if we consider a car, then –

  • Reverse automatic braking will be its feature.
  • Enhanced safety will be its benefit.

If we consider a financial reporting software, then –

  • A custom analytics report is its feature.
  • Configurability and flexibility are benefits.

Formulating benefits allows product managers to evaluate how every single feature supports major areas of investment or initiatives.

Features vs user stories, requirements, and epics

Besides the features, product teams also deal with user stories, epics, and requirements to describe what you will build.

These terms may differ a bit depending on the development methodology you apply, however here are their common meanings:

  • User story – a particular product feature described from the perspective of the end-user. Its format is helpful in relating features to benefits.
  • Epic – a group of related features or user stories that share common business objectives. Epics usually span multiple releases.
  • Requirement – a defined capability that needs to be completed to deliver a feature. One feature can have multiple requirements.

How do they work together? Features, epics, requirements, and user stories go together but you can select the best structure based on your product. Your team may have clear preferences in accordance with the development framework your engineers follow.

For example, many Agile teams avoid requirements for high-level user stories. If your industry is heavily regulated or you have a complex product, you may need to have detailed requirements to be sure you have defined what is needed in a precise way.

Essential moments before feature prioritization

Before starting to prioritize, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a solid strategy and prioritization criteria for features prioritization?
  • Are you only listening to the key stakeholder and biggest client or consider every point of view?
  • Are you just chasing after the competitors’ features examples?
  • Are you trying to follow the latest industry trends?

Prioritization will not be so difficult (but not highly ineffective at the same time) if you answer yes to any of the questions above.

Feature prioritization should flow from the overall product strategy. The strategy of your company should inform your high-level roadmap, which will tell you what type of functionality you need to build in the short- and mid-term.

If you have no clear strategy and high-level roadmap, then there’s no point in trying to prioritize features yet.

Features Prioritization: Why Is It Important?

how to prioritize features?

Product managers make many decisions but they do not do the important work in isolation. Company leaders, engineers, and many other important voices weigh in. Customer feedback also informs what to build next.

These opinions matter, however, they should not overshadow product strategy. If you do not have a powerful prioritization framework, you may spend all day sorting and resorting features relying too much on subjectivity.

Effective prioritization is what will provide transparency for the entire team and improve confidence in the planning process. Remember, that everyone wants to work on features that really matter to the business and all clients.

How to define features

Many people debate about which features should be added to a product. Even in teams where trust and consensus come easy, someone must make the final choice when there are real reasons for disagreement.

If product managers can not resolve these disagreements, the indecision will be pushed into the engineering department. They will either simply stall out or will start building what they think is correct.

How to begin the feature definition process? Start with picturing the end-user of your product. Think about the problems that worry them, what stands in their path to success, and how your product will help them to excel at what they do.

Create buyer personas and map them to the features you add. This will ensure that all feature examples deliver value against your target market.

Another way to determine how features can meet clients’ needs is user story mapping. With the help of the user story maps (visual representation of the customer journey), you will quickly define and organize features from the perspective of each interaction that a user has with your product.

How to prioritize features

Product managers often have dozens of ideas and requests, as well as many needed enhancements. Prioritization is essential to determine what you will build next. It will simplify gaining alignment around what a feature will entail and sending the right info to engineers.

We need to prioritize product features to let them offer maximum value. We should evaluate features based on quantifiable ways that they will add value for the users. They should also be prioritized based on how well they reach business objectives.

The truth is that successful feature management takes skills and real expertise.

To succeed, you should start with setting goals and explaining your product’s direction to all stakeholders involved. A goal-first approach will let you stay on the same page.

Quantify the features value against essential metrics and then rank these features based on those scores. You may apply a simple “effort” scale to rank the features based on the projected maximum return. It will help you confirm how much every single feature will cost in terms of resources.

Best Techniques and Frameworks for Product Features Prioritization

Best prioritization methodologies

1. Kano model

The Kano concept is based on various levels of users’ satisfaction with a product’s features. The method provides different ways to implement it. One of the options proposes dividing user backlog items by the following criteria: must-be, attractive, one-dimensional, indifferent, and reverse.

  • Must-be features show that the client considers the product functional only if these features are included.
  • One-dimensional features are not must-have for work. However, they seem desirable to customers.
  • Attractive features add extra satisfaction.
  • Indifferent features have the least possible impact on customers’ satisfaction and actually have no value.
  • Reverse features are annoying ones and they often have a negative effect on customer satisfaction.

The model requires conducting surveys and user interviews before prioritizing.

2. Story mapping

This technique assumes that a product backlog is not enough to prioritize the work. The author of the model, Jeff Patton, thinks that in order to succeed, you need a more detailed structure.

He offered to use the horizontal axis where the sequence of use is visualized. The tasks are placed in the sequence in which they are performed by the client. The vertical axis demonstrates criticality. The tasks are placed relative to how important they are from top to bottom. There are also equally important tasks that may be visualized at the same height.

With the help of this method, teams and customers can share a common understanding of what is happening.

3. Eisenhower matrix

This is a popular feature prioritization matrix that gets its name from a 34th American president who knew how to prioritize things well. The matrix contains four squares:

  • The 1st square includes the fundamentally important and the most urgent tasks and issues.
  • The 2nd square represents important but not so urgent activities and tasks.
  • The 3rd square includes urgent but not very important tasks.
  • The 4th square contains the tasks of the lowest priority both for their urgency and importance.

The Eisenhower matrix is popular for its simplicity and flexibility. It is actively used in product development, work planning, business strategy development, and other management processes.

4. Value vs effort

This feature prioritization matrix allows operating tasks in a more comfortable way. It also offers four squares: each of them defines the value of the group of tasks and the approximate amount of effort for the task execution.

  • The 1st square is Quick Wins – the tasks with high importance for the entire workflow. Usually, they do not require a lot of effort.
  • The 2nd square is Big Bets – rather valuable tasks. They can bring a company to success but need more time and effort to be done.
  • The 3rd square is Maybes – the easy to complete tasks without much effort.
  • The 4th square – Time Sinks – the low-priority activities with minimal effort. You may even not pay attention to them.

5. Value vs complexity

You may use the Value vs complexity matrix to evaluate features on your product roadmap. The method requires a balanced approach to business and tech aspects of development.

It is also based on the Eisenhower matrix, where the features are located across four quadrants with two dimensions: value and complexity. The most valuable and least complex tasks should be performed first.

Your team should estimate the features’ value. They may represent retention, customer engagement, customer acquisition potential, expected revenue, market demand, etc.

6. Value vs risk

This feature prioritization framework also helps to divide the tasks into four categories by their value for the workflow and realize the real risk of a certain task.

The value of each task is determined individually. However, you will be allowed to use three criteria for the risk scoring:

  • Schedule risk – the risk can be defined by the time the task starts.
  • Cost risk – a high amount of the task cost that exceeds the business possibilities.
  • Functionality risk – a lack of technological possibility to do the task.

7. The MoSCoW model

MoSCoW is a popular method in the project management environment. The acronym combines four priority categories: Must, Should, Could, and Would (or Won’t). It helps to evaluate the relative importance of every task.

  • The “Must” block contains mandatory items. When you abandon them, the current sprint most likely fails.
  • The “Should” items are great to have, but with not the highest priority. They do not have much impact on delivery, however, they must be implemented.
  • The “Could” items are small-scale improvements that do not require considerable resources. Their absence will not significantly affect the release.
  • The “Would” block involves the items with the lowest importance.

8. Cost of delay

This method is also known as CoD. It combines urgency and value with the aim to make decisions on what will deliver the most value right now.

The framework is often used by product teams following the SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework). It is a component of the weighted shortest job first prioritization framework.

9. Opportunity scoring

This approach for feature prioritization comes from Anthony Ulwick’s Outcome-Driven Innovation concept. Consumers buy products and services to get certain jobs done and their feedback is still important, even although they are not good at coming up with solutions to their problems. This feedback will be used by the team to come up with the desired outcomes.

The method uses two graphs to measure and rank opportunities: Satisfaction and Importance.

10. User story mapping

Another prioritization framework and the exercise for charting the customer journey.

Your product team should create a map of the user’s interactions with the product. Then you should evaluate which steps have the most benefit for the user. This model is considered popular as all product teams want to be customer-focused. Additionally, it is used by user experience designers, who are also intently focused on the customer experience.

11. The ICE model

This approach designed by Sean Ellis allows calculating the score per idea, according to the formula “Impact*Confidence*Ease = ICE Score”.

  • I means impact – this is about how much a particular idea positively affects the key metric you’re trying to improve.
  • C means confidence – how sure you are about the impact.
  • E means ease – about the easiness of implementation.

The ICE score system allows rating the values on a relative scale of 1–10 so as not to overweight any of them. You can choose what 1–10 means, as long the rating stays consistent.

12. The RICE model

This feature prioritization approach suits mature products. It involves calculations, so it can not be considered as a simple one. It also helps teams to take a detailed look at the product from different sides.

RICE stands for reach, impact, confidence, and effort – the factors to estimate every feature separately.

  • Reach is the number of people able to use it in a particular period.
  • Impact shows the feature contribution to the overall product promotion.
  • Confidence comes to the rescue when you think a project could have a huge impact but do not have data to back it up. It helps you to estimate how sure you are about the given feature benefit.
  • Effort visualizes the time taken by the product and engineering teams.

The formula of the technique looks like this: RICE= Reach*Impact*Confidence/Effort

13. Product tree

This is an effective exercise in which the product roadmap is represented by a tree. This tree has:

  • Branches – the primary product features.
  • Roots – all technical requirements needed to support the branches.
  • Leaves – new feature ideas.

This simple feature prioritization technique can be helpful for businesses with a large product portfolio. Its visualization encourages product teams to focus across the portfolio with decisions that positively impact the whole ecosystem.

14. Buy a feature

This gaming method is a way to play collaboratively or individually in an informal way

  • You define a group of buyers and present them a set of features that need to be prioritized.
  • Everyone gets some play money to spend on the features.
  • Each feature is priced according to some measure points (efforts, complexity, etc.)
  • The budget of every participant should be between a third to half of the total cost for all features.
  • When participants buy a feature, they must explain why they do it.

The activity ends when all money runs out or when people have bought all the features. It will show you what the most important features are.

How to choose the best features prioritization framework?

There is no immediate answer to this question. Analyze your recent releases and the features you delivered. Think about whether the reasons are aligned with the product strategy and business goals. Only then start to assign relative value.

If it is difficult for you to find common criteria from looking at past decisions, start a new page. List your product goals in order of importance and identify what technique will help you make more strategic decisions.

You will probably need to experiment before you land on the best framework. So try to select a purpose-built product management tool that has proven prioritization scorecards.

Conclusion

Product features are the direct characteristics or attributes of your product that make a product appealing. Features can be unique and distinct that helps brands to become instantly recognizable.

When you understand the features that underpin buying decisions, you have a chance to boost sales and promote effective product launches.

Feature prioritization is your great helper to get things done. Try your best to find the most appropriate product prioritization technique or framework that will work best for your product and team.

Do not doubt to explore modern product management software solutions as they often provide robust prioritization frameworks. Hygger is one of the best examples, so what are you waiting for? 😉