As Product Managers, mastering the art of product prioritization is an ongoing challenge we encounter in our roles. Balancing the diverse desires of stakeholders, delivering meaningful value to end-users, and aligning with company goals requires a deep understanding of the complexities inherent in product prioritization. Recently, I came across an insightful post by Andre Albuquerque that eloquently captured the intricate nature of prioritization.
While the conventional impact versus effort framework provides a solid foundation, it is imperative to acknowledge and embrace additional variables that influence our prioritization decisions.
In this article, we will delve into key concepts and factors that extend beyond the traditional impact and effort analysis, shedding light on the multifaceted landscape of product prioritization, backed by real-life work examples. Furthermore, I will provide a practical step-by-step guide to help product managers effectively implement these concepts in their prioritization process.
While impact and effort remain important variables in product prioritization, they do not tell the whole story.
Here, I delve into several other key factors that deserve consideration:
1) Dependencies between teams and projects:
Prioritization decisions are significantly influenced by the interdependencies between teams and projects. Understanding these dependencies and identifying potential bottlenecks is essential to ensuring a seamless product development process. To illustrate this, let’s consider a real-life example from my experience at Wefox, an insurtech unicorn.
At Wefox, we had multiple products that had an impact on one another: an end-user insurance wallet and a broker portal for client management. Aligning roadmaps became crucial to preventing release blockages and streamlining the development process. When working on the wallet product, we had several releases that had to be postponed due to dependencies with the broker portal. Our Chief Product Officer (CPO) played a pivotal role in aligning the roadmaps, ensuring smooth coordination between the teams.
2) Carryover from previous roadmaps:
The legacy of past roadmaps plays a crucial role in shaping our prioritization choices. Assessing unfinished items from previous cycles provides valuable insights and helps maintain strategic continuity in product development. However, it’s essential to remember that priorities may have shifted due to market circumstances.
At Wefox, for example, we had to deprioritize the launch of our product in the Japanese market due to changes in contractual relationships. Despite the project being well advanced, adapting to market conditions and reprioritizing became crucial.
3) Navigating Management Politics: The Balancing Act
The pervasive influence of management politics is an undeniable aspect of product management. Product managers must skillfully navigate the organizational landscape, taking into account power dynamics, stakeholder interests, and internal agendas that shape prioritization decisions. To minimize the impact of politics and ensure prioritization is based on merit rather than listening solely to the highest-paid person in the room (Hippo) adopting a systemic approach becomes crucial.
As a product manager, transparency is paramount in the prioritization process. By openly communicating our process and reasoning to all stakeholders, we establish a level playing field. This approach fosters an objective environment, reducing objections from demanding stakeholders. However, it’s important to acknowledge that perfection is elusive. At times, compromises must be made with C-level executives to secure the necessary endorsement for our projects.
To illustrate this dynamic, let’s consider an example from my own experience. When I was working as a Senior Global Product Manager at Banco Santander, we faced conflicting stakeholder interests regarding the development of new features. By providing a transparent prioritization process and delivering clear justifications, we achieved a more objective decision-making framework. Although compromises were occasionally required to accommodate C-level expectations, this approach ensured fairness and alignment across the organization and drastically reduced objections from demanding stakeholders.
4) Economic/market changes and competitive edge:
To maintain a competitive edge, aligning product priorities with strategic themes and market dynamics is paramount. The ability to adapt swiftly to economic and market changes enables us to tailor our product roadmap accordingly. As a practical approach, I’ve found it immensely valuable to create an online board dedicated to competitor analysis and market trends. It serves as a compass, guiding us through the ever-evolving landscape.
Rather than blindly replicating our competitors’ strategies, our aim is to understand user expectations influenced by new market entrants. For instance, when Instagram adopted Snapchat’s stories feature, it demonstrated a proactive response to shifting user preferences. However, innovation often lies beyond imitation. TikTok emerged with a fresh and unique concept that Instagram failed to anticipate. As a result, TikTok videos have now inundated the Instagram platform, showcasing the importance of keeping our finger on the pulse of emerging trends.
5) Technical debt:
When it comes to product prioritization, addressing technical debt holds significant importance. Failing to tackle technical debt can have long-term repercussions, including heightened maintenance costs, compromised product stability, and hindered innovation. To effectively manage technical debt, it is essential to understand the different focus areas within your team. Consider the following roles and their primary concerns:
- Developers: Developers focus on addressing technical debt and improving the underlying infrastructure. They strive to enhance code quality, scalability, and maintainability.
- Product Managers: Product Managers concentrate on introducing new features and functionalities to meet evolving user needs and market demands. They drive innovation and product differentiation.
- Quality Assurance: Quality Assurance teams prioritize bug fixing, ensuring the product maintains high standards of quality and reliability.
It is important to recognize that no single focus area is inherently more important than the others. The emphasis placed on each area may vary based on the maturity of your product. For instance, a new product might prioritize new features to gain a competitive edge, while an established product may give more weight to bug fixing or technical debt reduction to enhance stability. Viewing one aspect as superior demonstrates bias and fails to account for the context of your product.
To implement an effective prioritization strategy that balances technical debt, new features, and bug fixing, consider the following approach:
- Divide your backlog: Create distinct backlogs for “Product Features,” “Tech Debt,” and “Bug Fixing.” This clear separation helps manage priorities effectively and fosters clarity within the team.
- Collaborative decision-making: Engage in open discussions with your team to determine the allocation of resources across the backlogs. Strive for consensus on the distribution based on the specific needs of your product and the goals you aim to achieve. For example, a consensus could be reached to allocate 70% of resources to new features, 15% to bug fixing, and 15% to technical debt reduction.
- Regular reassessment: Prioritization is not a one-time event. Continuously reassess the distribution of resources across the backlogs to adapt to changing circumstances, market trends, and the evolving needs of your product. Stay agile and be prepared to adjust priorities as necessary.
1) Define your strategic goals:
The journey of efficient product prioritization begins with a clear understanding of the organization’s strategic goals and product vision. By aligning initiatives with the broader context and long-term objectives, product managers can ensure that their prioritization choices contribute to the overall strategy. At Finleap Connect, for instance, a top-down approach was adopted, where the CEO set the OKRs and each C-level executive broke them down into their own OKRs. This approach allowed us to identify which features would best serve the company’s strategy and prioritize them accordingly.
2) Identify key stakeholders:
Effective product prioritization involves considering the perspectives of various stakeholders, including executives, product owners, engineers, marketing teams, and customer support representatives. Engaging these stakeholders early on ensures that their valuable insights and concerns are taken into account. As a Lead Product Manager at Finleap Connect overseeing the DigiBank product, I presented the product strategy to the CEO and the CPO, explaining the rationale behind my prioritization process. Through open discussions and addressing their questions and objections, we were able to re-prioritize based on a holistic understanding of end-user needs and company objectives.
3) Gather and assess data:
Data serves as a guiding compass in product prioritization. Collecting and analyzing relevant data on market trends, customer feedback, user behaviour, competitive analysis, and financial projections provides valuable insights that inform prioritization decisions. Drawing from my experience at YPlan, a mobile app for booking London events, we regularly reviewed app analytics and customer feedback to identify priority areas for feature enhancements. Collaborating with the customer support team helped us identify frequently requested tickets, guiding our prioritization efforts.
4) Balance short-term and long-term bets:
Striking a balance between short-term wins and long-term investments is crucial for sustained product success. Prioritizing initiatives that bring immediate value while laying the foundation for future growth sets the stage for long-term viability. At Finleap Connect, we focused on attracting new clients in the short term through new features while simultaneously investing in modularization. This approach allowed us to scale and adapt rapidly in the long run, ensuring the product’s longevity in a dynamic market.
Product prioritization is a nuanced art that extends beyond a simple Impact vs. Effort analysis. By considering factors such as team dependencies, carryover from previous roadmaps, management politics, strategic themes, market changes, competitor edge, fundraising dynamics, short vs. long-term goals, and technical debt, Product Managers can make well-informed decisions about what to build next. Embracing the complexity of prioritization empowers product teams to build successful products that meet market needs and drive business growth.
But here’s the thing: this journey doesn’t end with knowledge alone. It requires action.
So, fellow Product Managers, I challenge you to step up and implement these strategies in your prioritization process. Embrace the power of collaboration, open communication, and data-driven insights. By doing so, you’ll enhance not only your products but also your own professional growth.
Now, it’s time to take action. Go forth and prioritize with purpose!