Popular Prioritization Frameworks Every Product Manager Needs to Know

Why Use Prioritization Frameworks?

Managing a product requires more than just constructing a list of features that need to be completed in a certain order.  Instead, it involves taking input from various different stakeholders and determining the best course of action for the well-being of the product going forward.

Some product managers try and rely on intuition, but this is risky at best since it allows for certain crucial pieces of information to be overlooked.  We recommend using one of the following prioritization methods to take your planning to the next level!

1. RICE Method: Key Components

The RICE Method tries to quantify the relative importance of a particular feature by focusing on 4 different key qualities of a feature: Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort.

Reach:

This is the number of people who will be directly affected by implementing a specific feature in a specific time period. 

This can be quantified by some internal metrics in the product being built in addition to surveys conducted on your target audience.

Impact:

This is the impact that the feature being implemented will have on your individual users. 

This is normally done by providing some scale by which to measure the features against. 

A common scale is 3 for “massive impact”, 2 for “high impact”, 1 for “medium impact”, 0.5 for “low impact”, and 0.25 for “minimal”.

Confidence:

This number is meant to represent how certain you are about the information that you received for reach and impact and the corresponding benefit of implementing the feature. 

Similar to impact, this is normally done by providing some scale to measure the confidence level against. 

A common scale is 100% for high confidence, 80% for medium confidence, and 50% for low confidence.

Effort:

This represents how much time it will take the various product, design, and engineering teams to implement a specific feature into the product. 

This can be measured by the number of persons per month or “person-months” it will take to complete.

Once all these categories are properly quantified the formula to calculate the RICE score is

RICE= ([Reach x Impact x Confidence] / Effort)

Pros and Cons of RICE:

Pros of RICE:

  • It is comprehensive as RICE forces the product manager to consider the impacts of the feature from every possible angle.
  • It forces the decisions to be driven by SMART metrics (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based). This also helps in future releases as these measurements can be used to improve the feature and product in the feature.
  • It minimizes the effect of bias when determining what feature should be worked on next as it shifts the discussion away from trying to predict the success of a specific feature to how successful we think a feature may be given the speculative scores we have assigned to it with varying levels of confidence.

Cons of Rice:

  • RICE scores may have various dependencies on other features making it difficult to use them as an absolute metric of “what to build next.”  As a result, it is better to think of these rankings as a useful exercise more than anything else.
  • The evaluations in RICE will never be fully accurate.  All it does is score various features based on the confidence level the various teams have on their estimations.

2. Moscow Method: Key Components

The MoSCoW Method otherwise known as the MoSCoW Prioritization Technique or MoSCoW Analysis is a framework used in Agile Product Management in order to effectively communicate to key stakeholders what and why you are working on certain features.  It tends to be used in waterfall-based enterprises.

The MoSCow Method is an acronym for 4 categories:  Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have.

Must have:  

These are key features that are pivotal to the product and must be present in order for it to function at all. 

If you were building a minimum viable product it would be comprised of “Must have” features. 

These features are by far the most time-sensitive and the product cannot be launched without them.

Should have: 

These are features that would be beneficial to the product if implemented, but are not the highest priority. 

These features are sometimes taken care of in later sprints if they could not be implemented initially.

Could have:  

These features are not essential nor particularly important to the product, but would be nice for the customer. 

Typically these features are implemented only if the extra time and resources are available to do so.  Usually, these are relatively small features as a result.

Won’t have: 

These features are the lowest priority and will not be implemented. 

Often these features do not align with the interests of the stakeholders and are not worth the time or effort required to implement them.

Pros and Cons of MoSCoW:

Pros of MoSCoW:

It is incredibly simple helping the entire team stay involved without requiring the need for sophisticated jargon or complex calculations.  This allows for easy and transparent communication between all stakeholders and team members.

Cons of MoSCoW:

It is easy to fall into the trap of considering more feature “must-haves” than are actually true resulting in inefficiencies.

3. Value vs. Effort (Complexity Method): Key Components

The Value Vs. Effort prioritization method tries to simplify everything by taking a list of various features and initiatives and attempts to quantify them using value and effort scores by plotting them on a matrix to see where the various features land.

What constitutes value or effort depends on the individual team/organization, but generally, they can be thought of as follows:

Value: 

A feature or initiative that either increases revenue, benefits current customers, attracts new customers, or directly helps with larger business or strategic goals.

Effort: 

The cost to implement a specific feature; the amount of extra developmental, operational, and implementation effort; the risk involved with implementing this feature or initiative; and its complexity.

Pros and Cons of Value vs. Effort:

Pros of using Value vs. Effort:

The framework is inherently very flexible and lets all the stakeholders determine what the two keywords mean to them leading to a prioritization plan that is tailor-made to whatever the organization is trying to achieve.  In short, due to its flexibility, it can be used almost anywhere to great effect.

By encouraging teams to quantify various value and effort scores it makes it comparatively easier for product managers to determine what features should be focused on now and which can be pushed back to the future.

Due to the simple nature of the framework, it is rather straightforward to adopt which is helpful to organizations that are resource-constrained, helping them craft effective plans when utilizing other frameworks would be time or cost-prohibitive.

Cons of using Value vs. Effort:

Due to the fact that the keywords are very flexible disagreements about how to evaluate various features can take longer to resolve.

Like other frameworks, Value vs. Effort alone cannot perfectly predict how a feature will turn out.  At the end of the day, there is always room for cognitive biases and the scores are just a well-researched guess.

Conclusion

Knowing how and when to use a certain prioritization framework is what separates a good product manager from a great one. 

Nevertheless, these frameworks alone cannot fully replace the human element of decision-making. 

Frameworks serve as a vehicle by which to get people on the same page about a product and what the various goals are for the foreseeable future.  Picking the correct framework can help to expedite this process and reduce the barrier for the rest of the team to contribute to the planning process. 

In short, they are just an exercise in trying to quantify and assess the various decisions that surround a feature or idea.

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