Product teams and management must prioritize their tasks and activities to build a successful product. Therefore, organizing a group of tasks and ranking them according to numerous factors such as impact, effort, risk, scope, and time brings clarity. It helps product teams complete each task within the desired timeframe.
In addition, prioritizing activities determines the maximum value and expected outcomes from the tasks, which further accelerates product teams to accomplish more.
In this article, we’ll talk about the prioritization matrix and how you can use it in product management. There will also be a link at the end of the article to download sample templates.
Table of contents
- Background information
- What is a prioritization matrix?
- Benefits of using prioritization matrices
- Choosing the right prioritization matrix
- How to create a prioritization matrix
- Example of a prioritization matrix
- Prioritization matrix: Free template
Often, product managers juggle between multiple product priorities. Many surveys show that most product managers are unsure if the feature they built solves the right customer problem, which, in turn, creates user value. Amidst these uncertainties, product teams often end up catering to multiple stakeholders’ requests and random feature backlogs based on other priorities, which overall takes the product roadmap in a random direction.
In such cases, teams engage and negotiate with several stakeholders simultaneously, wasting their effort and time. As a result, PMs lose focus on solving the right problem and building the right features to deliver value. Product prioritization frameworks can help with this.
What is a prioritization matrix?
A prioritization matrix provides visual insight into what should be completed first. Different prioritization matrices are popularly known as problem prioritization, feature prioritization, etc.
The prioritization matrix also helps product teams understand the value associated with tasks and backlogs. Additionally, it helps product teams shape the roadmap that affects the organization’s objectives and goals. The prioritization matrix also helps improve time to market.
Benefits of using prioritization matrices
Before we dive deeper into the different prioritization frameworks, let’s talk about the benefits of prioritization matrices.
De-risks the product enhancement process
De-risking the product is an important concept and the prioritization matrix helps product managers de-risk opportunities and solutions. It also helps them reduce the risk of building useless features that don’t create value for a customer.
By de-risking the product, a product team saves time, effort, and cost. These are important factors for scaling the product, creating a quicker time to market, and generating a lower time to value.
Simplifies the product roadmap
The majority of popular prioritization matrices give weightage to the scoring method that helps prioritize tasks and simplify the roadmap. A simplified roadmap always contains high-priority items based on effort, cost, and time, which means users will continuously get the value they are looking for without waiting months and quarters.
Increases alignment across leadership and product teams
Dealing with multiple stakeholders and their prioritization is an absolute nightmare for a product team. Keeping a prioritized roadmap is a one-stop solution for clear communication around potential risks, blockers, complexity, and prioritized backlogs. It ensures that all internal and external stakeholders, as well as leadership, are on the same page.
Eventually, this reduces trading off between a prioritized and unprioritized task/backlog list because of differing stakeholders’ prioritization.
Choosing the right prioritization matrix
The first step towards using a prioritization matrix is choosing the right framework for the product team. Each framework has unique benefits, but they all help prioritize tasks based on time, effort, complexity, business value, frequency of occurrences, and reach.
It’s highly recommended to stick to just one prioritization matrix, as a one-size-fits-all framework doesn’t work. A product manager must keep two to three frameworks in mind. Let’s dive into the different types of prioritization matrices available.
2×2 matrix: Value vs. complexity
This is an excellent prioritization framework to make a fast decision. The 2×2 grid shows value on the y-axis and complexity/effort on the x-axis.
A product team assigns value and complexity across each feature, fix, and bug before placing them in the grid. The team prioritizes those features for immediate sprints/releases with low effort and high value.
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The biggest con to this prioritization matrix is over-cluttering — a 2×2 matrix is small and could be overwhelmed with too many features. Instead of using the matrix, the team can use an easy template to rank the priority of the features to their value and complexity. I will list the steps to create this framework in the next section:
RICE is one of the most preferred ways for feature prioritization in any product organization. It’s based on the weight of impact on one task over another towards a product goal.
RICE stands for reach, impact, confidence, and effort. These metrics are collectively assigned to each task/backlog/feature to measure the RICE score. Each of these RICE metrics individually has meaning, as given below.
Reach (R) — How many customers will this task/features/backlog impact within a given time?
Impact (I) — How much impact will these tasks/features/backlog have? Generally, this is measured on a scale of 1–5 but can have more based on the varied requirements of the organization.
Confidence (C) — How confident are you about this estimated impact? The percentage scale for this metric ranges from 50–100 percent. Again, it depends on how a team wants to set up the percentage value scale.
Effort (E) — How hard is a task to deliver by the developer, designers, and engineering? The scores for this category are labeled by easy to deliver, medium effort, hard, and complex. After that, a value from 1–5 is assigned to each label.
The formula to calculate the RICE score is:
The Kano model is based on customer satisfaction. It’s useful for prioritizing customer needs based on their understanding of value. We can see this on a 2×2 axis plotting customer satisfaction vs. product implementation:
Further implementation dimensions are scaled from absence of functionality (leftmost) to the best possible implementation of functionality (rightmost). Likewise, satisfaction, plotted on the y-axis, is measured across four categories: highly satisfied, satisfied, neutral, and dissatisfied.
The downside of using the Kano model is that it doesn’t consider effort, risk, and business goals. The Kano model is best for prioritizing add-ons and enhancements.
The MoSCoW method conveys the launch criteria to the team. It helps decide what to add to the priority bucket, but it doesn’t help measure the associated scores, weights, and estimations of tasks.
Today, when data matters and each product team wants to quantify the prioritization bucket list, MoSCoW cannot be a standalone framework. It must complement one of the prioritization frameworks, which can estimate the score and weights of the task. MoSCoW stands for must-have, should-have, could-have, and won’t-have features:
Must-have — They are a non-negotiable and essential requirement in the product. Its impact is so great that a product launch or sprint may be canceled in the absence of these features. The team can collectively decide not to move ahead in the absence of the must-have feature(s).
Should have — These are not time-specific requirements but are important to deliver for the customer.
Could have — These requirements are good for customers but don’t have a great impact. They are neither essential nor important to deliver.
Won’t have — As depicted in the image below, these requirements are out of scope for now and may be useful in future releases:
User story mapping
This prioritization framework evaluates the user’s experience during the customer product journey. This framework efficiently identifies the MVP and is mostly a collaborative activity involving the entire product team. It mitigates the issue related to the flat backlog, represents the mapping as contextual to clarify what the product team is trying to build, and often represents the backbone of all user activities in the system.
The biggest challenge with this framework is that it doesn’t take care of important factors like business value, complexity, effort, etc.
The image below demonstrates user story mapping. User story mapping outlines customers’ interactions with the product and helps the team decide what to build next:
Product leader Jeff Patton is credited for this framework and authored a dedicated book on this mapping framework called User story mapping.
Opportunity solution tree
The opportunity solution tree was conceptualized by thought leader Teresa Torress. This prioritization tool is quite popular for product discovery. It helps product teams navigate multiple hidden opportunities and solutions while simultaneously de-risking the solutions to validate whether they’re effective.
The opportunities are potential pain points that the product team tries to solve through the product. Solutions are potential features that solve the problem, AKA opportunities. Overall, the opportunity solution tress gives structured, clear diagrams and visually represents the product discovery process:
How to create a prioritization matrix
In this section, I will explain the step-by-step process of creating one of the most popular prioritization matrices, a 2×2 grid:
The image above shows the 2×2 grid drawn across the matrix grid in four quadrants:
- High value, low effort,
- High-value, high effort
- Low value, high effort
- Low value, low effort
The product team places backlog items/features/tasks in each quadrant according to the estimated value and effort of the tasks. For example, in the above template, it is easy to infer that the top right of the quadrant, Q1, is the most suitable task to prioritize. To reach this stage, the team can use following process:
- Decide to use an easily available, collaborative whiteboard. There are many, like Miro, Fig Jam, and the Canva whiteboard
- Add all the tasks/backlogs/features to sticky notes on the board
- Ask the product team to start placing them according to their previously decided value and effort in the grid
- Review, brainstorm, and compare each of them and make changes
- Finalize the action plan
There are some important tips and tactics to follow while using the template. Firstly, the team must determine the value of the features before placing them on the matrix during the session. This is not an on-the-spot process — many factors, like business and stakeholder risk/impact, need to be considered while assigning a value scale to a task.
Likewise, determine effort estimation before placing each of them in the quadrant. Ensure the effort estimation is well-discussed with the engineering and design teams. One can use t-shirt sizing or play poker’s Agile methods to define a high level of effort estimation. It will help the team easily match each of these tasks with its identified value and impact.
Finally, revisit the matrix from time to time. For example, it’s recommended that product managers revisit the matrix either once a month or every 15 days. This is to project the up-to-date status of the matrix based on quick customer changes:
Example of a prioritization matrix
Let’s assume a company is trying to build a mobile gaming app. Firstly, the team assigns the value and effort for each task and later plots them in the 2×2 grid to visualize the priority.
Further, the team can brainstorm during this activity to relook at the value and effort estimated across each task before prioritizing them.
Moreover, a team can use the below prioritization method, user story mapping, to identify the MVP experience, as well as the customer journey of MVP and the subsequent releases. Considering the above example of developing a gaming app, the team has used the user story mapping method to identify potential features across the product capabilities:
If possible, create a downloadable and customizable prioritization matrix template, preferably in Google Sheets or an easily copiable and sharable document.
Prioritization matrix: Free template
You can download the 2×2 matrix, user story mapping, and opportunity solution tree prioritization templates from this link.
And that’s it! Thanks for following along this lengthy article about product prioritization. We discussed prioritization matrices, their benefits, a few different types of prioritization matrices, and how to create one yourself. Hopefully, it was helpful to you. Thanks for reading!
Featured image source: IconScout
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