Most people wouldn't consider prioritization a particularly fun process.
When you prioritize you have to say no a lot and you usually end up saying no to new ideas, features or initiatives more often than you say yes.
If you find yourself in a difficult position to prioritize when everything is a priority it gets even more difficult.
The future ahead and the success of our projects are very uncertain so us finding a way to make decisions more data-based is the right way to go.
Over the years, companies and people have developed various frameworks and models for prioritization and today I want to tell you a bit about one of our favorite, the Buy-a-Feature Method.
Buy-a-Feature is a simple prioritization framework that comes in the form of a game played with customers and stakeholders. It is used to identify the value of possible new features of your product.
During the game session, participants are handed a fixed amount of play money or jelly beans that they can collaboratively spend on priced product ideas.
By letting them choose the importance of features and observing their decision-making process, you can gain insight into what customers and important stakeholders prefer and why.
This information helps you when choosing which features should be implemented next.
The game is best played in person, but it could also be done online using, for example, a spreadsheet that can be edited by all participants.
The advantages of playing in person are that the participants’ feedback is potentially more detailed, you are able to capture their direct reactions, and that you learn from observation during the discussion.
Preparing and playing buy-a-feature is carried out in four major steps.
1. List the features and assign prices
Possible elements of the list could be new features, fixes of existing ones, product enhancements, new products, or any other idea which demands prioritization.
These items could, amongst other things, come from customer requests or from user and market research.
Be careful to only choose user-focused features and to not get too technical to avoid confusion.
There should also not be too many items so that the participants are able to get a good overview and are not overwhelmed.
Between 20 and 30 features might be a good start.
The made-up prizes should reflect the realistic development cost of the feature.
Don’t use a real unit like euros or dollars to avoid making connections to the real prize of a product. It is also a good idea to make the prizes relative to each other. If one feature takes twice the effort it should cost twice as much. The cost could include factors like money spend, complexity, effort or risk.
At least one item should be priced higher than the individual budget to encourage and observe communication between the players.
Print the title, the description, and the price of each feature on a card and give these to the group.
Using just a list that is printed out on paper or visible on a large screen is also possible, but by using feature cards you encourage a more interactive discussion as the cards get handed around by the participants.
2. Hand out the play money
Each of the customers or stakeholders that take part in the Buy-a-Feature game receives a fixed amount of play money. You have to be careful when deciding the budgets.
If you hand out too much, the participants won’t have to think too hard about which features they would truly prefer.
But if the budget is too small, you might lose valuable information as the players are not able to prioritize all desirable features.
A good balance is to enable each participant to buy between a third and a half of the features. Use play money from a game like Monopoly or print out your own design.
3. Observe and learn from the discussion
Start the buying process by explaining all of the available features. Then, observe while the customers or stakeholders discuss the features and make their decisions.
Stay present in the room to be there for questions and, if necessary, to guide the discussion in case the participants get stuck on a decision or can’t find a consent.
The group size should not be too large so that the players don’t have to make too many compromises.
An ideal size would be 3 to 5 people to encourage valuable discussions within the group. By paying close attention, you can uncover valuable learnings about your customers’ priorities and needs.
This phase ends if all the play money is spent or if the participants bough all the features they want. It should be made clear beforehand that it is okay to have some leftover budget.
This is important to ensure that no buys are made just to spent the rest of the money.
4. Review the purchases
Let the customers explain their decisions individually and also discuss this as a group to get even more insight than only from the previous observation step.
It might have happened that some participants changed their minds about which features to spend their budget on during the game.
The goal is to really understand the thought process that led to these choices.
Contrary to other prioritization methods, Buy-a-Feature engages customers and stakeholders in the decision-making process. It helps you to get an understanding of what features they really value.
One takeaway could also be information about whether a higher number of smaller updates are wanted or instead less but larger ones with more impact.
Buy-a-Feature provides useful feedback and prevents you from developing features that would in fact not be widely used.
Apart from these benefits, it is also a fun way to interact with your customers!
If it seems hard to decide which features are most valuable to customers or if you are struggling with a complex feature request list but you only have limited resources, playing Buy-a-Feature is a great choice.
It is also useful if other market research strategies failed or showed that too many enhancement possibilities exist which are difficult to prioritize.
Another use case presents when you are testing initial product features before starting a new product to get a feeling for the reaction of potential customers.