29 Mar 2022
Prioritization is the holy grail of product management.
Knowing which tasks to tackle first when you’ve got an ever-growing to-do list can be the difference between nailing a project and flunking it entirely. Identifying customer needs, building a product to fulfill them while achieving wider business objectives, motivating and managing a team to pull it off — while keeping on top of a busy SaaS market where consumers constantly expect bigger and better. The list of to-dos just seems to grow.
So how do you focus on the next essential task? How do you devise a method to all the madness? Let’s talk about frameworks — and the power of using a framework in your prioritization practice.
Can we expect prioritization frameworks to do all the hard work for us? No. Are they helpful in organizing your options and helping remove some bias? Yes. Is there one framework that’s better than the rest?
Let’s start at the beginning…
Prioritization occurs on three levels:
The roadmap - Setting out your objectives and initiatives
The idea backlog - Finding problems to solve
The development backlog - Understanding how to prioritize the approved work to be done.
To find the outcome with the biggest impact, and therefore discover what you should prioritize, using visual aids — like frameworks — is a tried and trusted method.
Why? Because these processes stop us from leaping ahead; from leaning on assumption to highlight what’s essential and what’s not.
So let’s go a level deeper now, and look at the questions we need to ask ourselves to fill our roadmap and backlogs with all this useful information. Here’s where we’ll need some objectives.
Product management coach Teresa Torres invented the Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) in 2016 as an effective way for product teams to streamline their discovery.
This involves narrowing down your goals, and then identifying which opportunities emerge as a consequence. It results in a genogram that effectively maps out how you plan to reach the desired outcome through four key elements:
Desired Outcome - What we want to achieve.
Opportunities -A possible solution; one direction that could help fulfill the desired outcome.
Solutions - Potential ways of implementing that opportunity.
Experiments - Ways a solution will be tested.
The Opportunity Solution Tree challenges you to think systematically and objectively to work toward prioritization. Designed to be utilized during product discovery, the method encourages a PM to ask: what do I need to do to reach my desired outcome? How will I measure success?
Ideally, what follows is a moment of clarity.
Now you can really say: yes, this is the right thing to work on because of X, and we expect that to bring result/outcome Y.
And with your objectives in place and all the team aligned, you can proceed feeling more confident that your prioritization will be a success.
You know the outcome you’re aiming for, but how do you get there? How do you avoid those wasted mornings sitting at your desk scratching your head thinking, “So what should we be doing, exactly?”
It’s here that a prioritization framework comes into play.
Knowing which tasks to tackle first is rule #1 of effective product management: knowing what needs to be done and what can wait.
Sure, you might be a team of creative buzz brains with all the ideas in the world. But without knowledge of, and most of all, confidence in, the steps on your roadmap, things can quickly veer off course.
Having a prioritization framework is essential: this will help you understand and visualize information, enable conversations between team members and form a seamless journey to productivity, and ultimately, success.
WSFJ, MoSCoW, RICE — it’s easy to get lost among all the acronyms and initialisms. What do they all mean?
Standing for ‘Weighted Shortest Job First’, WSJF is a framework based on one simple equation: cost of delay / job duration = WSJF value.
Jobs that can deliver the most value in the shortest amount of time provide the best economic return, according to the framework.
>> Click here to learn more about WSJF.
The MoSCoW framework was developed by Dai Clegg and stands for ‘Must, Should, Could, Won’t’:
Must: Key features that must be implemented for the product to be considered a success.
Should: Features that are great to have, but are not time-dependent so are therefore not vital to the success of the product.
Could: Non-critical, small-scale improvements that are typically included if time and resources allow.
Won’t: Features that are the least critical, yielding the least ROI or just simply not appropriate in the timeframe.
This allows a product manager to assess each feature’s importance, making it easy to communicate priorities to stakeholders.
>> We’ve got a dedicated guide on MoSCoW right here.
‘Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort’ — that’s what the RICE prioritization method aims to straighten out. Essentially, product teams can use this framework to identify which builds or features will reach and benefit the most users, how sure you are about that, and how much work will be required to get the concept over the line.
Again, this prioritization framework is a great tool to stress-test your thinking: especially as it has the ‘Confidence’ metric, which can help wean out features that sound really cool, but may be a tad inflated in the team’s mind.
>> Learn how to do the RICE method in 5-minutes with our RICE scoring tutorial.
You’ve got the fancy framework. You’ve even sketched it out for good measure. So now the writing is on the wall and it’s time to follow the framework’s guidance, forgoing all other insights.
Wrong! We’re still missing one hugely important piece of the product development puzzle: empathy.
Prioritization comes down to so much more than whatever a framework suggests.
To build human-focused products, you need human-focused input. Frameworks cannot make the tough decisions for you. Instead, they are mere guidelines — to be used as part of the prioritization process, but not to carry the whole thing.
That’s why there is no one prioritization framework that outperforms the others.
Ultimately, the best framework is one tailored to your needs at that time.
Try WSJF. Try MoSCoW. Try RICE. Try some others. Whatever empowers you and your team to have the appropriate debates — and make the right decisions effectively — is the best one for your project. Let us know how you get on!
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