Quick Guide: 5 Steps to Prioritising New Product Features

7 Mar 2019 by Scott Middleton

When you’re trying to prioritise a new product or feature it is easy to get lost in the mountain of information, models, frameworks and theories available. I got lost just trying to write this article. You want to apply the appropriate amount of professional rigour and discipline but you’re also conscious that you want to move quickly and get things done.

This post aims to provide a fast, practical guide to product managers working on a new product or feature. It aims to balance the need for speed with the need for an appropriate amount of professional rigour and discipline.

This guide will walk you through the steps to get a prioritised roadmap by weaving theories and frameworks in as you need them. It is something you can mostly do from your desk or a whiteboard (i.e. something you can do right now).

The steps are:

  1. Draft who your customers might be and what they might want
  2. Map out alternative sequences and solutions
  3. Desktop Prioritisation
  4. Set Metrics
  5. Execute and Validate

The assumption is that you’ve already set your product vision and drawn up some goals, even if these are just lines in the sand.

In practice, you’ll need to iterate through this a few times and jump around between steps.

Step 1: Draft who your customers might be and what they might want

Your first task is to create a draft understanding of who your target customers are and what they want. This is a combined step because as you explore what your customers want you will your sense of who your customer is will evolve. Go broad and narrow here, leave no stone unturned.

Don’t worry about data or interviews or anything like that at this stage. Just start drawing on a whiteboard or typing on your keyboard. Don’t get paralysed.

Define your Target Customers and Users

You can understand your target customers by building personas for the buyer and, if relevant, the users and other stakeholders. You want to get as specific as possible here.

Stating “but every X is our customer” isn’t true, at least in the beginning of a product or feature. You want to get clear on who the early adopters will be or how are your Customer X’s segmented.

Define what your customers want

You can understand what your customers want by applying the Jobs to Be Done framework. It is an approach to viewing your product or service that recognises that people employ products and services because they have have jobs that they need to do. Not because they necessarily want to buy the features, products, services or parts themselves. The leading professor of innovation Clayton Christensen, and others, invented it. Intercom popularised it.

Step 2: Map out alternate sequences and solutions

Now that you have a broad understanding of who your users are and what they might want you can start to map out the different ways you might fulfil these jobs.

You want to come at this from multiple angles like:

    1. Taking each high level job and mapping out a prioritised sequence of versions of fulfilling a job. For instance, you may only deliver one small slice of a job now but over-time you will complete the whole job.
    2. Putting together alternative ways of completing a job
    3. Matching jobs-to-be-done and solutions with different user or customer personas (e.g. a 25 year old might approach getting a job done differently to a 45 year old).

It’s okay if there is overlap at this stage. However, you might also want to think about distilling your mapping down in a way that aligns with the Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive principle (called MECE).

Put some quick estimates of effort, risk and complexity against each of these.

Step 3: Desktop Prioritisation

Take everything you’ve done so far and prioritise it. Prioritise individually and then together. By that I mean, prioritise which customers you want to serve separately to prioritising the problem you want to solve. Then prioritise this together.

For example, you may want to prioritise a large corporate customer over a small business because the corporate has a higher capacity to pay. Or you may want to prioritise small business over a large corporate because the small business will buy faster and require less assistance. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you make some hard choices about who is more important.

When it comes to the jobs to be done and your solutions to those jobs you can apply an advanced prioritisation framework like the Kano Model or you can just apply a simple framework like Value versus Cost/Effort. You might choose to do multiple passes with different frameworks.

Do this from the desktop to start with. That is, you don’t need to worry about real data just yet, that will come. Too often I see people getting paralysed here. Just get into it, form a hypothesis and run with it. Desktop here also means getting on a whiteboard with your peers.

Pro tip: If you can’t decide then either keep moving and test. The right priority will emerge. If it still isn’t emerging, then flip a coin.

Step 4: Set metrics

This is probably the most skipped step. People take their prioritisation and run with it, without first testing competing priorities. Sometimes it’s obvious as to what number one is, but often there are multiple things you could be doing right now. The best way to figure out what the to focus on first, is to quickly test competing priorities with real data.

To test competing priorities and to monitor if you made the right calls you need measures. So, draft the quantitative and qualitative results you expect that support your hypothesised prioritisation. This will help you measure your success generally but also your success in prioritisation. It gives you a measure of whether you are making the right decisions.

Let’s say you have two competing target customer personas, 25 year olds versus 45 year olds, that say, both need to make their hair look great (get a haircut) and you were designing a beauty service. At this step in the prioritisation process you would say that for the 45 year olds to get your focus you would need to see that significantly more of them respond to an ad campaign than 25 year olds.

You want to draft key metrics for a few of the items at the top, not just the top item, because this help you reprioritise. In planning what you want to achieve you might discover that one priority is more attractive or attainable than another.

Step 5: Execute and Validate

Now you can execute. Start implementing and testing your priorities.

Keep validating what you have chosen with the results that are coming back from what you are working on.

Rinse and Repeat

The best prioritisation I’ve seen is a continuous discussion and re-evaluation. After you’ve been through these 5 steps, go through them again. And again, and again and again.

Don’t assume you’re right – the market moves, data comes back. Don’t be afraid to iterate.

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