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New Feature Prioritization: 6 Proven Tips To Make It Right

By Boris Kontsevoi & Serge Stepantsov

Originally the article was published in Software Executive Magazine

Prioritizing new features is a never-ending struggle for every software company. Even the most seasoned product managers face challenges when determining features and activities to put on the roadmap. The bad news: Establishing the priorities incorrectly may negatively impact the business. The good news: There are reliable methods for mitigating the risks.

The first and foremost difficulty in the process of prioritization is people. Quite often prioritization becomes personal. This may be because of the idea ownership, employee workload, and even some personal problems. In instances like these, the product manager/owner has to put it all aside and concentrate on business. Not making the prioritization personal is a good way to make things right. Here are six proven ways to effectively decide which feature to prioritize.

Whatever the reason for prioritization, the initial step of the process is being involved in the strategic level of planning. Sit down with the leadership team and gain the understanding of the business direction. Connect their overall vision with practice. Your goal here is to define why you are doing this.

Discuss with the leadership team various features they are considering. This helps to quantify the strategic value, define the long-term impact, and the expected benefits. By debating the overall scope, you mitigate the risk of not launching a certain feature development on schedule. Along with that, you get the opportunity to weigh everything carefully.

Another point for discussion concerns the project drivers, like competitive advantage, financial benefit, and risk reduction. Talk with the top management team to define these. The drivers motivate product enhancement or deliver users opportunities that previously were unavailable. Gaining these ideas helps to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Along with the drivers, discuss the factors that may impact the success. During this step, you should consider the budgeted funds, resources, timing, task processing, and even methodology. Specify the dependencies and limitations. Any company’s budget and timing are always constrained. For this reason, some feature ideas may be postponed or put on hold. There can be factors outside your control that can prevent an on-time features launch. Do not neglect the practical side when discovering the leadership team’s vision. Run the prioritization through the lens of criteria like:

  • Usefulness – It covers the technical side. Think of the tech skills the team has or needs to acquire to develop the feature. You’ll possibly need to hire more team members. You might also need the technical partners that will provide services or support to the tech stack.
  • Significance For A User – This is the part that focuses on customer experience. You should take into consideration the needs of the end user, the interactive elements, and how the new features will be marketed/sold. The researchers, UX designers, marketers, and strategists provide this information. Creating a testable prototype of the idea or feature can be a good proof of the point. When real users try the prototype, the team collects essential user data. You’ll get great insights for further development and an understanding of whether or not users need this.

All the information you get may look like a mess of wants and don’t-wants. Agile offers an excellent method to deal with it. The main idea is to develop the essential features first. Choose those that make the backbone of the product. Then move to those that are vital for the first version, and only add other elements after that. If you are not developing the first version of your software, use the method to define essential product elements among nonessential ones.

Once you define all the priorities, create a visual artifact to see the big picture. To grab it all, you can create a sketch, drawing, or a traditional road map. Another useful way to map the priorities is to create a matrix. Give them a score. The range of the scale is totally up to you (though a matrix from 1 to 5 from very low to very high/critical simplifies the idea). Each approach aims to help you focus on the most important things and create the order of sequence. When mapping the priorities, make sure the overall scope of work in the task groups grows as the severity level decreases. The critical group has the least number of tasks but the highest priority. This approach impacts the project development.

When the prioritization is done and everything is clear, take a minute and review it all. You have done a great job, and now you need to ensure the expectations are clear to all the parties involved. Make sure everyone is aware of the plan and agrees on it.

Feature prioritization cannot be done in isolation. It is a part of the strategic planning process. Creating successful software products requires a continuous review of priorities. It is important to connect schedules and the roadmap. The product teams need to map the company vision, go-to-market plans, and development plans to ensure everyone is on the same page. They need to be sure new feature implementation won’t appear out of the blue.

Prioritization is always a dynamic process. It never really ends. We regard prioritization as an undeniable and self-evident part of our proprietary framework and predictive software engineering (PSE). By relying on the prioritization tips, we managed to pick out the crucial components of a successful project. This ensured process transparency, project efficiency, and result predictability.

PSE applied to the product development and feature implementation puts the focus on including the priorities in the project roadmap. Based on this, the company receives the product developed according to market and user preferences. Thus, every feature is delivered according to the schedule. Properly identifying priorities ensures the business goals accompany the development roadmap, market tendencies, and the company’s strategic objectives. Overall, this framework provides a remedy for many of the headaches facing your software company’s product management team.

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