Prioritization is the practice of ranking tasks, features, and other product requirements in order of their importance.
There is a saying in business: “If everything is urgent, nothing is urgent.” You may know the specific tasks you need to do to build your product. However, you also need to know in what order to perform these tasks if you want to achieve a successful and timely launch. That’s why a prioritization step is always key when reviewing your product backlog.
In this article, we look at the definition of prioritization and its importance in product development. Also we review the various methods of prioritization available to you.
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What is Prioritization?
Prioritization is the practice of determining the relative importance of each task, feature, or requirement involved in your product. Prioritization exists because the time and resources available to develop a product are both limited.
These constraints require product teams to be selective in where they focus their energies in order to meet deadlines or maximize the value they deliver.
Why is Prioritization Important?
The foremost importance of prioritization is that it helps you manage your requirements and resources. By knowing what you need to do beforehand, you won’t waste time putting limited resources towards developing features that don’t provide a lot of value or won’t contribute to the MVP.
The act of prioritization itself also helps you determine which of your backlog items are actually important at all. Because you look at each item with the intent of assigning relative value, prioritization helps you rethink their place in your features list.
Prioritization also has an additional benefit for Agile frameworks. It helps you select which tasks to include in each sprint.
Commonly Used Product Prioritization Tools and Frameworks
How do you go about prioritizing your workflow? It’s not just about looking at each feature and deciding what is or isn’t important. This kind of methodology wouldn’t help you make any relevant comparisons of feature importance.
Instead, there are many product prioritization frameworks and tools that product managers and business leaders use to make sure they’re taking all features and goals into account.
Here are a few of the most commonly-used ones:
The Kano model prioritizes features that lead to customer satisfaction. It divides product attributes into four types:
- Basic: The bare minimum features that a customer expects in a product. These don’t affect customer satisfaction much if they’re included. If they are not included, however, they cause a lot of dissatisfaction.
- Attractive (Excitement): Unexpected and innovative features that can have a huge positive impact on customer satisfaction if they’re there. However, if they’re not included, customers may not notice it.
- Performance: The main area where companies compete. Performance attributes have a linear relationship with customer satisfaction—the more of them you provide, the greater satisfaction; the less you have, the less satisfaction.
- Indifferent: Features that don’t have a meaningful impact on customer satisfaction.
The Kano model’s metrics are always changing. You may find that “Attractive” features eventually trickle down to the rest of the market and become “Basic.” Using the Kano model acknowledges that you’ll need to evaluate your features on a regular basis to see where they fall.
A prioritization matrix is an analysis tool that maps each backlog item into a table with certain criteria. You can use this tool to quickly and intuitively group your tasks into different priority levels.
Prioritization matrices come in different sizes and configurations. Let’s explore a few of them:
Action Priority Matrix
The 2×2 Action Priority matrix evaluates each task by comparing the value it generates for your business against the cost of implementing it. The Y-axis divides tasks according to impact. Meanwhile, the X-axis divides tasks according to cost.
From here, you get four quadrants. Ranked in order of priority, these are:
- Quick Wins: These tasks get top priority because they cost little to work on, but produce a lot of value.
- Major Projects: While completing these tasks also deliver plenty of value, it takes a lot of time to execute them. Focusing too much on these may prevent you from securing many quick wins.
- Fill-ins: These are easy tasks that don’t have a lot of impact. You can put them on the lower rungs of your prioritization list.
- Thankless Tasks: High-effort, low-impact tasks that rank last compared to all the others.
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Rate feedback based on all gathered information. Differentiate low hanging fruits from major projects, strategic projects and thankless tasks.
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The Eisenhower Matrix got its name from former US President Dwight Eisenhower. He said in 1954, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
This matrix focuses on improving time management. It prioritizes product tasks using two axes:
- Importance: Tasks that achieve long-term objectives.
- Urgent: Tasks that are time-sensitive and must be completed immediately.
The key to using the Eisenhower Matrix is believing that tasks are mostly either urgent or important and that they are mutually exclusive. While there are exceptions to this, it’s a good model to have to prevent your team from drowning in deadlines.
The MoSCoW Method categorizes features into four grades of priority (M-S-C-W), from which it gets its name:
- Must-Have: Non-negotiable features without which the product can’t launch. These take the highest priority.
- Should-Have: Features that are still important, but not necessarily mandatory to have for product launch. Including them adds a lot of value. But they aren’t time-sensitive and you can release them later on.
- Could-Have: “Nice to have” features that aren’t essential to the product, nor are they time-sensitive. They may provide value, but they also won’t necessarily be missed if not included.
- Won’t-Have: At the moment explicitly not prioritized features. These can be developed if there are additional resources remaining after the other priority tasks are done. Otherwise, they’ll be slated for different sprints or timeframes.
The MoSCOw Method is constantly shifting along with product goals, timeframes, and customer needs. Over time, a “Won’t-Have” feature may therefore become a “Should-Have,” or even a “Must-Have”.
Prioritization is a necessary part of task management. Without it, you may end up executing tasks or building features haphazardly. All without considering the best approach to delivering what your users need when they need them. There is no one single best prioritization method. It’s important to select the right prioritization tool based on what is most important to your business goals.