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Product Features Prioritisation – More than Impact v/s Effort

I recently had a nice long discussion with a product manager friend working for an e-commerce giant. Among other things we talked about prioritization and how we do it in our respective organizations. I had some interesting thoughts and I talked to PMs in a dozen startups in India to understand how they are prioritizing for their products. I have realized that other than the famous impact versus effort analysis, there is an invisible framework we use to determine impact at different stages of the product life cycle.

1. high impact, low effort – slam dunk! obviously, go for low hanging fruits

2. low impact, low effort – I personally love these micro-optimizations. They can quickly add up to become a high impact

3. high impact, high effort – the bigger projects. See if you can release them piecemeal and turn them into a mix of 1 & 2.

4. low impact, high effort – why would you ever want to do these? Well, sometimes you have spare resources. Also, sometimes these are Parity or Expected features and you need to have them for the sake of completeness.

In my research, though I found more layers of complexity involved in making a decision. Notably, at different stages of the product life cycle, the prioritization is managed very differently. Whatever methods are being followed, almost no one was “consciously” considering the prime responsibility of product management – balancing business, users, and tech. It was being done rather instinctively. I also figured that for most products, all their features can be grouped under certain brackets.

I found that if articulated, the framework can act as a very helpful reference while prioritizing features for any B2B, or B2C product roadmap or even for doing backlog refinement for sprints. I showed it around and most PMs could relate very well to it.

Here it is. I classified different features into various brackets and I could find 10 of them. I tend to feel this is an exhaustive list of the feature classification, but let me know if you can think of more brackets that can be added. (In no particular order)

  1. Parity feature – a feature that the competition (if any) already has 
  2. Expected feature – a feature that’s naturally expected from your product. Also, includes conversion and revenue related features
  3. Advanced feature – something only power users would love 
  4. By-products – what perhaps 3rd parties are providing on top of your solution. Check my last post for more details.  
  5. Unexpected feature- unsolicited, clever add-on that can delight users in certain situations
  6. Repayment feature- reducing technical debt, legal debt, compliance-related stuff
  7. Engagement feature- will hold the users longer, bring them back often
  8. Viral feature- will get you more users
  9. Security feature- keeps your product/users/data safe 
  10. Instrumentation feature – helps you measure and monitor the health of the product

Eventually, you’d have to put features in the Impact versus Effort chart and assess what to build. Impact estimate should cover who is it going to impact, and how much is it going to impact them. Effort estimates are what the tech team says they are (in person-days or person-months).
Practically, in larger teams with enough resources, the effort estimates are less important. 

Sorry for the digression, I know that’s politically incorrect. But, I care less, that’s the truth. Effort estimates come in handy only when there are competing features that need to be added and may have a similar impact. Also, when resources are low and you have to argue with others and fight for your ideas. It happens mostly in the early and growth stage, less frequently in the maturity stage.

Now, coming to how at different stages the balancing act assigns different priorities to these feature brackets. Here’s how it looks:

Early Stage
(Listed in order of Priority for this stage)

  1. Expected feature – This is the core of your solution. You build this first, nothing makes sense until this is ready. 
  2. Parity feature – What competition already has. When users come to you, they’d want to compare before they pay. You’d need to tell them you have those features and more.  
  3. Viral feature- The referral schemes and social elements and network effects that will push you to the growth stage. 
  4. Repayment feature- It’s important to give it enough weight for a stable, scalable future product
  5. Instrumentation feature – This is setting you up for the next level. You need to start thinking about what you want to measure. What you can measure is what you can improve. 
  6. Security feature- A stitch in time saves nine. It makes total sense to keep making security audits. You have less data but this is also the time when those sharp early adopters will try to milk your vulnerabilities the most. Particularly promotions and referral schemes. 
  7. Engagement feature – less important at this stage
  8. Advanced feature – don’t even think about these
  9. Unexpected feature- don’t even think about these
  10. By-products – don’t even think about these

Growth Stage
(Listed in order of Priority for this stage)

  1. Viral feature- create and fuel your growth engine. (Notice the jump?)
  2. Parity feature – This is a necessity at this stage. You can’t lose out because of these.  
  3. Expected feature – You need to make sure early adopters and the early majority get what they expect, if not more. 
  4. Instrumentation feature – the better you measure, the better you grow
  5. Repayment feature- don’t lose sight of this, it is always important
  6. Engagement feature- acquisition may be the top priority but if they are not being fed back to the funnel you are losing money. 
  7. Security feature- Data is increasing and so is your responsibility
  8. Advanced feature – you may start throwing in a feature or two for power users if they are low on effort
  9. Unexpected feature- only if they are low on effort
  10. By-products – don’t even think, unless you see that you need to Pivot. 

Early Maturity Stage
(Listed in order of Priority for this stage)

  1. Engagement feature- add more channels for engagement, make users sticky, bring the acquired pool back more often (Notice how this comes from #6 to #1)
  2. Viral feature- make sure the incoming stream is steady
  3. Unexpected feature- a great time to innovate, bring in some fresh thoughts to delight your users
  4. Security feature- this is getting critical
  5. Repayment feature- stability and scalability are of prime importance
  6. Advanced feature – hopefully, now you have more power users to care about
  7. Instrumentation feature – measure everything, integrate with third-party tools
  8. By-products – this goes with better qualitative analysis of your customers and take up side projects for up-selling and cross-selling to the same consumer base
  9. Parity feature – hopefully, you’ve carved a niche for yourself, but keep an eye on where they are heading
  10. Expected feature – hopefully, you’ve nailed most of it by now so you can stop worrying about it for now

Maturity Stage
(Listed in order of Priority for this stage)

  1. Engagement feature- engage more, engage better, time to curb churn 
  2. By-products – leverage what you have, before others do
  3. Unexpected feature- innovate, disrupt yourself before others do
  4. Advanced feature – there may a substantial subset of users who care about these
  5. Instrumentation feature – the last 4 are only possible when your measurement is intensive and extensive
  6. Viral feature- growth is still important
  7. Security feature- this is critical. Make sure you have tight security, backups and continuity plans in place
  8. Repayment feature- reducing technical debt keeps you stable and scalable
  9. Parity feature – you should know your customers better than your competition does, parity is less important than engagement and delight. Never lose your edge
  10. Expected feature – revisit your core value proposition, make sure you are honest

Decline Stage
(Listed in order of Priority for this stage)

  1. By-products – Your users are moving on, your product should too. See how?
  2. Engagement feature- will hold the users longer, milk as much as possible
  3. Unexpected feature- unsolicited, clever add-on that can delight users in certain situations
  4. Advanced feature – give them what they want 
  5. Instrumentation feature – you should have mostly figured this out by now
  6. Viral feature- you may try innovating with new channels, geographies, consumer sections if something can bring you back in the stable state. 
  7. Security feature – be wary of access permissions, disgruntled employees
  8. Repayment feature- make sure technology is not coming in the way
  9. Parity feature – not just current competition, check what is disrupting the market
  10. Expected feature – revisit your core value proposition

It’s fun to see how you can simplify your decision making by articulating things that you instinctively do.

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About author

Ujjwal has over 13 years of experience, working on emerging technologies, creating B2B and B2C Mobile, Web and Desktop software for consumers and businesses (Fortune 500 companies to Start-ups). I help businesses deliver - by creating engaging products, catalyzing sales, establishing processes, building teams, coaching team members and managing projects from idea to marketing. Have been instrumental in awesomizing several (25+) products and their delivery.


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