Product Prioritization : how to decide which feature to launch

In my current role at WebEngage, my primary responsibility is to build a retention marketing product for B2C companies that would help them drive revenues from their existing customers.

Our product has been around for a while. While we’ve been iterating on the product almost on a daily basis, there came a time when we wanted to take a structured approach to building the product, both from a short-term and long-term perspective. It’s the usual process of evolution that any product in any startup goes through.

We wanted to add many new features to the product. We also wanted to make changes to the existing functionality of the product. As such, we were able to quickly put together a list of almost 200 items that we wanted to work on over the next few quarters. The inputs for this exercise came from our customers, the insights from the team members at WebEngage and understanding what our competitors were upto. In some ways, we had built a highly unorganized product roadmap. Creating the roadmap was easy. Prioritizing the 200 items on the roadmap, wasn’t. Therefore, my immediate task was to quickly find a way to organize these items in their order of priority.

In my product roadmap research, I came across many articles that went into the details of how prioritisation can be done. A lot of it seemed unnecessarily complicated. In this post, I wanted to distill some of those learnings into creating a simple framework that companies can use to prioritize items on a product roadmap.

Segregate Items into Themes

Any product roadmap should have certain themes around which the product is going to get built over time. Each item on the product roadmap is then mapped to a specific theme. You could then prioritise the themes themselves based on the business goals such that you end up tackling only 3 or 4 themes in a particular quarter. Of course, the ideal process would be to first define the themes and then build a list of items that fits into each of these themes. In our case, we also ensured that we picked only those items that impacted a majority of our existing and potential customers.

What are themes? Themes could be as specific as Reducing churn by increasing engagementIncreasing the on-boarding and activation rateIncreasing sign-up to purchase conversions or as generic as Improving the overall UXMaking the system scalable etc. Ideally, each of these themes should move some metric for the company.

In our case, since we already had a wishlist of items we wanted to work on, I decided to attach broad themes to each of those items. Broad themes suited our requirements better than specific themes as our product is still in the early stages of the product evolution lifecycle. The next time we build a roadmap, it will mostly be around very specific themes.

Instead of creating 10 or 15 different themes and then prioritising the themes, I decided to instead limit the number of themes to just 5. Based on inputs from the management, I then realised that our immediate needs for the next couple of quarters were served by just 3 out of those 5 themes. Below is the list of the top 3 highest priority themes for us along which the product was going to evolve over the next couple of quarters:

  • Build new analytical features to drive user engagement
  • Build a beautiful user experience to make the product simple and intuitive thereby increasing conversions
  • Scale our systems to drive stability to cater to the massive growth in the number of customers

Having segregated items into themes, the next problem I encountered was to prioritize the various items in each of these themes as each theme had about 30 to 40 items linked to it.

Urgency, Effort and Impact

We then decided to rate each item in those 3 themes on the following parameters:

  • Urgency: On a scale of 1 to 5, how urgent was that item for our customers. 5 being most urgent and 1 being least urgent.
  • Impact: On a scale of 1 to 5, how much impact would that item have for our customers. 5 being maximum impact and 1 being lowest impact
  • Effort: On a scale of 1 to 5, how much effort would it take to build that item for our customers. 5 being least effort and 1 being most effort

Based on these parameters, we created a formula that would calculate the total score for each of the items on the roadmap.

Total Score = 100*Urgency + 10*Impact + 1*Effort

The idea behind this framework was that we wanted to work on the highest urgency, maximum impact and least effort items first. Tackle the low hanging fruits first before getting to the others.

The founders, the tech leads and the product lead jointly came up with a score for each of urgency, impact and effort, before the total was calculated. The scores for each of the parameters were based mostly on gut feel than any quantitative data. We wanted to avoid any form of analysis paralysis so intuition and gut feel were sufficient for our needs.

Voila! Our complicated and unorganized product roadmap was now sorted in the exact order in which we should tackle those 200 items

I would also like to add that our product roadmap is not cast in stone. We add new items to it or remove certain items from it, almost every other month. However, the framework above always tells us the order in which we should tackle the items on the roadmap.

Cross-posted from my personal blog

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