How to Prioritize Features and Product Improvements

Each category or theme should align with a concrete vision, mission, strategy, or goal of the overall company or team.
May 26, 2021
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When you’re building a new product, it’s natural to want to pack everything you can into it. You have a thousand ideas, and you want your software to be the best it can be.

But unfortunately, you can’t have it all. For one, you probably don’t have the budget to incorporate all the bells and whistles you’re hoping to include. And for another, you probably don’t even want to — overloading features could very likely overwhelm your prospective audience. It’s important to realize that not every feature you can think of is critical for making a quality product.

How do you prioritize features and product improvements? Here are 8 steps to follow.

1. Categorize Features

Before you dive in, take stock of the types of features you’re looking to incorporate. These improvements will be much more manageable — and feasible — if you break them down into smaller groups and buckets. Determine the different categories based on predetermined themes.

Each category or theme should align with a concrete vision, mission, strategy, or goal of the overall company or team. If you’re unable to tie a theme to your business’s larger objectives, then that category probably doesn’t belong.

Some developers follow the Kano model, developed by Noriaki Kano. This model asks you to categorize features according to customer satisfaction. Since this is the ultimate goal of your product, it can be a good methodology to follow.

2. Organize

Once you’ve categorized your features, it’s time to organize them further. Think about ways to keep track of your feature backlog. It could be a spreadsheet or a project management tool — whatever will work best for you and your team. Creating a system for organizing all your planned and accomplished features will allow you to consider the big picture and visualize how your features fit in. 

Incorporate your categories into your organization schema. If you’re using a project management tool, for instance, you might color-code the features.

3. Measure ROI

Now that you’ve created a clear, organized system, complete with categories of proposed features, it’s time to measure their impact. This will allow you to determine how great the positive effect a given feature will have on your product.

To fully measure the return on investment (ROI), you’ll need to score each feature, assigning a numerical value to each one. This isn’t an exact science, of course, but it should be feasible to estimate the quantifiable impact a feature will have on the final result. Use your goals and objectives as a tool to quantify these improvements, as well as the amount of effort and time each one will take to implement.

4. Look at Alternative Scoring Methods

Once you’ve scored the features, it’s easy to sort them according to the numerical value of each. But there are also several established methodologies for validating the true value of your features.

One methodology is an impact effort matrix. This is a 2 by 2 grid that helps you evaluate the effort you need to put forth and the benefits you may reap as a result. It serves as a complement to the scoring method described in step #3, helping you find the features that will have the greatest impact on your overall product with the minimum effort possible. 

Or consider using the RICE method. The acronym stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. These 4 factors allow you to consider each feature according to these criteria and make an educated, informed decision.

5. Rank the Features

Using the methods listed in steps #3 and #4, you can then rank the features according to their numerical values. There are also additional ways to rank different features.

Take story mapping. Through this method, you’ll somewhat experience your product from the user’s perspective. The “map” follows the path your user takes when experiencing your product, encountering the categories of features along the way. This, in turn, will allow you to rank these experiences in order of importance, usually visually depicted on a vertical axis, while the journey itself appears on the horizontal axis.

6. Talk It Over with Your Team

Decisions about features shouldn’t be made unilaterally. You may have a clear idea about the features that are best to incorporate into your product. But because other team members — the product manager, the UX designer, the project manager, and the quality assurance (QA) engineer, among others — will be involved in implementing them, they should have a say as well.

In addition to offering their opinions about the need for these features, team members can also offer their perspectives from a feasibility standpoint.

7. Verify

There is a very human element in the user experience with your product. In fact, because people will be the ones using it, it’s really the most important element. After you’ve performed the brainstorming, scoring, ranking, and evaluation, it’s time to take a long hard look at the features from a personal angle, considering how a human will use the product and what they want. In other words, verify the work you’ve put in by using your own brain.

Verifying, however, isn’t the same as gut checking — no features should be implemented or prioritized based on intuition.

8. Make a Plan for Release

So, you’ve prioritized your features. You’ve determined which ones need to be implemented immediately and which ones will stay in your backlog for the time being. Now, it’s time to make a clear plan for the release of your product.

This involves working closely with your developers, product managers, UX designers, project managers, and QA engineers to review the features, determine how you’ll verify and implement them, and, ultimately, deploy your product.

Evaluating and prioritizing features and product improvements is challenging work, but following these steps will help you determine the most important qualities your product needs to have and allow you to release quality software more quickly.

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