17 Product Prioritization Frameworks and How to Use Them

Product Management
February 2, 2023
5 mins read
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Prioritization is one of the most challenging components of product management. When done right, it is a data-backed process to decide the relative importance and sequence of features your team would develop based on the values they bring to the customers.

And it is not easy.

For starters, product management teams have to collect feedback from their customers and keep an ear to the ground to do it. According to a survey, 25% of product managers agree that it is challenging to set roadmap priorities without data.

Another challenge is disagreements between various departments. For instance, the developers vote for Feature A while stakeholders suggest that Feature B should be prioritized.

The correct choice will help you deliver more value to your customers and make them more satisfied, however, the wrong decision will consume a lot of your resources while taking you nowhere.

Simply put, proper prioritization is critical for product development teams.

In this detailed post, let's understand 17 prioritization frameworks for product managers that you can use to build a data-backed roadmap.

17 Prioritization Frameworks for Product Managers

Product prioritization frameworks are a collection of guidelines for determining what to work on next. These frameworks assist product managers in prioritizing work, optimizing the workflows of the cross-functional team, and creating backlogs.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of 17 such popular prioritization frameworks.

1. Kano Model

The Kano model allows product managers to evaluate features by analyzing customer data. According to this product management prioritization framework, features are divided into five categories based on their level of satisfaction and functionality.

Kano Model

Product managers need to survey customers to determine where the features fall on the Kano chart and then decide which features to prioritize in the next sprint.

Kano Prioritization Model
Kano Prioritization Model

Advantages

  • It takes little time for the product team to prioritize features based on the Kano Model after the survey results are collated.
  • It indicates a product's current strengths and weaknesses.
  • You can rank product features based on the customer’s needs.

Disadvantages

  • It doesn't go into detail on the resources needed.
  • Customers with no technical background may end up with a wishlist and expectations.

2. Story Mapping

A story map comprises a horizontal axis that represents the user journey and a vertical axis that represents priority. After the product manager has finished the story map, they will have a list of features sorted by importance and usage sequence.

Story mapping is a beautiful way to plan out a minimum viable product (MVP) and keep track of a growing list of features. Features that are higher on the priority list deserve more attention than those lower on the list.

Story Mapping
Story Mapping Prioritization Framework

Advantages

  • Great way to identify the minimum functionality you need to test your concept.
  • Sharply focused on maximizing value for users.
  • Empowers team members with a greater understanding of the product’s features.

Disadvantages

  • This framework does not consider external product priority considerations such as business value and complexity.

3. MoSCoW Analysis

"Must-Have, Should-Have, Could-Have, and Won't Have" is the acronym for "MoSCow." which are four priority themes allowing product managers to categorize their product’s features.

  • Must-Have: Features that must be there from the start for the product to function properly.
  • Should-Have: Features that aren't necessary but are nevertheless essential to complete.
  • Could-Have: Features that aren't critical or urgent but would be an excellent addition to the overall product.
  • Won't-Have: Features that aren't required right now but could be added in the future.

The MoSCow approach is exceptionally dynamic, and it can assist the product managers' team in developing a solution in a short amount of time.

MoSCoW Analysis

Example of the MoSCoW Prioritization Framework for Product Managers

Advantages

  • The needs of the customer are always put first.
  • Team collaboration is made more accessible.
  • Because the notion is so simple, it's pretty intuitive.
  • In new product teams, it's simple to implement.

Disadvantages

  • Starting with "must-have," the pecking order might lead to the spilling of "should-have" and "could-have" items.
  • The order of features in each category does not account for urgency.

4. Opportunity Scoring

Opportunity Scoring evaluates customer happiness based on the results of distinct features. This is because customers prioritize outcomes or values associated rather than the technical execution of features.

To use this strategy, product managers need to make a list of the outcomes of the probable features that will be introduced soon. Customers should give ratings as per the importance of the features and their satisfaction levels with the current solutions on a scale of 1 to 10.

The results are then displayed on the chart, allowing the product team to see which ones have promised a high level of satisfaction when first introduced but didn’t live up to it. The void denotes a potential opportunity to be filled by working on the feature.

Opportunity Scoring

Opportunity Scoring Framework

Advantages

  • It's a quick and easy way to develop creative solutions to common challenges.
  • It's easy to use as it's visual.

Disadvantages

  • During the survey, customers may overestimate or underestimate the significance of a feature.

5. Affinity Grouping

Affinity grouping is an informal procedure in which team members brainstorm ideas and opportunities for the product's enhancement. Members can jot down their ideas on paper, sticky notes, or a whiteboard.

Then, the product manager can begin grouping them. After that, members vote on the groups they believe are most significant. Finally, the product manager will have a prioritized list of items that can be incorporated into future features.

Affinity Grouping
Affinity Grouping Prioritization

Advantages

  • This strategy enables collaboration between departments.
  • The big picture is visible.
  • Organizing into groups and subgroups is simple with post-it notes.

Disadvantages

  • To get the affinity diagram, you'll have to wait until the end of the conference.
  • A manual search is required to locate a specific note on the affinity diagram.

6. ICE Scoring

"Impact, Confidence, and Ease" is the acronym for ICE in the ICE Scoring Prioritization model, which means the following:

  1. Influence: how much impact the feature will have concerning the objectives.
  2. Confidence: the company's belief that the feature will have the anticipated impact.
  3. Ease: how simple or difficult it will be to achieve the goal.

Based on these three characteristics, a product manager assigns a numerical score (1-10) to its features based on how valuable they are. The product of the three numbers will give the ICE score.

Ice Scoring Prioritization

Advantages

  • It prevents product managers from wasting time deciding on their next experiment.
  • It values momentum over precision.
  • It will assist a product manager in prioritizing tests that are in the 'ballpark' of your goal while reducing expenditures and time spent agonizing over your backlog.

Disadvantages

  • Due to different experience levels or other random circumstances, two team members may assign different scores.
  • The same scorer could give various scores to the same or similar tests on different days.
  • Bias and score manipulation could push a specific experiment through.

7. RICE Method

RICE is a grading system created by the Intercom team to aid in the prioritization of product roadmap concepts. RICE encourages teams to assess their goals regarding available resources, target audience, and return on investment.

The RICE framework allows product teams to evaluate the importance of the features based on four criteria:

  • Reach: The number of people who may be affected by the feature over a given time.
  • Impact: How much will the feature affect individual users?
  • Confidence: The company's level of confidence in the feature's impact and reach scores.
  • Effort: The amount of time the company will have to devote to the feature.

Overall, a product manager will use a predetermined method to convert these individual rankings into a general score, which will assist the organization in better prioritizing things.

RICE Prioritization Model

Advantages

  • It enables product managers to make better-informed decisions.
  • Minimize personal biases in decision making.
  • Helps defend your priorities to other stakeholders such as the executive staff.

Disadvantages

  • Assumes that the product team working with the product manager already employs SMART metrics.
  • This strategy has a learning curve that may necessitate explaining and conducting trial runs with your team.

Zeda.io helps you prioritize your features based on RICE prioritization. Just add the score for each element in the prioritization framework and it will prioritize them accordingly.

You can click on the ‘Configure prioritization’ to use a customized product prioritization framework. Sign up for Zeda.io today.

8. Weighted Shortest Job First

The WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First) priority strategy is used to sequence activities (e.g., Features, Capabilities, and Epics) to maximize economic gain. 

In Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), WSJF is calculated by dividing the Cost of Delay (CoD) by the work size or length is how a team calculates each initiative's score. The team then ranks the things with the highest scores in order of importance.

Here are the formulas you need:

Weighted Shortest Job First
Weighted Shortest Job First
Weighted Shortest Job First Prioritization

The Weighted Shortest Job First approach can be used by any team in an organization to sequence any effort. 

When calculating the WSJF, how do you determine value?

How should a product manager value hardware development projects? Profit? What is the worth of a customer? What is the brand's impact?

Profit is undoubtedly the most straightforward value statistic to assess objectively, but other metrics might also be helpful.

For hardware product development projects, Donald Reinertsen recommends dividing the cost of delay by the project duration. The essential notion remains the same regardless of how value is calculated.

Let's utilize Reinertsen's approach as a demonstration and example of why WSJF works.

How to calculate the cost of delay?

Total COD = Cost of a Lost Month + Cost of a Peak Reduction

To determine the cost of delay, the product team must first comprehend the product life behavior, cycles, and the influence of launching late on total profit.

Product managers should look at which stories, or even features, make sense to execute in what order if they know the cost (profit impact) of postponing a project launch and the estimated project time.

Why consider WSJF?

Even though WSJF makes perfect sense, it's tough for businesses to ignore the prevalent practice of completing the first work in the queue first. 

But, if you look at the facts, it's clear that building features in the 'optimal' order would net us a lot more money.

Assigning value (in this case, we used the cost of delay calculation) varies for every organization. Still, it's worth the time to determine what value means to the product managers’ company and then work out which activities should be prioritized.

Advantages

  • This framework requires practices to be done in sequence.
  • Focuses more on the tasks, eventually giving an optimal result.

Disadvantages

  • It can take much time and keep the work on hold.
  • It can be simultaneously expensive to consider WSJF, but this framework can help product managers bring fruitful results with a proper study.

9. Impact Mapping

Impact maps are hierarchical tree diagrams with many levels that help product teams see the big picture.

Impact Mapping
Impact Mapping Prioritization

When is it appropriate to build an impact map?

This approach can be used in a variety of ways. For example, it can be used to review the business strategy and get the team on the same page. 

Product managers and teams can also use it while planning the development for the next sprint or release to gain clarity on whether a feature will have the desired impact or not.

What distinguishes impact mapping from other similar techniques?

In contrast to other options, impact maps are very illustrative since they allow product managers to visualize how their assumptions relate to user demands and corporate goals. 

It's also simpler to create impact maps. 

Product managers can turn abstract concepts into complete user stories by following the seven stages below:

  1. Establish and outline the company's overall objectives or goals.
  2. Identify user personas who can assist product managers in achieving their objectives.
  3. Define the traits or characteristics you wish these characters to have.
  4. List the deliverables or action items that will help you get to the company’s goal.
  5. Create user stories from deliverables.
  6. Estimate the length of these stories.
  7. Import your map into your project management application to go live with it.

Advantages

  • It helps in identifying personas through impacts.
  • It helps break deliverables into user stories.
  • It gives importance to the user stories with respect to the values.
  • The impact mapping framework is pretty comprehensive.

Disadvantages

  • As these frameworks are in the form of hierarchy, it can sometimes be confusing to understand the tree in a single go.
  • Estimating the investments required to build a feature is difficult.

10. Buy A Feature

Buy a feature is a collaborative product prioritization exercise that any product manager can do with prospective consumers through the following steps:

  1. Begin by creating a feature list and assigning a price (or tokens) based on the app development cost.
  2. Give each participant a specific amount of money/tokens and instruct them to purchase the features they desire. There are no restrictions on the number of features as long as they don’t exceed the tokens
  3. Make a list of the features purchased and interview the participant about why they did so.
  4. Determine which characteristics appeal to customers and obtain a deeper grasp of different participants' motivations.

Advantages

  • It aids in overcoming challenges such as a lengthy wish list and limited development resources.
  • It's a quick and easy process.

Disadvantages

  • Only features previously defined in a product roadmap are eligible for this strategy.
  • It demands the participation of a group of people, which might be challenging to organize in some cases.

11. Impact/Effort Matrix

The features of a product are put into any of the four quadrants:

Impact/Effort Matrix
Impact/Effort Matrix Prioritization

Consider the influence of the feature on retention, engagement, market demand, customer acquisition, revenue, and other measurable aspects when working with this approach. 

The entire team working with the product manager determines the values of this prioritization framework for product management.

Advantages

  • A versatile and straightforward technique that can be used right away.
  • It aids the team's concentration.
  • It can be customized to fit the team's needs.

Disadvantages

  • This framework gets less efficient as product features develop, especially for large product teams due to personal bias.

12. Weighted Scoring

Weighted Scoring is a step up from the more subjective impact/effort matrix. This model allocates a weighted percentage score to various features based on parameters such as objectives and cost.

Product teams will need to specify the criteria that are considered relevant with respect to the product’s vision and the company’s mission before applying this strategy. You need to discuss how the weights are assigned to each feature with your team.

After all of the criteria have been scored, the scores are added together, and the characteristics are ranked.

Weighted Scoring
Weighted Scoring Prioritization 1

Weighted Scoring
Weighted Scoring Prioritization 2

Advantages

  • It allows for prioritization based on the requirements of various stakeholders.
  • The team can be more objective by using weighted and RICE scoring.
  • These techniques give the product approach legitimacy.

Disadvantages

  • Some product strategies may not be linked with Scoring.
  • Weights and ratings can be skewed to favor the preferences of one party over another.

13. Urgent vs. Important Matrix or Eisenhower Matrix

It's one of the most widely used product prioritization techniques for determining the true priority of each task.

Create a matrix with the Y-axis labeled “Important” and the X-axis labeled “Urgent”. Now write down the features in each quadrant based on the company’s objectives and goals, and the investment needed to build them. These goals can be updated monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Urgent vs. Important Matrix or Eisenhower Matrix

Urgent vs. Important Matrix or Eisenhower Matrix

  1. Quadrant 1 = Do: These urgent activities require the team's immediate attention and time. They're both vital and urgent. The product manager should include this in the sprint if specific tasks are grouped together in this quadrant.
  2. Quadrant 2 = Schedule: These activities aren't urgent right now but are critical to do. For instance, writing an email to a customer to obtain product feedback. It's not urgent, and the product manager will inevitably postpone it, but it's critical to gain beneficial ideas.
  3. Quadrant 3 = Delegate: These are the activities that are urgent but not essential for the entire team to complete. Although few activities will fall under this category, if they do, try to delegate as much as possible.
  4. Quadrant 4 = Eliminate: Work that is busy but has no clear influence on the company's or product managers’ goals. Remove these activities from the backlog since they are neither significant nor urgent.

Advantages

  • It’s easy to understand and implement.
  • Changes and revisions take little time.
  • It gives a quick overview of what needs to be done.

Disadvantages

  • It’s not ideal as requirements are constantly changing.
  • It may be too simplified as it doesn't contain details such as the resources required.

14. Value Vs. Effort Matrix

Value versus effort is a prioritization framework for product management where members of the product team provide a value and an effort metric for each feature. The measure of effort in this situation is the time it takes to achieve the feature, and the value is the potential of the feature in terms of revenue and customer satisfaction.

This product prioritization framework will help you determine which feature will significantly impact your audience and how much it will cost the organization. You can combine it with the urgent-important matrix to improve its efficiency.

Value Vs. Effort matrix
Value Vs. Effort Prioritization

What is the best way to measure value?

When evaluating value, think about how well it aligns with the company's goals and objectives. What kind of added value can it bring to the targeted customers? Here's what a product manager should think about carefully:

  1. Business value: KPIs and OKRs are the lifeblood of the company, and all of the decisions made by the product manager should be predicated on how much value they add to those goals. For example, your company may have goals to lower turnover or increase click-through rates.
  2. Customer value: Customers are the most important stakeholders in any company. So, a product manager should think about their pain points and how far he/she can go to alleviate them. Or did they make a feature request on your feature voting board?

What is the most accurate way to measure effort?

Suppose, you're attempting to calculate the amount of work required to build a particular feature. Most product teams try to employ a "story point" based system, in which the amount of hours needed is pre-determined by the team's collaboration at the start of the sprint. 

So, the determining factors are developer hours, external service expenses, and external stakeholder risks.

Advantages

  • It is effortless to utilize and implement across the entire team.
  • It can be used by any product team and is exceptionally versatile without wasting much time.
  • Clear prioritizing can make getting buy-in from stakeholders much easier.

Disadvantages

  • Adoption is more difficult in large firms with a large pipeline.
  • Team will need to conduct extensive study to discover the true worth of a feature.

15. H.E.A.R.T

Xin Fu, Hilary Hutchinson, and Kerry Rodden, the Google Research Team members, created the HEART product management framework. The HEART framework is a matrix with steps in the rows and parameters in the columns. The steps are as follows:

  • Happiness: How is the user's mood?
  • Engagement: How many users utilize your product or interact with your brand regularly?
  • Adoption: How many new users are you gaining?
  • Retention: How many of the users you've acquired are returning?
  • Task Success: How many of the tasks assigned to the user have been done so far?
H.E.A.R.T
H.E.A.R.T Prioritization

The parameters are as follows:

  • Goals: These are the overarching objectives that have been considered in the development of the brand or product.
  • Signals: These are the user indications that show whether the product is on a favorable trajectory.
  • Metrics: These are the formal, quantitative indicators of the success that a product manager tracks.

Advantages

  • It helps to identify crucial patterns or trends with your product, such as whether a particular feature is being adopted properly by customers.
  • It also helps you to identify specific elements which can have a strategic impact on your product.
  • If your app relies on ad revenue, you can see where customers spend the most time

Disadvantages

  • HEART doesn’t measure or consider the dependencies between the five different categories.
  • It is goal-based rather than customer-based.

16. Cost vs. Benefit

This framework addresses two primary factors: the commercial benefit and the cost of implementation. When prioritizing, product managers utilize this framework either intuitively or explicitly.

Customer value, strategic value, income potential, cost reduction, and any other strategic purpose your organization may have are all examples of benefits.

One of the most common categories in costs is implementation or development effort. You might also wish to consider the influence on ongoing operating expenditures or the risk factor of a project.

Cost vs. Benefit Prioritization
Cost vs. Benefit Prioritization

Advantages

  • The clarity in the product roadmap
  • No wastage of funds in the process

Disadvantages

  • It can be expensive at times. 
  • Higher risks are involved, but if implementations are taken under consideration well, risks can be minimized.

17. Value vs. Complexity

Value vs. complexity is a methodology for prioritizing initiatives based on their intrinsic value and implementation complexity. It's a tool for assessing ideas in terms of their value to users and your business and how difficult they are to implement.

This product prioritization framework is used during SaaS product management for prioritizing roadmap initiatives. It provides a consistent method of decision-making. It will help you be more deliberate about which activities to focus on, especially if you only have limited time or resources.

Value vs. Complexity Prioritization
Value vs. Complexity Prioritization

The value vs. complexity matrix has four quadrants that establish categories into which initiatives are placed. The goal is to find low-hanging fruits, to begin with. Here is how you prioritize your initiatives to identify them:

1. Assign value scores 

Make a value score for each initiative after you've made a list of them.

When determining a score, many elements are taken into account. For instance, how will a project assist your company? What pain issues does it address for your target audience? How many of the target consumers will be affected by the initiative?

Each of the criteria that influence value is given a score. After that, total everything up to receive a single overall score. You have to assign a weightage to each subcategory.

2. Calculate complexity scores

Next, assign a score to each of your initiatives to determine how challenging it will be to implement. Complexity is simply captured as a cost by specific product teams. The paradigm is nearly identical to the Value vs. Cost framework in this situation.

Other considerations may be taken into account when calculating a difficulty score. Time or development hours, dangers, skill limits, and necessary customer support or training are only a few of them. These can be used to create subcategories that impact an initiative's total score.

3. Make a plan for your initiatives

Plot each initiative in a graph using the calculated value and complexity scores. The following types of initiatives can be found by plotting "Value" on the Y-axis and "Complexity" on the X-axis:

  • High value, low complexity (top-left) – The efforts that should be given the utmost priority are listed here.
  • High value, high complexity (top-right) – If the high complexity isn't overpowering, these projects may be evaluated after those in the first group.
  • Low value, low complexity (bottom left) – These projects aren't precious, but they're worth considering because they're simple to implement and could increase consumer happiness.
  • Low value, high complexity (bottom-right) – It's possible that you'd be better off abandoning the projects at this point.

Advantages

  • For quick prioritization, it's easy to use. 
  • Can identify "Easy victories" with "high value" but "low complexity," as well as more important things with "high value," which may indicate that the item should be broken down into smaller value increments.

Disadvantages

  • While the term "value" is easier to justify on a Likert scale (1 to 5) based on relative value, the term "complexity" can refer to a variety of things, so it's essential to make sure your team agrees on a definition before scoring.

Phew! That was a long list.

Now, the real challenge is choosing the right one for you.

How to Choose the Right Product Prioritization Framework

It's all about asking why when it comes to product management. Why does a user claim that they require a specific feature? Why are users unable to execute a workflow with ease? Why are users apprehensive about pressing the "launch" button?

The product manager won't be able to fulfill all of its users' requests so they must identify the fundamental requirements.

The same philosophy applies while choosing product management prioritization frameworks. 

You can't just pick a product prioritization strategy without understanding why some strategies are better than others in different scenarios.

Here is another approach that will help you.

Ask yourself the following questions.

1. Are you attempting to prioritize problems to solve (rather than features to create)?

A good choice will be: Value vs. Effort Matrix. 

Suppose you don’t know which features are important. At this point, concentrate on the high-level issues that need to be addressed rather than the specific solutions. 

2. Are you hunting for a simple (but effective) strategy to first decide which features to work on?

A good choice will be: RICE Scoring.

You can start drilling down on whatever features you want to emphasize that you've gotten past the ideation stage. 

Now that we have a better idea of what you're going to develop, you can accurately estimate the relative importance of each

3. Is your entire user base made up of a single user persona, and you're seeking a simple approach?

A good choice will be: ICE Scoring.

Reach likely has little impact on your computations. 

If most of your users are essentially the same, this may be accurate. Maybe your product isn't very big. Thus you don't have much room for multiple user personas. 

Or perhaps you've effectively targeted your product at a specific user persona and achieved product-market fit with that user group, so you don't think about the rest. You claim that Reach does not apply to you for whatever reason. 

4. Is it difficult to predict how helpful a feature will be, necessitating the addition of extra input signals?

A good choice will be: Weighted Scoring.

It's not always straightforward to figure out a feature's magic Impact number. Is Feature A truly superior to Feature B in terms of utility? 

It's difficult to decide, especially when the features are dissimilar and cover many different aspects of the product. In cases like these, breaking down the question into all of the aspects that are crucial to your product or business will help you determine how vital each feature is.

And, because each factor isn't always more significant than the next, you'll want to balance them out. Weighted Scoring is a suitable method for this.

Weighted Scoring effectively allows you to widen out the "I" in RICE, helping you determine the value of a certain feature. 

5. Are you far enough ahead in your product's development that you can fully concentrate on satisfying your users?

A good option can be: Kano's Model.

You have probably been hammered with the concept of delighting your users at this point. But be careful: if you haven't addressed their basic needs, you won't be able to skip to the "excitement" step.

It's impossible to talk about product prioritizing without mentioning the Kano Model. The difficulty is that most articles simply outline what everything means (which is difficult), but they rarely explain how to apply it for Prioritization (you know, the whole point). 

Having said that, if you can achieve those basic requirements, you're ready for the Kano Model.

In a nutshell, you should strive to delight your customers. They should not be duped into becoming your users. 

6. Are you attempting to determine whether portions of a feature belong in the MVP or MLP?

A good option can be: MoSCoW Method 

You still need to figure out all the details of what problems it will tackle at a more advanced level once you've decided which feature to work on. Also, as you have limited resources, you must decide where the line should be drawn.

Use the MoSCoW Method to answer those questions.

Summing Up!

There's so much information out there that it's difficult to find what's suitable for each individual scenario. There are no objective right or wrong answers.

You should have the necessary data to make each decision, but the best way is to communicate effectively with your team and users, resulting in significant synergy.

Each tool is built with a specific goal in mind: to solve a particular problem. However, not 

everything has been found yet. Product teams must continue to look, research, read, and experiment with new frameworks, possibly combining the best of each to create their own product management prioritization frameworks. 

After all, each product, team, and even consumer is a mini-universe in and of itself. Embracing the prioritization process is the best method to bring order to a product's natural chaos.

Zeda.io is a product management software that helps you build and implement a product prioritization framework. It supports a variety of integrations and enables you to take all the unique characteristics of your business into account.

And it only takes a few minutes to hit the ground running. Really!

Start your free trial today.

FAQs

  1. What are the key product manager prioritization frameworks?

The most popular ones are MoSCoW, Kano, RICE, and story mapping. However, the right prioritization framework for product managers depends on various factors like available resources, industry, the needs of the hour, etc.

  1. Which of the prioritization frameworks for product management is ideal?

With so many options, the answer is it depends. You need to take a look at your current requirements. For instance, to quickly understand which features to work on, the RICE prioritization model is a great option.

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