Feature prioritization for the Project’s MVP

You have probably heard about the doomed story of most startups. According to a   report released in 2018 by the SBA's Office of Advocacy, only a fifth of startups can survive past a year. But can’t this be avoided?

The good news is, for the most part, failure can be prevented. Most of the startups that fail ignore one critical aspect during their initial stages—building a Minimum Viable Product first. This stems from overconfidence on the company’s side. And as a result, they waste a lot of time & capital developing services and products that customers don't need.

A perfect example is Amazon in 2014. The retail behemoth made a loss of over $170 million after trying to launch a smartphone - Fire Phone. It never occurred to Amazon that its customers already had android phones to access its platform. Nobody was interested in an Amazon-lifestyle product type, and besides, this product was super expensive! One way they could have prevented this was by involving customers in their decisions.

The same can be said when developing an application. It's unwise to spend resources on ideas that are overcrowded. And, even if the product is unique, it should be minimalist. The functionalities of the product should not be unnecessarily complicated. This is where the aspect of  Minimum Viable Product   (MVP) comes in.

MVP for beginners: What's MVP?

Put simply, an MVP is a minimal version of a product that can be deployed for tests in the market. It comprises basic functionalities that demand fewer resources, less time, and less effort to develop. A company that uses an MVP can collect genuine user feedback. The information obtained is useful for developing a fully-fledged product that meets customer expectations.

The concept of an MVP was first introduced by  Eric Ries in his book  Lean Startup. This book explains how entrepreneurs can get immediate value for their businesses through stepwise development. Of significant importance is the adoption of a   feedback loop, that which he referred to as the  Build-Measure-Learn loop. For this to work, clients and developers should work closely together.

Feature prioritization

Feature prioritization is a critical step towards the development of a Minimum Viable Product. It requires the input of both the client and the product managers.

What is feature prioritization?

Feature prioritization is a method where features that support the core functionality of an MVP are identified. These are incorporated to fulfill the objectives of the product and test certain hypotheses. Product teams value feature prioritization not only to identify priorities but also to set up the project roadmap, define work boundaries, and separate needs and wants. On the other hand, the client may benefit from reduced costs (since all non-essential features are excluded), and earlier deployment of the MVP.

How do you prioritize features?

First things first: Understand your business

To prioritize the development of your product you have to expertly know your field of business. And also, you should have a clearly defined business goal. Sometimes it's helpful to learn things from startups that became successful. Your studies can begin from how they set up their roadmap, scaled up, introduced new features, to how they eliminated the not-so-popular ones.

Methods of developing product strategy

The development team will work with you to define the scope of the MVP. This will allow both parties to be on the same page and to identify features that qualify as priorities on the MVP. Meetings with the product managers can be made in person, or remotely via video calls, or emails. The App Solutions is also flexible to work with your Product Manager (PM) and Business Analyst (BA) if available.

In addition to discussing issues of functionality during feature prioritization, The App Solutions will also consider the budget for implementing the project. On one occasion, a certain client hired the company to develop a social media app, but the project costs were too expensive. After the client requested the company to work on feature prioritization for the MVP, the development team had to cut unnecessary features to meet the client's goals cost-effectively.

When does feature prioritization take place?

The App Solutions prioritizes features of a project in the following manner:

  • Before MVP development to determine the basic features that should be in an MVP when it is first deployed
  • During the inspection phase after the initial deployment of the MVP,  the project teams will sit down to further prioritize the features of an MVP based on field data (user feedback & bug reports)

how the app solutions work

How The App Solutions  evaluate product features to increase business value

At one time, The App Solutions had to rely on user stories and estimates of the MVP features (obtained during the inspection phase) to approximate the costs of developing a fully-fledged product. At another point, the team had to write user stories and come up with an estimation for the MVP functionality.

  • If the client already knows what features to add to the MVP, The App Solutions team members will focus on laying out the project tech specifications, estimates of the MVP, and development costs.
  • In the case that the client does not know what core features to include in the MVP, the company will start from scratch, beginning from defining the scope of the MVP, followed by describing the project tech specifications and project estimations. This data will be given to the client to decide whether to proceed. If the client is interested, the project teams will begin developing the product strategy and high-level roadmap.

feature prioritization in scrum process

Key roles in feature prioritization

Below are the major participants of an MVP development task force.

Business Analyst (BA) 

In feature prioritization, the Business Analyst plays the role of outlining challenges, opportunities and presenting solutions to stakeholders. He must work closely with the product owner to tackle issues such as budgeting, forecasting, and monitoring the product development work process. Another thing the BA does is to get the product backlog sorted out.

Project Manager (PM)

The PM is there to mobilize the project teams and organize the project workflow. While the Product Manager's focus is much on market success, the Project Manager will:

  • Define the product development process
  • Produce all the required process documentation
  • Assign roles to people in the product development team
  • Evaluate project needs
  • Take into account factors like cost, time, and risks associated with implementing the needs
  • Track progress

The Client 

The client is one of the Agile team members. He provides the scope of the business and will help to define user stories. Although he won't decide the strategy or framework to use in prioritizing the roadmap, his input is required in implementing them. If the client provides a Product Manager, this individual will sort much of the team's backlog and update stakeholders about the progress being made.

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What is prioritization in product management?

Prioritization in product management is a way of evaluating the relative significance of ideas, work, and requests. The process minimizes wasteful practices to create customer value in the quickest and most cost-effective way possible. The outcome of the project should get a thumbs up from the stakeholders regardless of how challenging the process may be.

How to prioritize features for your MVP

 The feature priority matrix 

The features for an MVP can be prioritized using the feature priority matrix. A feature priority matrix is a visualization tool that is favored by software engineers who like Lean startup development. The concept is explained below and very easy to understand.

feature prioritization matrix

[Image: 2x2 feature priority matrix]

The matrix uses two areas (more can be added depending on your objectives). The three factors, Effort, Risk, and Impact are described below:

The impact is the feature's value to the business.

The effort represents the number of resources that are needed to actualize the feature. The resources may include labor, time, and material.

The Risk represents the probable challenges that can be met while trying to implement a feature. It can be too much time lost trying to fix technical problems or costs.

How to prioritize features for your product roadmap to increase customer value with the Priority Matrix

 Must have are extremely important features that, when present, will solve user problems. They have a very low risk and should be added in the first version of an MVP.

 Can be done are features that provide less value compared to the 'must-haves'. They can be implemented later in other versions. The team will try to first learn whether users really want the MVP product before introducing them.

 Nice-to-have contains a list of delightful features that make the product unique. However, due to their high risk of implementation, they do not qualify in the MVP. The development team will add this particular set in the next versions of the app.

 A waste of time are features that should not be added to the product. They have a low impact on customers and are highly risky to implement.

Please note: After the product has been deployed and feedback collected, it may be a good time to reconsider the items that were left in the orange, green, and red squares. Items can be added a single feature at a time on the next release. The ones that completely fail can be saved for the next product.

Feature Buckets

This is another common product development method that people use. It is commonly applied where teams want to validate the features of online solutions.

How do you prioritize among competing features?

The development team can get started by listing features and dividing them into 3 categories (buckets) as follows:

Metric movers- features that positively affect the main KPIs of the product. People should be cautious with this bucket as whatever may get in will determine the success or failure of the project.

Delights- exciting features that people may find entertaining, such as attractive animations. Not much effort goes into organizing this bucket.

Customer requests- features that improve the convenience of the app. For example, if it was a messaging app, customers may make requests for items such as stickers or emojis.

What are the prioritization techniques in agile?

What's Agile?

Agile is a term used in software development to illustrate the use of communication, user feedback, and adaptation to produce fruitful results. Agile teams will use an iterative method in their development process, which means they develop projects incrementally rather than at once.

One of the lineaments of agile software development is prioritization.

How to Prioritize Product Features and Improvements: The defining factors

The factors below determine the priority of an activity, requirement, or functionality in Agile.

 Financial value can be put across as incremental revenue, new revenue, or simply efficiency of operation.

 Cost are expenses associated with carrying out the activity or requirement.

 Knowledge is the significance of the information that the teams will get after implementing such an activity/ requirement. The product teams will need as much data as possible to scale projects in the right direction.

 Risks are challenges that can arise during or after a requirement has been implemented.

Below are the prioritization techniques in Agile

  • Kano model
  • MoSCow prioritization
  • The relative weighting model

The Kano model

The Kano model is a method of prioritization that prioritizes features based on their likelihood to satisfy customers. This austere focus on customer reaction is what differentiates this technique from other prioritization frameworks. However, this does not mean other scoring criteria go out the window. Product managers using this method can also consider other factors such as the cost of implementing the features. Overall, the addition of features has to be strategic and sound.

  • Feature categories of the Kano model 

The categories of features that are implemented in the Kano model are:

 Basic features are fundamental to the functionality of a product. If excluded they will lead to dissatisfaction of customers. Take, for example, turning lights (indicators) on a car, customers don't value them but they must be available. Customers will not be satisfied with a car that does not have them.

 Excitement features are attractive features that delight customers when added. However, they don't have a real impact on the product's competitiveness. If excluded, customers are less likely to miss them.

 Performance features are features that customers strongly value when choosing a product. When you invest in them, they provide greater customer satisfaction. There is a linear correlation between customer satisfaction and the investment you put into that specific feature.

  •  Features that the Kano model eliminates from a product roadmap 

Indifferent are features that customers don't like to use. They simply make no difference.

Dissatisfaction is a feature that dismay customers.

MoSCow prioritization

The MoSCow method is a way of prioritization that allows features, requirements, tasks, or stories to be grouped into four special categories. All team members may participate in the process of classifying these features.

(M) Must-haves are features that are very essential in an MVP. If these features are excluded, the project may face some legal or regulatory challenges. Must-have features also give the product its basic value to customers.

(S) Should-haves are features that are second to 'must-haves' in the order of importance. Although they are of great value, their absence won't have a high impact on the MVP's core services.

(C) Could-haves is a class of features that are 'okay' to have but are not critical to the product's main function. In the order of important features, they fall behind the 'should-have' features.

(W) Will not have is a group of features that do not qualify to be added in an MVP, or even later. Eliminating these features allows the product managers and team members to narrow their focus on the scope of the project.

Relative Weighting Prioritization Technique

This technique takes from the concepts of both the Kano model and the MoSCow prioritization technique. What's considered with this technique is:

  • The value that a feature might add to the product, and the potential problems that might arise if the feature is not included.

The weighting of features is done by the client with the support of the agile team. The factors that are thought-about when evaluating a feature are:

Benefit - the pros of incorporating the feature

Penalty - the cons of not incorporating the feature

Cost - the expenses associated with producing the feature

Risk - challenges that can arise in producing the feature

These factors are given scores that range from 1 to 9 on the scoreboard

After the evaluation process, people can begin to rank and prioritize features. This is done using a score they get after making the following calculation:

(Penalty score + Benefit score) / (Risk score + Cost score)

The advantage of using this prioritization technique is that the result comes as a figure. This enables the client and the agile team to swiftly decide on whether to prioritize or de-prioritize a feature. All three prioritization techniques mentioned above help achieve customer satisfaction and create customer value.

How do you prioritize a roadmap?

Below are the stages of prioritizing a roadmap.

Gathering information

To prioritize your roadmap, a lot of data in line with the scope of your business should be gathered. The data could be feedback from your previous, existing, or potential customers. You get this feedback from:

  • Survey results (if you conducted any)
  • Support tickets
  • Customer support
  • Social media
  • Email messages, etc.

The other information to be gathered includes

  • Bug reports
  • Customer feature recommendations
  • MVP feature performance data

Understanding the feedback

It is important to analyze all the gathered information. However, not all customer complaints have to be taken seriously. You should figure out the 'why' behind every feedback. This is needed to save time and resources.

Organizing the feedback: Prioritizing bug reports and feature requests

The feedback obtained should be grouped into two:

 Feature requests include any addition or removal recommendations made by users and team members.

 Bug reports - all malfunctioning things about the MVP.

How to prioritize bug reports

Step 1.  The bugs are to be grouped according to their similarities. Names of the people who reported can also be recorded.

Step 2. The bugs have to be prioritized in consideration of the following factors:

  • Who is the complainer, customer, or not a customer?
  • How disappointed were they?
  • How many natural/ legal persons complained?
  • How important is the fix?

Scoring on a scale of 1 to 3 can be done for each of the factors except the first one. The first one of whether the reporter is a customer or not can be given a 2 for a 'Yes', and a 1 for a 'No'. Afterward, calculations can be made to get a total score. The bugs will be compiled following an order based on the score.

How to prioritize product features

Step 1.  The first step is to arrange feature requests and recommendations from user stories according to their similarities. Information of who made the request or recommendation can also be added.

Step 2. The grouped potential features & recommendations can be prioritized. The prioritization process can be done in consideration of the following:

  • Is the reporter a paying customer?
  • How essential is this feature to them?
  • How many natural or legal persons filed the same request?
  • How relevant is the request?
  • What are the pros & cons of implementing the request? Is there any business advantage?
  • Have you ever considered these needs before?
  • Do the requests and recommendations align with the long-term vision of the product

Scoring is also done with each consideration given a scale of 1 to 3. The first one of whether the reporter is a paying customer can be given a 2 for a 'Yes', and a 1 for a 'No'. An overall score should be calculated for each feature request/ recommendation in each classification. Later, the requests are prioritized in their lists.

How to prioritize product roadmap (Organizing the final lists)

The final lists can now be organized through a prioritization framework of choice. Using a prioritization framework guarantees a predictable outcome, i.e. if the product manager does not make compromises.

What are product prioritization frameworks?

In simple terms, a product prioritization framework is a strategy that helps product managers to pick their next activities in a project. Using the framework, product managers and team members can answer questions such as:

  •  Are we focusing on the high-value project items? 
  •  Do these items deliver value to users? 
  •  Are all activities involved beneficial to the business goals? 
  •  Is it possible to release this product for use on time? 

7 Strategies to choose the best features for your product roadmap

A product manager can choose any prioritization framework from the ones outlined below.

  •  Value vs cost quadrant 

An estimate of the benefits of all items of the project is made, both for the business and for the customers, and the expenses of implementing every item is analyzed. If possible, a graph revealing the value and cost of each item can be plotted. This helps to easily identify things of bigger value and low cost.

  •  The Kano Model Analysis 

Three Agile prioritization techniques have been explained above. One of them, the Kano model can be applied at this stage. This technique which was developed by Professor Noriaki Kano allows the product manager to classify items into three categories which are basic, excitement, and performance features.

  •  Opportunity scoring 

In product management, Opportunity scoring is used to rank opportunities in the order of their importance against customer satisfaction. To carry out opportunity scoring, users should give a score of the significance of a feature and another score of their satisfaction. The opportunities are the features with high scores insignificance and low scores in satisfaction.

  •  Buy a feature 

'Buy a feature' is a prioritization framework where you use the opinion of others to determine priorities. The first step is to reveal all items of your roadmap. Each item should be given a value that is based on its cost of implementation. The next step is to tell the clients who are playing the game that they have a certain amount of money (X) to spend on the items. This figure (X) should be less than the total value of the items.

The client or selected individuals will, within their budget, have to buy important items. Since they have a tight budget, they will be forced to make important decisions only. They will decide which items to forgo, and which items to trade. This method can be used by the product manager to understand client behavior from the decisions they make.

  •  The Product tree 

This prioritization framework categorizes items of a roadmap in the form of three parts. According to the model:

 Roots- represent the infrastructure needed for the project.

 Stalk -  are the requirements that give support to the roadmap.

 Branches- are the various ways through which the roadmap can be implemented.

 Leaves -  represent the product features

Flowers & fruits - represent exciting features.

  •  RICE 

RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, & Effort. These terms are factors that are used in weighing ideas to be used in a project.

 (R) Reach- determines the number of people that the idea will benefit.

 (I) Impact - the level of impact the idea will have on each customer. The level of impact will be ranked from minimal - 0.25x to massive - 3x.

 (C) Confidence - the degree of confidence in the estimates you gave. The degrees of confidence as a percentage will rank from low - 50% to high - 100%.

 (E) Effort -  the number of customers and the number of months it will take. It's important to use whole numbers. Half a month may be the minimum figure.

Calculations are made soon after the estimations are done. RICE scoring allows the product manager to easily compare project ideas. The formula you can use for the scoring is as follows:

RICE Score = (Confidence x Impact x Reach) / Effort

(Prioritization will be implemented based on the outcome) 

  •  Story Mapping 

Story mapping is a product prioritization strategy that is used to document an MVP. It's considered to be a great way of arranging development releases and user stories of a project. Here's how it works:

  • The workflow is designed using cards that are organized from the beginning to the end of a customer experience
  • A special order based on the significance of things that needs to be developed is made
  • Afterward, slices of releases according to the prioritization are created

Most agile organizations use Story Mapping because of its effectiveness in projecting the product workflow.

Summary of Prioritization Considerations

Feature prioritization is a necessity in the development of an MVP, and eventually a fully-fledged product. A variety of strategies are available, and each has its pros and cons. The whole team; the Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Client should play their roles. Each one of them should contribute to make the project a success. Prioritizing features and the roadmap may not be easy, but it's rewarding.

The client and product manager should sit down to discuss the best way forward using the data they have. Items are prioritized in the order of their value and cost of implementation. To do so effectively they can apply a variety of strategies mentioned above.

What's the most valuable strategy used by product managers?

All prioritization techniques presented are beneficial. They equally create customer value and lead to customer satisfaction. While it is difficult to point to one strategy as the best, a product manager would do better to use one that fulfills the business goals. Product management is a demanding job, it needs a high level of thinking.

The Simple Rule for Feature Prioritization

According to Daniel Elizalde, the prioritization of features should evolve from the product strategy & product roadmap. The product strategy is one that also articulates the product roadmap. It is the project manager's duty to make sure that there is a comprehensive product strategy & high-level roadmap for feature prioritization to be meaningful.

 Things to avoid while prioritizing features and the roadmap: 

  • Do not listen to the loudest voice in the room, whether it's the customers, stakeholders, or other external influences - stick to the method
  • Stop pursuing your competitor's features
  • Stop pursuing the latest trends in your field of business

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Ihor Kopaniev

CTO at The APP Solutions, with niche expertise in AI and ML. https://www.linkedin.com/in/kopaniev/