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How to use data-driven prioritization in product management

Last updated

22 March 2023

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

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Any great product manager understands the importance of prioritization. Whether you work for a small start-up or are part of an international team of product managers, efficiently and correctly prioritizing upcoming product features, initiatives, and launches is one of the key early steps to project success.

Well-executed product prioritization is an essential part of the product planning process, as it cuts back on wasted resources, energy, and stress.

Looking to improve workflow and increase the efficiency of your next project? Learn about the importance of product prioritization and explore our top ten prioritization tools that every product manager should know.

What is product prioritization?

Prioritization is an organizational process that helps to rank potential projects based on their importance. It’s an organization tool that can help you select which project, feature, or initiative to focus on during the earliest stages of a new product launch.

As a product manager, the process of prioritization can involve listing and organizing the following elements of your project:

  • Development or code debt incurred

  • Any bugs or errors within the released live product

  • New product initiatives and innovations

  • Updating existing product features

  • Product marketing and awareness campaigns

  • Product themes and design libraries

In most cases, your team should focus its energy on items that are ranked with the highest priority, working down the list over time to address items with less perceived importance. Ideally, a data-driven product prioritization list will act as a guide or roadmap for your team as you push toward releasing or changing a product offering.

How do you start product prioritization?

In the early stages of any product-based project, setting aside time to meet with your team (in-person or virtually) to discuss the path forward is a great way to begin the prioritization process. During these meetings, asking your teammates to share, discuss, and rank various elements of the project that they deem important or less important is an excellent start for finding out the pain points and areas of high priority for the project.

From these meetings, you’ll gain a sense of the status of your design and code debt, along with internal thoughts on which features could use a refresh. A good product manager will also realize that prioritization combines internal intel with external forces, like your team’s stakeholders and mandatory initiatives from the executive suite. 

Finally, your product’s users should be equally prioritized if your company plans to stay lucrative. These insights can be gained through qualitative or quantitative research efforts. 

Once you have the mandates from stakeholders, internal input, and user sentiment collected, you’ll need to keep all three of these facets in mind as you establish prioritization. From here, knowing how to choose the right prioritization tool (and how to use it) is essential for maximizing efficiency.

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The 10 best prioritization techniques product managers should know

Looking to expand your current knowledge base of prioritization tools for your upcoming projects? Here are ten of our favorite tools that you can use to start your next product-based project off on the right foot: 

The MoSCow method

The MoSCow method is an acronym that refers to the four primary categories of this prioritization tool: must-have, should-have, could-have, won’t-have, and won’t have right now items. 

Using these five categories as starting points, your team can organize tasks to get a better understanding of their importance:

  • Must-haves — any task that is non-negotiable for the success and competitive level of your project. These items will be your top priority and are mandatory tasks that need to be done.

  • Should-haves — concepts or ideas that are part of the final product but not technically essential for its functionality. These can be visited later in the project timeline when your team has completed the tasks needed to create the basic version of your product update.

  • Could-haves — any task or item in the “nice to have” bucket lands at this tier. If you don’t get around to these items, your product is still functional and useful (but if you have extra time or budgetary funds, these items could improve performance, user experience, or satisfaction).

  • Won’t-have — ideas or concepts that are too ambitious or distracting for your current project. Ideally, these ideas do not creep into your current project plan, as they are often not feasible and not deemed essential.

  • Won’t have right now — if your team, stakeholders, or users present strong arguments for certain projects that would clearly provide improvements, but just don’t fit into a current sprint or quarterly goal, this category helps maintain their priority without affecting the current project’s goals.

Value vs. complexity quadrant

Value vs. complexity is a prioritization system that provides a direct comparison of the value of each task compared to the inherent cost or complexity involved in completing it. To create a value complexity quadrant, each task needs to be assessed using the following parameters:

  • How much value is this initiative expected to deliver?

  • How much effort is required to implement this task?

Using a four-quadrant visual aid (X-axis as effort and Y-axis as value), you can plot each task based on your analysis to see where they fall. From this process, you can better select tasks with high value and low effort and avoid those with low value and high effort.

Kano model

As a customer-centric prioritization tool, the Kano model can help your team better plan your product design. Starting from a list of possible product features, your team will analyze and group each option based on the following criteria:

  • How satisfied or happy would customers be with this feature?

  • How much do customers expect or need this as a basic feature of our product?

Additionally, your team could decide separately which features may take up the most time and effort to further color the results, which will improve product performance, and which features may cause dissatisfaction for your target audience.

From here, your team will know which features to focus on and those to avoid moving forward, allowing for a more streamlined process during the early design and development stages.

RICE scoring

The RICE scoring system is a numeric-based model of prioritization that uses four primary factors to prioritize a list of items. This system focuses primarily on the effects of each task or initiative on the project’s success. 

Based on a helpful acronym, RICE stands for:

  • Reach — The number of people each task will reach in a given time frame. The value for this section is an estimate (e.g., if you think your new product launch will bring in 200 new subscribers to your mailing list, your score for this section is 200).

  • Impact — A measure of the qualitative impact that this project will have on your customers and consumers. The level of impact can be estimated using the following five-tiered system:

  • 3 = massive impact

  • 2 = high impact

  • 1 = medium impact

  • 0.5 = low impact

  • 0.25 = minimal impact

  • Confidence — A component that helps to control your project through factors that have data vs. those that are supported by feedback and intuition. This is a measure to balance out the data vs. anecdotal information from the previous two points:

  • 100% = high confidence

  • 80% = medium confidence

  • 50% = low confidence

As a general rule of thumb, if a project or task falls within the 50% confidence measure, it should be abandoned or reconfigured for an option with a higher level of confidence. The higher the percentage, the higher the priority!

  • Effort — The final value is to quantify the effort or cost of the project. Similar to calculating your reach, you will estimate how many weeks/months people will need to be working to complete the project. 

The final equation to get your RICE prioritization score is: 

Reach x Impact x Confidence / Effort

Once your list of tasks for a project is completed, your team will have a better idea of how much work and time each initiative will take, allowing for better project management decisions early on.

ICE scoring model

Looking for an even faster and short-hand option for prioritizing your project? As an abbreviated version of the RICE model, the ICE model offers a quick estimate of the priority of tasks based on a similar but simpler formula:

Impact x Confidence / Effort

Opportunity scoring

As another customer-focused prioritization strategy, opportunity scoring is based on customer product feedback.

Using customer feedback surveys, your team can collect valuable information about their preferences and pain points when using your product. Once collected, this information will be organized using opportunity analysis to get a numerical score for the average “rating” of each feature. 

Generally speaking, features that score higher are the ones that should be a top priority. Features that fall in the middle section are typically perceived as non-consequential and may be pushed back in the priority order later. 

Weighted scoring prioritization

The weighted scoring prioritization system uses a numerical score to represent and rank tasks based on their benefit and cost. This is a helpful tool for prioritizing projects with lots of data sources to work from. 

In order to rank each initiative, the following steps need to be completed:

  • Compile a list of all possible tasks or features

  • Create a set list of criteria (including cost, benefit, and other important measurements)

  • Determine the relative weight of each specific criteria (which can be written as a percentage)

  • Assign individual scores to each task, using your created formula

Using this strategy, you will be able to chronologically organize your tasks based on your specific list of criteria, allowing for a project-specific measurement every time.

The product tree

The product tree model helps to provide a fun visual representation of product management. To use this tool, your team works to create a visual “tree” of the tasks that need to get done. 

Around the core trunk of the tree, you should place core tasks or features — and as you move outwards on the branches and leaves (represented by post-it notes), tasks and initiatives will become less consequential.

Once created, you and your team can go in with “shears” to remove or cut out projects and tasks deemed less essential. This is a great visual aid for the entire team, as cutting away low-priority ideas off the tree will help to prevent them from creeping back into your project later.

Cost of delay

The cost of delay framework (CoD) is a prioritization tool that helps a company focus on the economic value of working on a particular project sooner rather than later. It is an economical approach to prioritizing any list of tasks or projects.

As a simple and effective way to approach prioritization, your team will conduct a CoD analysis by following these three steps:

  • Estimate the amount of revenue earned based on a specific unit of time (month, week, day, etc.) expected from your new project

  • Estimate the amount of time it will take your team to complete specific tasks or initiatives within the project

  • Divide the profit number by the estimated time duration (e.g., $1000/2 months)

From this quick estimation, you will gain a glimpse into the amount of money that could be lost per set amount of time if your team does not prioritize this project. In most cases, project managers will prioritize projects with a higher value for money lost during the set amount of time, as they have a significant economic impact and potential.


Buy-a-feature prioritization uses in-person roleplay from customers, stakeholders, and internal team members to prioritize which product features should be worked on. It is organized and hosted similarly to an auction:

  • First, your team will create a list of features and “cost” based on the amount of expected work they will need to be completed.

  • Next, you will give your study participants a set amount of “money” (like Monopoly money), which they will use to spend on the features they are most interested in. 

  • After the spending is done by all participants, the totals for each feature are added to see which ones earned the most money. These tasks are often viewed as a higher priority compared to those who receive little to no funding.

How to pick the right prioritization model to use

With so many project prioritization tools available, it can be challenging to know which will best serve you and your team. 

As a great resource for anyone looking to start this process, we highly recommend trying a few of the above prioritization tools during the early stages of your project, just to see what results you collect. 

If multiple different tools yield similar features or initiatives as a priority — they probably are — and you will have a strong starting point to work from as you begin your product redesign or launch.

Best of luck with your next product redesign or launch — and happy prioritization! 

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