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GuidesProduct developmentTop 10 frameworks for feature prioritization

Top 10 frameworks for feature prioritization

Last updated

23 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

Successful businesses dream up innovative product ideas, hoping customers line up to purchase. 

However, moving from ideation to execution is more complex than creating a product with every imaginable feature. Product development teams must carefully choose which features to include in any product, and that's a tricky task. 

To fairly and accurately determine which features belong in a product, teams need an unbiased approach that uses hard data and a set of rules. This is where feature prioritization comes in. 

Let's learn about product feature prioritization frameworks that can help.

What is feature prioritization?

Feature prioritization is the process of choosing the right features to put in a product. It creates a system to balance the importance of features alongside their complexity, cost, and value.

Different strategies for feature prioritization enable a development team to place a higher level of importance on specific value points. 

From weighted scoring to processes that classify features under tight deadlines, each framework provides a dependable structure for making informed decisions.

Why feature prioritizing matters

While intuition can be useful, it's generally not ideal for making pivotal business decisions. 

Companies depend on relevant information and hard data to consistently make decisions that add value to the business. The features assigned to products are no exception. 

Feature prioritizing provides these essential benefits:

  • A structured format enables teams to consistently make decisions based on the same factors, promoting successful collaboration and more predictable results.

  • The precise process can save time and keep the development team on schedule. 

  • Businesses can manage resources more effectively with a framework that compares cost to potential value and evaluates risk.

  • Your chosen strategy can help you develop unified objectives that align with your brand.

Businesses across industries operate differently, so there are many proven methods for ranking features. 

Learning about popular prioritization frameworks and strategies can help you identify the method that aligns with your business needs. 

These commonly used prioritization frameworks address different challenges that arise during feature prioritization.

1. Value vs. complexity quadrant

Although you might not realize it, you probably use elements of the value vs. complexity method frequently in various business decisions. 

At its core, this framework weighs the effort it will take to implement a feature against the potential value it will bring to the product. This can be especially useful in software development when evaluating features that will affect existing ones.

This method requires product teams to draw a graph or matrix with axes for business value and complexity or effort. 

The chart has four quadrants:

  • High value, high complexity

  • High value, low complexity

  • Low value, low complexity

  • Low value, high complexity

Source: https://blog.idonethis.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/value-complexity-matrix-example.png

Determining value depends on the value a feature will deliver to end users. It also considers the direct business value, such as acquiring new customers, retaining existing customers, or upselling. 

Complexity may be a single metric or include various elements like operational costs, time requirements, training, and risk. 

The features that offer the highest value with the lowest complexity will usually take top priority. 

2. Weighted scoring

As the name suggests, weighted scoring gives each feature a score based on its importance and how well it meets user needs. 

Using a scoring model can offer a more collaborative approach to deciding which features are likely to offer the most value with less emphasis on complexity.

This process uses a scale or chart that places values on specific project criteria. Your team starts by creating a list of feature objectives and requirements. 

For example, you may use a range of scores to calculate the value of ease of use, ROI, pricing, support requirements, effort, risk, time, etc. 

You'll then give each element a percentage weight based on its importance for the product. 

The team will create a chart with columns to assign each feature a number value (on a scale of 1–5) for each criterion. 

After scoring each feature, you'll multiply the weight by the value to give each criterion a weighted value. 

Calculating the weighted values for each feature provides clear numerical data, helping you prioritize features by order of importance. 

Source: https://www.uptech.team/blog/features-prioritization

3. Kano model 

The Kano model focuses on customer delight rather than complexity and business value. It enables teams to prioritize features based on their likelihood of satisfying customers. 

When using the Kano Model, teams gather a list of new features and weigh them according to their potential to satisfy customers and their investment requirements. 

The model includes five feature categories to describe customer satisfaction:

Basic

These features are required for the product to work as intended. Users generally take them for granted or don’t notice them. However, if they're delivered poorly, they'll cause dissatisfaction.

Excitement

While these often innovative features can yield a sharp increase in customer delight, customers aren’t likely to care if you exclude them.

Performance

These features generally improve the product and offer a proportionate increase in satisfaction when you invest in them. While they offer a direct result, customers may seek other brands if your products remain stagnant.

Indifferent

These features have little or no impact on customer satisfaction and usually take very low priority.

Dissatisfaction or reverse

The lack of these features is likely to have a positive effect on user experience.

4. Buy a feature

This method is a simple and fun activity you can use with customers or stakeholders

As the name suggests, participants have to put their money where their mouth is to prioritize the features they like best. 

The activity is best in person for real-time feedback. The development team begins the project by listing features and assigning prices to each item. These prices are usually based on development costs.

Participants receive a "budget" to purchase features. They can place all their money on a single feature or spread their cash around. 

During review, you can ask participants why they spent their money the way they did.

This approach can help a development team narrow down a complicated feature wishlist and accurately manage limited resources.  

5. Opportunity scoring

This approach uses a rating system to determine which features need improvement. 

Sometimes called an opportunity analysis or gap analysis, opportunity scoring requires customers to rank features based on importance and satisfaction. 

You'll begin by asking customers to rate the importance of several specific features in your product and their satisfaction level with each feature. 

Features that consistently rank high in satisfaction and low in performance represent investment opportunities. 

The time and resources you put into improving these features will most likely provide strong returns, making them top priority.

6. Affinity grouping

Affinity grouping is a collaborative method where you narrow down potential features into a manageable list you can streamline and prioritize. 

Participants will brainstorm individually and then work together to rank ideas. 

Team members begin by writing ideas and opportunities on sticky notes. When brainstorming is over, the team works together to group similar ideas into categories. Participants then vote on the groups to rank them. 

7. Story mapping

This method allows teams to consider dependencies by mapping out the workflow of a product from beginning to end. It creates a wider view of how features will fit into the overall user experience. 

The team begins by creating a workflow or backlog of all the features to prioritize. You can divide the list into tasks using sticky notes, index cards, or Kanban cards. 

You arrange the cards in order from start to end of the customer experience, like journey mapping. You can also include individual user stories to add detail as needed. 

Once you’ve established chronological order, you can prioritize features by importance based on their placement and dependencies. 

Story mapping can be useful to highlight gaps in the user experience. It can also show how dependencies impact updates and changes in later development stages. 

8. (R)ICE

This approach uses a scorecard to prioritize features. It creates a score that adds up the value of certain elements and weighs that value against the effort. It enables teams to efficiently rank features by value in a structured manner. 

It considers everything from effort to business goals like increased engagement, greater profits, or attracting new customers.

The RICE method rates every feature based on four factors, including:

  • Reach: The estimated number of people the feature will impact

  • Impact: How close each feature gets to helping you achieve your desired business goals 

  • Confidence: How sure your team is that a feature will have the desired effect

  • Effort: The time and work that will go into creating and delivering a feature

To give each feature a score, multiply the values for reach, impact, and confidence, and divide the result by the effort:

(Reach x Impact x Confidence) / Effort

9. The MoSCoW method

Companies often use this framework to prioritize features under tight deadlines. The MoSCoW method classifies features based on four distinct priority levels: 

  • Must have: Non-negotiable features that ensure the product functions as intended

  • Should have: Important features that are likely to add significant value

  • Could have: Nice-to-have features that could increase buyer excitement but will have minimal impact if omitted

  • Won't have: Features that are not a priority for the immediate time frame

In some ways, this method is similar to the Kano model. However, it doesn't provide specific guidelines describing where to place each feature. 

10. Multi-factor matrix

Sometimes called a feature prioritization matrix, a multi-factor matrix gives teams more flexibility to create criteria for prioritizing the value of each feature. You can adapt the framework for large, complex projects with more features and intricate criteria. 

The basic matrix includes a feature list, importance factors, and implementation demands. You can add as many elements as necessary to evaluate the value and complexity of a feature, including typical factors like ROI and detailed information like user feedback. 

Evaluating all factors that affect each feature provides more details to guide prioritization. 

How to choose the right feature prioritization framework

There’s no exact answer for deciding which prioritization framework will yield the best results. Many methods exist to serve different purposes and enable development teams to prioritize features based on different factors. 

Your team may have a standby method but occasionally shift to a different framework when on a tight schedule or working with a particularly complex product. 

Here are some factors to consider when choosing a prioritization framework:

The product’s industry and market 

While you can adapt all the frameworks to work for specific products, some lend themselves particularly well to software development. 

Considering how each framework aligns with your business needs can help you determine the best choice.

Resource availability

Your budget will play a role in choosing a framework. While most options require little investment, some require input from outside participants like stakeholders and customers. When choosing a method, consider the potential costs of a framework that requires customer demonstration or interaction. 

The stage of the product life cycle

All types of companies use feature prioritization, from startups developing their first product to established businesses seeking ways to improve an existing product. 

You could use a more detailed framework early in the product life cycle and opt for an option like opportunity scoring when adding or updating features. 

Your organizational culture

Generally, feature prioritization requires collaboration in a group setting, but not every method has the same levels of structure or interaction. 

While group gatherings can be a great way to engage the team, only some companies will have the culture to make collaborative methods a good fit.  

Conversely, a method that requires minimal interaction may fail to engage some team members. Your go-to framework should feel right for your development team and organization. 

Strategies to avoid common prioritization pitfalls

Unfortunately, feature prioritization isn't foolproof, even with data and a structured framework. These tips can help you avoid pitfalls that could undo your prioritization efforts. 

Don't prioritize based on feedback from a single department

Sales teams can gather information based on potential customer feedback, while customer support teams know about customer pain points. Features should come from data trends instead of ideas or one-off complaints. 

Don't make feature complexity the main priority

Prioritizing what's easy enables you to add features with little effort. However, many of these features may also be low value, ultimately disappointing customers or simply going unnoticed.

Don't use gut instinct alone

While intuition is helpful and should be a factor in innovation, it shouldn't be your only guide. A brilliant idea is only valuable if it can address user pain points and appeal to many consumers. Use industry research, user feedback, and data analysis to fine-tune your chosen elements to craft a successful product.

FAQs

What is the most common type of feature prioritization?

A weighted scoring model is the most common type of feature prioritization. Businesses have long used this method to evaluate data in their decisions. 

The data gives decision-makers a clear framework to score choices. 

How do you prioritize features in a product backlog?

You can use any method or framework to prioritize features in a product backlog. Your backlog will serve as an existing list of features to rank by level of importance. 

Story mapping is a great option for teams seeking a detailed version of the product lifecycle. Opportunity scoring is ideal when working with a backlog of potential updates or improvements.

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