How to Choose a Prioritization Framework

prioritization framework

Have you ever worked on a project and wondered: With all the work that you’ve done, how much progress and impact was made? Have you ever been given the responsibility of prioritizing the product backlog but had no idea where to start? Ever been tasked with leading a story mapping session but didn’t know who to include to get the dialogue started? If you have or have started to notice that you aren’t getting closer to where you want to be, then it may be time to re-evaluate your prioritization framework and how you’re structuring that framework for execution. 

Understanding how to prioritize and systemize executable, actionable items is the essence of progression. Without understanding the purpose of prioritization and learning the how-tos, you will remain stagnant and undeveloped. 

As a Product Manager, or in any role for that matter, the ability or inability to learn prioritization could spell success or failure. You’ll either make it and be exalted by your peers, or you’ll get cut from the group if you have no idea how to handle the situation you’re in. 

To keep the latter from befalling you, we’ve created this guide to prioritization framework. Here’s what we’ll go over in this post:

How to Choose the Right Prioritization Framework

Before you dive into the plethora of prioritization framework options, potentially overwhelming yourself trying to figure out which framework you should choose, it may be best to understand first what it is that you’re trying to prioritize. Trying to decide which prioritization framework to use without knowing what it is that you’re trying to prioritize is like having a map without a destination: You won’t know where to go, you won’t know where to start.

Here are some leading questions that will help guide you to determine which prioritization framework of choice is best for you and your project.

What are you prioritizing? 

Whether it’s requirements, features, functions, or raw data (quantitative or qualitative), understanding what is that you’re trying to prioritize is the first step in determining what framework to choose.

Why are you prioritizing?

What are you trying to get out of a prioritization process? What value impact will prioritize this body of work do in the grand scheme of things? It might help to look back at your OKRs & KPIs

Who is involved?

Depending on your audience and how large or small your team is, certain prioritization framework options could make the prioritization process more efficient and effective than others.

How much time do you have?

Lastly, gauging the amount of time you have in respect to the overall project timeline and milestones will help you determine which framework is best suited for your situation.

Overall, there is no one framework that is the best or better than another. More often than not, it boils down to which framework is best for the specific project you’re working on and the team you’re working with. Each framework has its pros and cons. In the end, no matter which framework you decide to go with, it will help you evaluate your priority levels and guide you in determining the prioritization of your work based on quantitative data input & output.

According to the product road mapping and strategy experts at Roadmunk:

“good product prioritization frameworks allow you to silence the voice of the loudest person in the room using quantitative rankings, charts, and matrices with values that are directly tied to your customer feedback and product strategy.”

Roadmunk offers some great tools for prioritization, including templates for two of the frameworks we’re going to touch on next.

The Most Popular Prioritization Framework Options

In the following list, we have aggregated some popular prioritization frameworks frequently used within the world of Product Management. As you begin to familiarize yourself with the different types of framework, keep in mind that it’s not just putting features or initiatives in order of importance, but also evaluating the level of effort, impact, and value add altogether.

RICE

RICE is an objective-based scoring method of prioritization primarily focused on 4 specific criterias: Reach. Impact. Confidence. Effort. (Hence the acronym.)

  • Reach – How many users will be impacted by a feature or product.
  • Impact – At what level will the user find a feature most beneficial to them. (ie: low, medium, high)
  • Confidence –  % value that measures your level of confidence in all the other areas of this formula. (ie: 90-100% – High, 60-80% – Medium, 0-50% – Low)
  • Effort – How much time will it take for the team to complete the feature or initiative (ie: low, medium, high)

Once all the data have been collected, you will input them into the following formula to calculate the final score:

RICE prioritization framework

Each feature or item that’s up for prioritization will have its own calculated RICE score based on the collective data from the team. The RICE score will be used in comparative analysis to evaluate which has higher priority; the higher the score, the higher the priority.

RICE Method Pros and Cons

PROS: The benefit of the RICE method is within the simplicity of its framework. With only four quantifying input criterias, of which three have predetermined value levels of the low, medium, and high, it allows the team to quickly judge and evaluate the level of priority between each initiative.

CONS: It’s not the most accurate and detailed of frameworks, given its predetermined values. The team will not be able to call out any specifics as they will have to make generalizations around the level of detail. Also, this method doesn’t take into account any dependencies. If the work has dependencies, which most of the time there are, it will again have to be generalized and evaluated within those predetermined value levels.

OUR ADVICE: If you want a high-level analysis that’s quick and easy without much discussion, this would be the framework you want to go with.

Cost vs Benefit (Weighted Scoring)

Unlike the RICE method, Cost vs Benefit is a bit more defined and specific in its criterias. Sometimes it won’t be as easy as picking out a level of impact number on a given feature or initiative. One feature could be totally different from another with different factors to consider. Not limited to just 4 basic criterias as seen in RICE, Cost vs Benefit can take into account however many criterias the user feels needed to make their final decision. 

Per each feature or initiative being prioritized, there will be a list of influential criteria that will be examined and weighted. For example, one might take into consideration revenue, customer value, cost, effort, risk, and maintenance.

Here’s a visual representation of a Cost vs Benefit Table:

 

Revenue

Customer Value

Cost

Effort

Risk

Maintenance

Total

UX/UI Development

5

10

9

8

3

6

41

Training Asset

3

10

4

3

0

4

24

Reporting

4

9

5

6

0

3

26

Rating Scale 0-10; 0 – low impact, 10 – high impact

Team(s) will rate each criterion in the columns using a rating scale to evaluate their level of importance and impact. The rating scale should be clear and consistent and set by whoever is leading the prioritization effort. In our instance, our rating scale is set from 0 to 10, 0 being low and 10 being high. You can have your rating scale set from 0 to 5, whatever you feel most comfortable.

Cost vs Benefit Pros and Cons

PROS: This framework evaluates your Return on Investment (ROI), hence its name Cost vs Benefit. It also helps quantify the importance of your features or initiatives. 

CONS: The list of criteria being evaluated can be biased in terms of personal preference. One individual or team could favor a set of criteria over another. The product manager will need to assess and provide an unbiased opinion on the list of weighted criteria that will ultimately benefit the outcome of the project as a whole.

OUR ADVICE: Cost vs Benefit is most effective when you’re stuck between hard-to-choose features or initiatives and have to take into consideration many criteria or when you have to allocate limited resources to multiple options.

Value vs Effort

Value vs Effort framework focuses on the basics of prioritization. It compares the amount of value to the effort required for each feature or initiative. The structure is a simple 2×2 matrix that allows the team to measure and evaluate each feature or initiative according to how much value it brings given the level of complexity and effort needed.

In some instances, usually in the beginning of a new project, you’re still in discussion in diagnosing the problems rather than the solutions. In this case, using the Value vs Effort model will help you bucket your initiatives into 4 quadrants: 

  • Low Effort Low Value (bottom left)
  • Low Effort High Value (top left)
  • High Effort Low Value (bottom right)
  • High Effort High Value (top right)

value vs effort prioritization framework

Value vs Effort Pros and Cons

PROS: If you’re limited on time and need to prioritize quickly, this framework can generalize which tasks require the least and most amount of work with the highest and lowest value output.

CONS: It’s not the most accurate in terms of approach. This method is very open-ended and leaves a lot of room for cognitively biased opinions.

OUR ADVICE: Utilize this framework and approach at the beginning of a project to help you compartmentalize the body of work. This approach will help you break down larger tasks into smaller assignments for quick results

Kano

The Kano framework is based on a set of questionnaires tailored towards understanding the customers in what the customer wants and needs are. Similar to that of Value vs Effort, where the generalization of the task at hand leans more towards qualitative as opposed to quantitative, Kano methodology measures customer preference and classifies them into five categories of quality based on the assessment of customer satisfaction versus level of functionality.

The five categories of quality :

  1. One Dimensional Quality – What the customer wants. 
  2. Must-Be Quality – What the customer expected.
  3. Delighters / Attractive Quality – What the customer wasn’t expecting but is happy to have.
  4. Indifferent Quality – What the customer is not focused on and for the lack thereof don’t really care for it. 
  5. Reverse Quality – What the customer does not want and dislikes. They would prefer not to include rather than try to improve on the implementation of this feature.

kano prioritization framework

Kano Pros and Cons

PROS: You approach each feature or initiative through the lens of the customer. From a product management perspective where you’re consumer-centric, it’s important to make sure you’re meeting the demand of your users.

CONS: This model doesn’t take into account any hard quantitative data such as cost, revenue, or effort to measure.

OUR ADVICE: Use this model of approach when you have your basic requirements covered. This framework is geared towards customer satisfaction. Once you have the basics covered, only then can you build on top and focus on what you can add on to appease your user base.

MoSCoW

Very similar to that of the Kano model of prioritization, the MoSCoW framework caters to the customers’ wants and needs.  It is essentially a “wishlist” at the end of the day. What we mean by wishlist is basically what the name stands for, MoSCoW is short for:

Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have.

In further detail:

  • Must-Have – Features needed to meet your basic requirements to solve your core problem for a functional product. This is a non-negotiable area.
  • Should Have – Given the time and available resources, these features should be considered to make the product more complete.
  • Could Have – Similar to that of the Delighter/Attractive Quality in the Kano model, these features are nice to have. It’s not what the customer was expecting but happy to have it. 
  • Won’t Have – Features that are not necessary. Having these would slow down your development process and further push out your delivery date.

MoSCoW Pros and Cons

PROS: It’s quick and easy to communicate your priorities to a group of non-technical individuals. Not only does it help with prioritizing the body of work, but it also helps with resource allocation.  

CONS: The main focus here could be blurred in determining prioritization or release criteria. With this approach, there could be a potential of overestimating your “Must Have” if the Product Manager isn’t focused on the requirements at hand.

OUR ADVICE: It’s best to use this framework of approach to reduce your scope of features and focus on the features that will help build out your minimum viable product.

Buy-a-Feature

Just as the name implies, you’re buying a feature. The approach to this framework of prioritization is to have a list of features and assign a price tag to each feature. Just like a real product, the price can be represented based on development costs, customer value, or impact value. The goal here is to present this menu of features to your stakeholders for them to pick which features they want in the next release of your product.

Buy-a-Feature Pros and Cons

PROS: This model is straightforward in evaluating cost vs value. This approach is unconventional but very realistic and effective, allowing the user to visually see the worth of a feature. Assigning monetary value taps into a psychological aspect of human desire. 

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”

– Steve Jobs

CONS: When utilizing this framework, the list of features you’re working with should already be planned for in your product roadmap. It’s not meant for a brainstorming session.

OUR ADVICE: This is a good approach to get your stakeholders to think realistically about the features they want and it will tell you how much a feature is worth to the people that will end up using it.

Story Mapping

A Story Mapping session essentially utilizes the user journey and allows the team to examine the user flow to create user stories for MVP features needed for go-live. Unlike most of the previous frameworks where the prioritization levels are based on internal opinions and qualitative analysis, this framework focuses on the user experience at the core allowing it to be more rigid and streamlined.

Once the user journey and user flow have been developed, you will create a series of sequential criterias across a horizontal line (usually with post-it notes) that will outline each stage of the user journey through your product. Below each sequential criteria that you’ve created, you will map out each step of the user flow for that stage of the user journey. Each step is a visual representation of the task for the user in order of importance. By doing so, you can prioritize the order of features you need to develop.

story mapping prioritization framework

Story Mapping Pros and Cons

PROS: Highly collaborative effort amongst teammates. Focuses on user experience. Kill two birds with one stone by getting a better understanding of the user journey and creating user stories for your product backlog.

CONS: It doesn’t measure the amount of effort for implementation and the value of impact. 

OUR ADVICE: If you need help with defining your user journey and user stories and identifying what your MVP is, this approach would be the most efficient and effective way.

Pick Your Prioritization Framework

As you can see, there are many options in terms of prioritization with specific focuses and functionalities depending on the project you’re working on or who you’re working with. There isn’t one overall framework that is the best or better when compared. You have to assess which framework will be the most effective given the setting you’re in. A good framework will align and get everyone on the same page, provide a collaborative environment, and paint a clear picture of what the product vision is.

Prioritization Framework Recap

  • Prioritization isn’t just creating a list of features, initiatives, ideas, tasks, or whatever it may be, in order of importance.   
  • The framework that you choose should provide a working environment of collaboration and motivate the team to prioritize their work in terms of how it will push them towards the company goal.
  • The framework should provide actionable results and quantitative data to support your product vision and drive product strategy forward.
  • Be aware of the human emotion involved and biased opinions of others when evaluating and assigning the level of priority to your features or initiatives.

Looking for more product manager insights? RSVP to our upcoming events for webinars and live training sessions with industry experts. If you need a hand breaking into product management or want to learn how to take your career to the next level, schedule a free call with our career coaches today.


 

Lawrence Tai

Lawrence Tai is a first-generation Asian-American (Taiwanese) born and raised in Baltimore, MD. With a background in Information Technology, he has over 8 years of Management and Development experience spanning across the Technology, Entertainment, and Footwear and Apparel industries. He has developed and maintained healthy relationships with clients and stakeholders such as Cognizant Technology Solutions, Sony Pictures, DreamWorks Animation, The Walt Disney Company, and most recently with Nike. Throughout his career, he has managed and led teams across developing various technologies such as CRMs, Digital Assets, Web Development, Retail Payment, and Order Management systems. He has worked cross-functionally across many departments to achieve company objectives in an Agile Scrum environment while proactively prioritizing product backlogs and roadmaps that reflect the priority of work and development while maintaining client expectations and product vision to achieve company goals. He’s currently a Product Manager at Nike and hopes to share his insights from his experiences to help grow the Product Management community.

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