Bringing innovative products and features to market requires product focus and executional excellence. But when internal stakeholders are requesting one product direction, and customers are demanding an entirely different one, it’s challenging to determine what feature to build next. Product roadmap prioritization is essential for aligning your product vision and resources, ensuring your product and development teams stay focused throughout the product life cycle to ship features that make a difference.
A 2021 survey of product managers found that, on average, product managers already spend nineteen hours each month articulating and prioritizing product requirements and twelve hours planning and communicating their roadmap. It’s worthwhile learning to do these things well, creating a product prioritization process that creates internal buy-in, effectively communicates and guides your product development, and prioritizes building features that generate business value.
This article will discuss the importance of product roadmap prioritization, explaining the factors to consider—from customer feedback to potential risks—when developing new features. We’ll also explore different product prioritization frameworks that will help you decide what to build next. Plus, we’ll share suggestions on the best software tools to build your product roadmap and share it across your company. Armed with techniques and strategies for building a prioritized product roadmap, your startup will ship features quickly, win over customers, and differentiate your product from competitors…
Shipping new features, and getting them in the hands of new and existing customers, is a key role for product managers. But doing so without a thoughtful overarching product strategy can mean that your product falls flat. A 20-page Google Doc of feature ideas and requests is one thing. A prioritized product roadmap, that includes the “what”, “why”, and “when” of a feature, is something else entirely.
Building a prioritized product roadmap will allow your startup to create a cohesive product plan where features are complementary, your suite of products works in harmony, and your customers receive a delightful and seamless product experience.
Here are a few reasons why you should prioritize your product roadmap.
Prioritizing what your team builds next requires considering a wide variety of inputs—such as customer feedback, market research, internal constraints and resources—and synthesizing them into a product roadmap provides direction for your team.
Consider a range of factors to prioritize initiatives that deliver tangible value to your users, create customer value and loyalty, while driving long-term growth.
Listening to prospective and current customers is such a critical part of creating customer-centric products that resonate with your target user. Yet, according to a 2021 survey of product managers, 69% of respondents spent zero hours a month interviewing potential customers, while 39% reported zero hours interviewing current customers.
Actively seeking and analyzing feedback—from both current and churned customers—allows you to identify the most pressing pain points and unmet needs, helping you prioritize features and improvements that directly address those issues.
This step in the product development process will help you avoid launching a product that customers are indifferent to, or worse yet, dislike. Customer feedback and user stories will also help you validate assumptions about your product’s value proposition, ensuring that your development efforts are aligned with user expectations.
Here’s where to seek out customer feedback when developing your product roadmap:
It’s a mistake to only consider what your customers say; instead, also factor in what they do. User behavior data offers valuable insights into how your customers actually interact with your product and which features drive engagement.
By understanding user behavior, you can identify actionable data, patterns, trends, and bottlenecks that may impact the overall user experience, guiding you towards features and enhancements that should be prioritized.
Here’s where to gather and collect user behavior data:
Having your product stand out from the market means first understanding that market. Conducting market research will give your product team a deeper understanding of consumer expectations and what products to ship in order to win new business. By incorporating market research findings into your prioritization process as a product manager, you can make informed decisions that align with both current and emerging market demands, ensuring your product remains relevant and competitive.
Conducting market and consumer research can help you gain the following insights:
The insights you obtain from research can be used to determine how to prioritize your product roadmap in order to build product features that are embraced by users and drive tangible revenue growth for your startup.
For product managers, considering technical feasibility and the accumulation of more technical debt is essential when prioritizing a product roadmap. This consideration ensures that your development efforts are realistic—built in a reasonable time frame, with available resources, without negatively impacting your current technology.
Evaluate any technical limitations and assess scalability considerations of proposed features or improvements. For instance, you might find that due to technical debt, building a new feature might require a significant overhaul of your existing tech infrastructure—which, depending on your startup’s situation, may or may not be worthwhile.
Here are a few questions to ask your development team as you weight what to build next:
If you had unlimited resources and time, a product roadmap prioritization process would be irrelevant—you could build everything you want, all at once. But as a startup, more likely than not, this is not the case. Take time to consider all potential limitations that could limit your ability to scale product development and build key features.
Evaluate the following constraints in building a realistic and achievable product roadmap:
Focus on features that will have the greatest return on investment. Ultimately, your goal in product roadmap prioritization should be to minimize how much effort and resources you use as a product org, while maximizing business impact. Of course, how your product org assesses impact and business value will depend on your high level business objectives, key performance indicators (KPIs), and overall corporate strategy.
Here are metrics to consider when prioritizing your product roadmap:
However, remember to think more broadly beyond just high business value. Your product roadmap should also make room for bug fixes, small features, and maintenance over the product’s lifecycle, all of which take time and money. While these likely won’t have as much short-term business value, they have long-term impact—like user experience and product stability—that should not be ignored.
While product managers often look at the potential opportunity of a new feature, it’s also important to assess risk. Evaluate the potential downsides of developing a new feature to minimize potential pitfalls.
Every product feature comes with some level of risk—not being embraced by users, depleting your team’s resources, increasing the complexity of your product, and more. While some level of risk should not deter you from adding a feature to your product roadmap, start the process by assessing that risk.
Here are different forms of risk to consider when prioritizing your product roadmap:
It’s common for people outside your product org to have opinions about what should be prioritized on the product roadmap. An investor might demand your team build a feature that a key competitor has. Your support and sales team might advocate for an important bug fix that’s impacting customer experience, instead of planning a flashy new release. Your actual customers could be requesting you modify an existing feature to better fit their needs.
All of these opinions from key stakeholders are important to listen and respond to—and often involves business justification. But your role as a product leader involves taking this feedback into consideration and creating a winning product roadmap that weighs their relative importance. This often involves deftly navigating internal politics, while doing your best to serve customer needs.
Consider stakeholder input in your product roadmap prioritization to make more informed decisions that balance competing priorities and ultimately deliver greater value to your users, company, and investors.
Assessing so many factors for prioritizing your product development roadmap can be overwhelming. Which should be weighted higher, technical feasibility or customer feedback? What level of risk is appropriate to take on when building a new product feature? Is a feature that will generate net-new revenue more important than one that will reduce your churn rate?
A product prioritization framework—like MoScoW and RICE—can help you develop a structured thought process to think through these questions and build a product roadmap that fits the needs of your business. Experiment with trying more than one to find the right prioritization framework for your company.
The MoSCoW prioritization framework—which stands for Must-Have, Should-Have, Could-Have, and Won’t-Have—helps teams categorize and prioritize features or tasks based on their importance. The MoSCoW method was originally developed by Dai Clegg in the 1990s as part of the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), a software development framework.
To use the MoSCoW product prioritization framework, follow these steps:
The KANO Model prioritization framework focuses on customer satisfaction to help teams prioritize features. It was developed in the 1980s by Dr. Noriaki Kano, a Japanese professor of quality management from Tokyo University.
The model categorizes features into three main groups:
Some versions of the KANO model also include categories for Indifferent features, that customers are neutral on, and Reverse features, that cause dissatisfaction.
To use the KANO product prioritization framework, follow these steps:
The RICE prioritization framework is a data-driven framework that helps teams make objective decisions about feature prioritization. The acronym RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort, factors used to score each feature.
To use the RICE product prioritization framework, follow these steps:
The Opportunity Scoring prioritization framework helps teams evaluate and prioritize features based on the potential value they offer to customers. This approach focuses on identifying unmet customer needs or “opportunities” that a product can address.
To use Opportunity Scoring product prioritization framework, follow these steps:
Once you’ve figured out how and what to prioritize, choose the right software tool for where to prioritize your product roadmap. Select a tool that’s user-friendly, easy to use, and integrates with the tools that your engineering team already uses, like GitHub.
Jira is a widely used project management and issue tracking tool designed to help teams plan, track, and manage software development projects. Its features include customizable workflows, backlog management, and advanced reporting capabilities. The tool’s wide-range of integrations and flexibility allows product teams to easily prioritize tasks, track progress, and collaborate on feature development.
Linear is a streamlined project management and issue tracking tool built for modern software development teams. It has a simple and intuitive interface to prioritize features, track progress, and collaborate effectively. Linear offers features like custom views, automated workflows, and integration with popular tools like GitHub, GitLab, Sentry, and more.
Trello is a popular project management tool that uses a card-based (or Kanban) interface to organize tasks and broader projects. Drag and drop cards to prioritize features, add labels for categorization, and track progress with checklists. Similarly, the tool has a library of integrations for collaboration and customization.
Airtable is a cloud-based spreadsheet and database tool that offers product roadmap prioritization capabilities. Create custom tables or boards to manage feature prioritization, track dependencies, and visualize timelines. Airtable has pre-built templates, including ones for product management and integrations with tools like Slack and GitHub.
Aha! is a comprehensive product management software designed to help teams set strategy, prioritize features, and build a visual overview of product roadmaps. The tool has prioritization capabilities to help users create custom scoring frameworks, track dependencies, and visualize timelines. The platform also integrates with a broad range of tools to help teams collaborate and stay aligned on roadmap priorities.
Productboard is a product management tool that centralizes customer feedback, feature prioritization, and roadmap planning. Its intuitive interface helps teams visualize feature prioritization and a customer feedback portal helps teams better understand user needs. Productboard simplifies cross-functional collaboration with integrations like Jira and Slack.
Learning how to carry out a product roadmap prioritization process to deliver customer satisfaction is just one of many steps in building a product that garners a paying user base and boosts your company’s success. Check out all of DigitalOcean’s resources for startups and SMBs in The Wave, our startup resource hub, for more product, go-to market strategy, and company-building advice to help your startup thrive.
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