We asked 55 people working in product management roles to share their thoughts, feelings, and frustrations on the process of prioritisation. Read on for an overview of their feedback, and if you’re a Mind the Product member, you can access an extended report (more on this below).
Who We Spoke To
The majority of people who shared their views with us work in Product Manager, Director of Product or Head of Product roles, and while their time in product ranges from 1 to 23 years, on average, our pros have 4 years’ experience.
Most work in business and enterprise, consumer and web or fintech and finance and while they are located across the globe, the majority work in the UK, US, Germany and India.
Prioritisation – Hard or Easy?
We asked our group to rate the process of prioritisation on a scale where 0 meant the process is very easy and 5 meant the process is very difficult.
Average score out of 5 = 3
Of those who rated prioritisation more difficult, their biggest challenge was communicating priorities to stakeholders and getting buy-in. Other issues included, a lack of commitment to priorities at the leadership level, a focus on outputs rather than outcomes, shifting resources and planning ‘what to build’ instead of tackling consumer problems, need, and value.
Prioritization is more like a stakeholder issue, rather than a focus on feature impact
The biggest challenge is trying to get higher-level management to understand the importance of prioritisation and that the outcome is not set in stone
In general, the challenge is in poor understanding of end-user needs and over-emphasis on stakeholder needs
Who’s Calling the Shots?
We were interested to know who leads the charge when it comes to prioritisation and 46% said leadership decides what to build next, 30% said the responsibility sits with the product team, and 7% said key customers were in charge.
Currently, prioritisation is driven by the HIPPO
What Factors are used to Prioritise the Backlog?
Almost all (76%) said customer feedback was the leading factor in prioritising the backlog along with discovery (53%), sales and support feedback (53%), product date (42%), competitor analysis (40%), market trends and insights (38%) and revenue attribution (31%).
For 22%, prioritisation is all based on guesswork and gut feel.
Where Does Prioritisation Happen?
We asked during which activities most prioritisation happens and for most it takes place in scheduled stakeholder conversations (49%), dedicated sessions (34%), adhoc stakeholder conversations (33%), and backlog grooming (31%). For only 14%, prioritisation happens during conversations with customers.
In relation to frequency:
- 49% prioritise monthly
- 22% prioritise weekly
- 20% prioritise quarterly
- 5% prioritise daily
- 2% prioritise biannually
- 2% prioritise other
Reviewing priorities monthly was too infrequent for my small team so we learnt to look at this weekly
The Biggest Challenges of Prioritisation
Overwhelmingly, the biggest challenge when trying to prioritise relates to stakeholders. Specifically:
- Getting stakeholder buy-in
- Arbitrating the demands of different stakeholders
- Balancing stakeholder input
- Communicating priorities with stakeholders
- Aligning on priorities with stakeholders
Stakeholder issues are something Mind the Product’s Chief of Staff Emily Tate completely understands.
“Not too long ago I decided to do a ProductTank talk on prioritisation, and it was because I wanted to do something very tactical and because I had been doing a lot of speaking about stakeholder management, product engineering collaboration soft skills, etc,” she says. “I sat down to write a prioritisation talk and it quickly became a stakeholder management talk. I was like, ‘oh, right, yes, because that is what prioritisation is’.”
In her talk, Embracing the Art of Prioritisation Emily explains how and why it’s vital it is to bring stakeholders into the prioritisation process as it helps them to understand what’s coming up and when their ‘thing’ is going to be done.
Other challenges raised in the feedback indicated clear themes around a lack of understanding around prioritisation, prioritising business strategy over evidence-based customer needs and aligning with objectives, balancing against tech debt, and dealing with other ad-hoc business requirements.
We asked our product managers to tell us any and all frameworks they’d used during their product careers:
- 38% Weighted Scoring Prioritisation
- 34% Value vs. Complexity Quadrant
- 29% The RICE Framework
- 27% The MoSCoW method
- 18% The Kano Model
- 9% Opportunity Scoring
- 1% ICE Scoring Model
25% told us, they’ve not used any prioritisation frameworks at all.
Least Effective Prioritisation Framework
We also asked them to tell us which, of the frameworks they’d used, they consider to be the least effective. For the majority, this answer to this was The MoSCoW method.
All of those who voted the MoSCoW method the least effective described it as being ‘vague’ and ‘subjective’. “It’s based on business requests without any evidence of customers needs,” said senior Product Manager Afruz Besharati while CPO Mario Lenz explained that The MoSCoW method really didn’t feel like a prioritisation framework at all but rather a tool for jotting down results.
Most Effective Prioritisation Framework
The framework considered to be the most effective was Weighted Scoring Prioritisation. Our pros described this framework as the most balanced approach, one that’s easy to understand and apply, one that factors in gaols, effort and value and, for many, it was the framework deemed the easiest to communicate to stakeholders and leadership. “It gives everyone a say and produces a very clear and easy to understand output,” said senior Product Manager Gary Finnigan, while another senior Product Manager said: “It allows for adjustment for what the organisation values through weighting. It provides better visibility on assumptions and deeper conversations.”
Read More on Prioritisation
This feedback has also been included in an extended report on prioritisation in which we cover:
- Further views on the most and least effective prioritisation frameworks
- Advice on making frameworks that work for your team and a supporting case study
- Why there’s no one size fits all approach
- Tackling the biggest prioritisation challenge
- Top tips, additional learning resources, and access to an open discussion board, giving you the opportunity to share ideas with your peers!
Go to the extended report to discover all of this and more.