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Question for fellow product owners/product managers. How do you prioritize your features? We are currently trying to develop some common criteria (as objective as possible) that we can use to prioritize our features. At the very least, we want something that will give us a good starting point and potentially things to look at when we get the inevitable question of why are we working on this instead of that. Does anyone have some good suggestions? How do you all address this problem?

  • A little additional clarification...I'm also interested in what level you do this at. We use scrum and run 1 week iterations, so everything gets broken down to the point that it will fit in 1 week. I don't really think it makes sense to do this scoring at that level, so when and at what level do you do this scoring? – Matt Block Jun 6 '11 at 17:51
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I suggest the following three criteria: Value, Risk, Cost. Value can be further decomposed into two: Benefit and Penalty. Benefit and penalty combined create an overall value.

Benefit is the positive affects an added feature will deliver to the organization that can be objectively measured in some way, i.e., increased revenue or decreased costs, faster throughput, etc. The particular criterion should be as objective as possible.

Penalty is the more subjective criterion, where you will likely have stakeholder angst if a feature is not implemented. In other words, the value of a feature climbs if a stakeholder group is upset in its absence, despite that it offers no objective value to the organization.

Combining the two creates your overall value score.

Risk is specifically the uncertainty you must assume and mitigate in delivering the feature.

Cost is the direct project cost in the feature's implementation.

Ensure that all of your features are decomposed to the same level of specificity to make sure the scoring is precise.

  • Sounds interesting. How did you assign these values? Did you just assign numbers or were there options to pick from? If you have more details that would be very helpful! – Matt Block Jun 6 '11 at 17:55
  • Send me your e-mail address to d_espina at verizon dot net. – David Espina Jun 6 '11 at 18:11
  • Tool sent. Let me know if it works for you. – David Espina Jun 6 '11 at 19:36
  • Looks really good. It looks like the tool Mike Cohn suggests (mountaingoatsoftware.com/tools/relative-weighting) but with Risk added in, which could be useful. I tried doing this once before gathering input from other stakeholders, but had trouble explaining the Penalty. I think your explanation (a stakeholder group is upset in its absence, despite that it offers no objective value to the organization) may help make it clearer. Maybe a bit clearer...they are upset it is not there, but not willing to pay extra for it? – Matt Block Jun 6 '11 at 19:56
  • Keep cost separate from the penalty. Think of it as a user group that wants the feature whether they are paying for it or not. I too had/have issues trying to facilitate that piece. Try capturing the score without explicitly pulling the criterion out. You will have to play with your approach. – David Espina Jun 6 '11 at 20:02
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I was tasked with the same thing. In the end we used a matrix with two axis. One axis was frequency of occurrence (ie Feature xyz would be used by every user every time they used the application vs. Feature abc would be used by some users sometimes, etc, etc). The other axis was level of benefit to the user/benefit to the company/ROI (ie Feature xyz increases customer satisfaction vs. Feature abc increases company revenue).

Combining benefit and occurrence turned out to the most objective way we could come up with a baseline for what was "High", "Medium", "Low", and "Don't Bother". After that we took a deeper dive and pass through all the "High" cases.

You'd be surprised how few cases make it into the "High" rating when you rate them objectively against all the others.

BTW, we ended up using a similar matrix for all of our bugs.

  • That sounds very useful. I really like the simplicity, there are only 2 axis. Do you happen to have more details you can provide like what were the choices for each axis? Or maybe an example? – Matt Block Jun 6 '11 at 17:53

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