Karan M Gupta


Strategies to Prioritize a Complex Product Backlog

Product managers have come up with a myriad of ways to prioritize items and make product development decisions — all with the goal to create a well-planned product roadmap. Teams assign weights to features, put sticky notes on walls and move them around, divide the list by business themes.

A fair number of modern teams spend a lot of time listening to their customers and the market, but not surprisingly quite a few just assume Feature A must be more important than Feature B. It should be obvious, the more data you can collect, the easier it will be to determine what the team should be focusing on, and when.

Having gone through a few amateurish tactics myself, I finally learned a few strategies which have been immensely effective. They:
1. are visual and simple
2. get people involved and talking
3. make it easy to say No to certain requirements

Get Started

Go to a whiteboard and draw an x-axis and a y-axis. On this simplest of charts plot items from the backlog as described below.

1. What’s Important vs What’s Urgent

Requirements come from many sources: market, customer, business, engineering, and so on. The thing you want to work on first, is top and to the right.

2. Align With Business Goals

If your organization has well-defined priorities, use them. At this time, is the company’s goal to make more money at the current pace of growth, or sacrifice revenue and increase marketshare?

3. Is the Product Working?

If the product’s retaining well, focus on growth. If not, target retention features right away, and avoid developing for growth.

4. Look for Easy Wins

Infrastructure improvements and refactors are a necessary part of any engineering effort. However it’s not a good idea to go too long without putting out visible improvements. Cherry pick items from the bottom-right to work on from time to time and put things in front of the user to delight them. It may be something as small as putting in some nifty CSS animation on an otherwise boring button.

This is just a start — you can apply similar strategies to many tasks requiring some prioritization, especially when you’re short on time or with limited resources. I actually created a chart to determine who to spend time with during my first fund-raise and used another to decide between a few different projects.

Thanks Des Traynor 👊.

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