Prioritization using IDEA/E

Prioritization is a critical skill for product management

[NOTE: This method replaces the VIDEO method I've written about before.]

Prioritization is a critical skill used for many of the items in your product playbook. The basic tenet of prioritization is to make a list of all the things you want to accomplish and order the list based on value—that is, value to us and value to our customers. We don’t want the product team cherry-picking the list for easy stuff or fun stuff. We always want them working on the most important thing. And we don’t want product managers and product owners just guessing; we want to know that this is more important than that. It’d be ideal if we can hard facts to work from, like the results of a survey or perhaps the “jelly beans and fishbowl” approach. But absent hard facts, we ought to be able to use our judgment and a simple prioritization scheme.

In this approach, we use a numeric ranking to compare a number of ideas, where the goal is to achieve the highest number. Imagine the team discussions you can have to determine which idea has more value or importance. And the discussions matter; leverage the wisdom and experience of your team.

Use IDEA/E to create a numerical score for each major item


"Impact of the Problem" is your customers' perception of how the problem affects their organization—reduced productivity or revenue, for instance. "Dissatisfaction" relates to their lack of satisfaction with the existing state. Are they annoyed or frantic? Do they care just a little or a lot. (I didn't need 280 characters in Twitter. Did you?)

"Evidence" is how many are experiencing the problem where '1' is only a few and '5' is all customers. And if you have NO evidence, you can put a '0' here—which will force the priority to be zero until you have done some research. (That's handy for crazy internal ideas with no market evidence.) "Advantage to us" represents the importance to your organization—this could be alignment with strategic or technology initiatives or simply impact in increased revenue or cost savings.

Finally, the "Effort to deliver" embraces the logic that if two things are roughly the same, work on the easier one first—so this format skews in favor of the easy stuff. Initially, I prefer to keep it simple by using just YES and NO. Just count up the number of YES answers for a score. Or, you can use this prioritization scheme with low, medium, and high or 1 through 5 or use a Fibonacci sequence. You can use IDEA with roadmap items, products, features, epics, and stories. For that matter, you can use it for promotional items as part of an agile marketing plan. Are you grooming your backlog by shuffling? Or are you using a quick, objective system?

Whether rating a competitor or a feature or a product idea, objective decisions beat subjective ones every time.

See also Rich Mironov's article Prioritization Beyond Algorithms for putting this approach into the context of an overall backlog.

This is one of the many modern methods taught in the Fundamentals of Managing Products series available from Product Growth Leaders. Learn more here.

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