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Product Roadmap Prioritisation

Published on 8th October 2019

Getting the product roadmap prioritisation right is a common challenge. Which items should be addressed first? Which ones can be delayed? This article answers these questions and helps you effectively prioritise your product roadmap.

Before You Start Prioritising …

Before you order the roadmap items, double-check that you have a validated product strategy in place. You should be able to confidently say why users would want to use your product and why it is worthwhile for your company to invest in it. In other words, you should have valid answers to the following questions:

  • Which user problem will the product solve, or which benefit will it provide?
  • How will it create value for the business? For example, will the product directly generate revenue, help market and sell another product or service, reduce cost, or develop the brand?

If you haven’t nailed the answers, then do not continue the roadmapping effort. Instead, carry out the necessary product discovery and strategizing work. Otherwise, your roadmap may be built on false assumptions. Getting the prioritisation right will then be virtually impossible.

Create a Compelling Narrative

To prioritise the product roadmap, consider in which life cycle stage your product is. As long as it hasn’t reached maturity, a product has to constantly move forward: initially to get to launch, then to reach product-market fit, and finally to sustain growth.

At these life cycle stages, your product roadmap should tell a convincing story about the likely development of your product; it should describe the journey you want to take it on in order to create the desired value for the users and business. To get the prioritisation right, take the following steps:

For a brand-new product, this might mean that you start with user acquisition followed by activation, retention, and finally revenue generation, depending on your product’s underlying business model. For a product in the growth stage, you might find that you first have to remove technical debt before you can enhance the user experience and increase conversion.

If there are items that were on the product roadmap prior to the prioritisation, then check if they help you reach any of the newly created goals. If that’s the case, then assign them to the appropriate objective. Otherwise, either discard the item or investigate if changing the goals to accommodate the items would be beneficial. A cost-benefit analysis might help you with this.

Whatever you do, make sure that your roadmap tells a cohesive, meaningful story that clearly communicates how the product will create value.

Determine the Cost of Delay

Once your product has entered the maturity stage, you usually don’t want to take it on another big journey, unless you decide to extend its life cycle. Instead, you stay where you are, protect your product’s position, and maximise the return it generates.

Consequently, there are often smaller, unconnected goals that need to be addressed, like sustaining engagement or preventing churn by offering incremental enhancements or bug fixes. But these objectives often lack clear connections, and they don’t form a logical sequence or narrative.

Faced with such a challenge, I recommend using cost of delay to get the prioritisation right. To put it simple, ask yourself how big the loss or severe the disadvantage is likely to be when you delay each item. For example, if you are unsure whether you should first enhance the user experience to sustain engagement or fix bugs to prevent churn, then identify the impact of delaying each goal.

Once you’ve determined the cost of postponing the items, address the one with the biggest cost of delay first, then the item with the second biggest cost, and so forth. This should give you the right prioritisation.

Don’t Let Powerful Stakeholders Dictate the Prioritisation

The two approaches described above assume that the user and business needs together with the product’s life cycle stage determine the prioritisation of your product roadmap—not the HIPPO, the highest paid person’s opinion.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a big advocate collaborative product roadmapping. Do actively involve the key stakeholders and development team members, encourage people to share their ideas and concerns, attentively listen to them, and build shared agreement, as much as possible.

But if you are faced with individuals requesting or even demanding that their interests must be first addressed, then do not simply give in. Don’t appease them and don’t avoid a difficult conversation. Instead, patiently listen to them and thank them for telling you about their idea. Then invite them to the next product roadmapping workshop so they can share their request with the other stakeholders and jointly decide if and when it can be addressed. And if the matter is urgent, get everyone together as soon as possible.

Being a product professional means making difficult choices, and prioritisation entails saying no. This is an important part of our job, whether we like it or not.

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