(Agile) Features priority management

A simple tool for feature management (spreadsheet/quadrant available)

Note: this article is part of my series on an adapted version of Agile framework. Yes, you can do that as Agile is a generic framework rather thana standardized process. IMHO, there are other great tools and references (especially my bible Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn), I’m just sharing my feedback in case it might help you avoid my previous and candid mistakes.

As a Product Owner/Product Manager, you are charged with the heavy responsibility of setting your backlog items priorities. 
Keep in mind that although it’s the PO responsibility, he/she will rely on the inputs of other departments to get there (Sales, Marketing).

As highlighted in the Agile framework, what really matters in tasks/stories/features evaluation, is the relative scoring, so do not bother with absolute metrics mapped to actual days. It can help at the beginning to use the ideal days concept but in the long run, you should try to get your scoring more meta if I may say. Bottom line here is you don’t need the absolute scoring but a way of ordering your items to get from:

  • feature Blue
  • feature Green
  • feature Yellow

1. Feature Green, high priority because ..
2. Feature Yellow, 
3. Feature Blue

What I have experimented to get that order:

  • Base it on the high-level story points when discussing epics with architects and experts; simple at the beginning, biased later.
  • Base it on sales team/Marketing inputs: biased approach as well, in addition to the fact that you cannot easily introduce the sales lead probability to your product management flow.
  • Getting everyone in a room and get them to talk, to get an average and converged opinion on each feature and its relative priority; the issue is that it will take a lot of time, you won’t have everyone available when needed and you might end up losing valuable information by *averaging* (I’m considering the best case scenario here)
  • Individual face-to-face with each division, parse their inputs and averaging everything. Interesting, too much effort and you’ll end up introducing your bias anyway.

So basically what I did is to define a general framework where I can get relevant information from everyone mix them and use a visual mean to:

  • share the result
  • order my items

For each feature, I need to define:

Business Value, which is the combination of:

  • Revenues increase
  • Customer value (adoption, retention)
  • Strategic value

Complexity, which is the combination of:

  • Implementation effort
  • Operational costs
  • Risk

I crossed the business value against complexity which allows me to define four quadrants:

  • High BV, Low Complexity: easy and quick win, do them first
  • High BV, High Complexity: analyze/split them to get them to the first quadrant
  • Low BV, Low complexity: your triage area for nice to have features (or junk)
  • Low BV, High complexity: avoid them and help your customer/management to understand why you cannot do them (if they passed your parking lot, there’s probably a reason)

While challenging my framework with other colleagues, some would prefer to start with high BV, High Complexity first to tackle the hard part first. The tech in me was tempted but then again, it’s about getting as much value as possible to your product in the short possible amount of time. So you can start with either the first or second quadrant and reiterate as the purpose will be to fill the first one.

Additionally, I’ve added the ratio of BV/C to simplify the ordering. Use that in case you don’t need the visual management.

I offer here a basic Google Spreadsheet where I’ve put a table with previous items and a bubble chart that will help you place your feature automatically on the fitting Quadrant. The bubbles weight is the BV/C ratio. The graphic show some dummy features to illustrate the previous analysis.

With that in mind, it’s up to create your copy and redefine:
- Your complexity and weights
- Your Business Value and weights
- Quadrants edges

I’m open to suggestions and discussion regarding this approach. Feel free to reach out, comment, clap 👏 and share if you found this article useful, but most of all, think about how others can benefit from your experience 💠