Ultimate guide to product prioritization

How to prioritize features and build successful products?

Vijay Balachandran
Design of a SaaS business
8 min readMay 25, 2014


If you are someone striving to guard your product for longevity, it is your key responsibility to carefully choose features that are appropriate to the philosophy of your product. The features you build today will decide if your customers are going to be hooked to your product on long-term. That is simply why feature prioritization is such an important topic.

Before your read further:

  1. If you are wondering why to prioritize features you can probably start from here.
  2. If you think this article is too long you can start from the “Commonalities among processes” section below.

How does it generally work?

Most of the prioritization techniques that exist today are based on the Agile development process where a set of backlogs or requirements are sorted out in a priority based order (Eg: Must have, should have, nice to have) and taken for development in that order. These days developers do not normally get to work on features that are “nice to have” due to time crunch and evolving use cases and business variables that make these features obsolete over time. It is in fact becoming more difficult to choose the most important features among the “Must haves” owing to the number of ideas we encounter every day.

In this article we would explore all available models on feature prioritization that are tested and advocated by industry veterans. We will see what suits best in different situations.

Feature Prioritization Methodologies

There are numerous theories recommended on how you could prioritize your projects. Some ideas are even based on established process models. In this section we will explore all available methods to give you a high level idea of why this is such an important Product Management activity.

Chosen ideas from Quora

  1. You can start with identifying themes that are most important for your product (or business when you look at sales and marketing priorities) → Sequence those themes → Generate ideas within themes → Estimate time and cost → Prioritize projects within themes that have high impact and low cost to build. This process advocated by Ian, from Amazon, is the most widely accepted or up-voted one.
  2. Answer these questions: What is the core objective of the product?, Whether the feature should reach more businesses or deepen relationship with existing users? Whether feature will take your product to next level or just expand your feature list? Your answers to these questions would guide you to make informed decisions.
  3. Draw a matrix based on following factors: Technical feasibility, Resources availability, Customer need, business impact and time to market. Developing the business impact value and customer need value as heatmaps will fetch a matrix that will let you pick your priorities.
  4. Just apply this formula on each of your feature idea and pick the ones with high score (Revenue growth*Customer happiness*development effort) = Feature priority
  5. Ask yourself and learn: What customers want? what your company is good at? what your competitors are weak at?
  6. Figure out your value proposition, generate your questions and assumptions, build an MVP, test, measure, learn and pivot.
  7. Score on parameters including: Cost to build, time to market, competitive advantage and opportunity. Evaluate if the idea is strategic or tactical, if it is a validated and scalable idea and if a framework exists for development. Based on the total score against each of the above factors pick your features.
  8. Start with the customer and work backwards: This method used at Amazon is interesting and could work wonders for B2C products that heavily rely on PR and mass marketing for lead generation. You start with Customer problem and solution and draft the PR newsletter, FAQ, customer experience and user manual and thereby you confirm a feature and its detailed requirements.

Process Frameworks that can be adopted to drive your roadmap:

  1. The Kano model: Draw a two dimensional grid with the horizontal axis representing the organization’s investment made and the vertical axis representing the user satisfaction.

2. Outcome driven innovation: Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI) is a innovation process built around the theory that people buy products and services to get jobs done. Here you list down all the outcomes instead of the features and add your scores based on their strategic importance, customer satisfaction and opportunity.

3. KJ Method: This model advocates you to focus on the task in your hand by identifying the Focus question taking into consideration the users, their problem, goals, usability studies etc. Then organize a group to talk about the question in hand and sort the points into sticky notes, group similar items and name each group. Vote important groups and rank them and this way you would get your priorities in no time.

4. Kanban Approach: This method advocates incremental and evolutionary changes and focus on continuous delivery with feedback, collaboration and just-in-time development approach. Here is how product development can be managed using Kanban iterative approach.

How you could prioritize using a Product Management Software?

  1. Prodpad: The tool advocates identification of features that will have greatest impact with less effort.

2. Aha.io: This product management tool uses several parameters like Sales impact, customer retention, PR/marketing, operations and development effort to identify feature priorities.


Commonalities among different approaches

As you might have seen above there are tons of processes and techniques followed across organizations throughout the globe to build products. But most of those methods have some obvious commonalities. You can simply choose from the below list what is required and suitable for your business.

  1. Score based model: It is up to you to identify relevant scoring parameters (most prominent ones are listed above including customer need, opportunity, cost, time, effort, etc.). By picking your personalized scoring system you can identify the features you want to build. My personal recommendation here is to choose a wider range of scoring scale (Eg: 1-10) so you can clearly differentiate the impact of important features from the rest. A low range score (Eg: 1-3) might mislead you since a feature with low-medium impact might overweigh a high impact feature due to the effort it might take.
  2. Iterative process: In an iterative process you develop a hypothesis based on your understanding of customer problem, come up with a solution, draft detailed requirements (can be collaborative for better results, but keep time as a constraint). Now draw or develop a mockup and discuss with one or two relevant customers. Fine tune the mockup and build an MVP for use among selective group of customers. Gather another round of customer feedback and fine tune the features further. This technique is the best technique for any kind of business if you could execute it at a fast pace. Else the time to come up a working feature would cost heavily on your resources. One of the key challenge you might face while adopting such a technique is not finding enough or any customer to work with. That will force you to choose the following option.
  3. Intuitive approach: Based on your own experience you come up with a problem statement, that you think many others would have and would be willing to pay for a solution. Here you do not normally talk to any of your customer until you have the first working version of the product ready. There are still a lot of startup founders who develop features using this methodology by betting heavily on their investment. People like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg are clearly known to have followed such a technique.

My personal bet would be on the iterative process as you develop products by working closely with customers. Even if you are a fan of scoring techniques or intuitive development approach bet carefully on features and your resources allowing yourself to pivot with less damage.

Other factors to consider

Nature of business and business model

If you are a B2B business it is better you work closely with at least two to three customers before deciding the big features for your product. While choosing customers you need to be careful to pick the ones that represent your niche market. If you could allow yourself some more resource budget this model will also help you scale your product to a wider market instead of developing features that are only suitable for your existing customers. If you develop features to solve some well known customer problems that are common to many, choose to go with the score-based model where the feedback from Sales, Marketing, Support, Consulting Services etc. can be holistically taken into account.

If you are a B2C business any of the above three processes might work good for you depending upon your leadership style and business nature. Innovative products whose use cases are unknown require a conviction and intuition to bring out a breakthrough product. At the same time if you are struggling to differentiate your product among a handful of competitors choose a mix of score based technique and iterative process to nail down your features. You could also evaluate the use of Amazon’s product development technique by working backwards from customer, as detailed above.

The choice of your process might also depend upon the stage your product is currently is in. A product in its inception would require more of intuition approach before moving into an iterative process. While a product in its development stage clearly requires a lot of customer feedback and iteration.

As you can clearly see from the options available and intricacies involved, drawing a product roadmap or coming up with feature priorities is not an easy task. This is literally the first step that would decide what the entire organization is going to work on for the next whatever time. You might even want to iterate with the parameters and processes before coming up with the best process that suits your business. But having no process in place to carry out such an important activity will cost you dearly.

If you found this post helpful you might want to follow me on twitter where I write about Startups and Product Strategy.



Vijay Balachandran
Design of a SaaS business

Product monk for life / Believe in numbers and asking questions / Crave for simplicity and sustainability in design / Strive to be sensible and relevant