Why did I stop using the RICE Model?

Rohit Verma


Developed by Intercom, RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. However, despite its widespread adoption, many product managers, including myself, have started to question its effectiveness and reliability. In this article, I will share the scenarios and pitfalls that have led me to abandon the RICE model in favor of more nuanced approaches to product prioritization.

The RICE Model: A Brief Overview:

Before we get into its shortcomings, let’s first understand how the RICE model works:

  1. Reach: This metric quantifies the number of users who will be impacted by a particular feature or task.
  2. Impact: Impact measures the degree of benefit that users will derive from the feature or task.
  3. Confidence: Confidence reflects the certainty with which you can estimate the Reach, Impact, and Effort metrics.
  4. Effort: Effort represents the resources required to implement the feature or task.

The RICE score is calculated by multiplying Reach, Impact, and Confidence and dividing it by Effort.

Pitfalls of the RICE Model:

Oversimplification and Lack of Nuance:

The RICE model oversimplifies the prioritization process by boiling down complex decisions into a single numerical score. However, product management is rarely black and white; it operates in shades of gray. Each feature or task may have unique considerations that cannot be adequately captured by a one-size-fits-all approach.

Example: Consider a product manager tasked with prioritizing features for a new messaging app. The RICE model suggests prioritizing a feature that allows users to send voice messages, as it has a high estimated Reach and Impact. However, the product manager may overlook the fact that the app’s target audience consists primarily of text-based communicators who may not find voice messaging appealing. Without considering this nuance, the RICE model could lead to misplaced priorities.

Subjectivity and Bias:

The RICE model heavily relies on subjective estimations for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. These estimations are inherently prone to bias, as they are influenced by individual perspectives, experiences, and assumptions. Product managers may inadvertently inflate or deflate the scores based on personal biases or vested interests. Additionally, team dynamics and organizational politics can further skew the prioritization process, leading to decisions that may not align with the broader objectives of the product or company.

Example: Imagine a scenario where a product manager is evaluating a feature enhancement for an e-commerce platform. The team members responsible for estimating Effort have personal preferences for certain development frameworks, leading them to underestimate the Effort required for implementing a particular feature. As a result, the feature receives an artificially inflated RICE score, leading to its prioritization despite potentially lower user demand or strategic alignment.

Inadequate Consideration of Risk:

Product management inherently involves risk management, yet the RICE model fails to adequately incorporate risk considerations into the prioritization process. While Confidence is meant to reflect the certainty of estimations, it does not explicitly account for the inherent risks associated with implementing a particular feature or task. High-confidence estimates may still be subject to unforeseen challenges, such as technical complexities, resource constraints, or market fluctuations, which can significantly impact the outcome.

Example: In the development of a mobile game, the RICE model may prioritize features based solely on their estimated Impact and Reach, without considering potential technical risks. For instance, a feature that introduces complex multiplayer functionality may have high estimated Impact and Reach but also carries significant technical and implementation risks. Neglecting these risks can result in delays, budget overruns, and ultimately, a subpar user experience.

Limited Focus on Long-Term Strategy:

The RICE model tends to prioritize features based on short-term gains rather than long-term strategic objectives. While features with high immediate Impact and Reach scores may seem appealing, they may not necessarily align with the product roadmap or contribute to the overall vision and differentiation of the product. Product managers risk falling into the trap of chasing quick wins at the expense of building sustainable value and competitive advantage over time.

Example:Suppose a product manager is evaluating a feature that addresses a short-term trend in the market but does not align with the long-term vision of the product. Despite having high estimated Reach and Impact in the short term, prioritizing such a feature may divert resources and attention away from initiatives that contribute to the product’s sustained growth and differentiation in the long run. Without considering the broader strategic context, the RICE model may lead to shortsighted decisions.

Neglect of User Feedback and Iterative Learning:

Effective product management involves continuous learning and iteration based on user feedback and market insights. However, the RICE model’s reliance on static estimations may hinder this iterative process. Product managers may become overly fixated on initial prioritization decisions without revisiting and adjusting them based on real-world feedback and evolving circumstances. This rigidity can stifle innovation and responsiveness to changing user needs and market dynamics.

Example: After launching a new feature based on its high RICE score, the product team receives feedback from users indicating that the feature does not meet their expectations or needs. Despite this feedback, the team hesitates to iterate or pivot because the RICE model had initially prioritized the feature. This reluctance to adapt based on user feedback undermines the iterative learning process critical to successful product development and may result in missed opportunities for improvement.

Misalignment with Agile Principles:

The RICE model originated in a time when waterfall development methodologies were more prevalent, emphasizing upfront planning and sequential execution. In contrast, modern product management practices often embrace Agile principles, which prioritize adaptability, collaboration, and iterative development. The rigid and formulaic nature of the RICE model may clash with the iterative and flexible nature of Agile, leading to friction and inefficiencies in the product development process.

Example: In an Agile development environment, the product team regularly conducts user testing and gathers feedback to inform iterative improvements. However, the rigid prioritization framework imposed by the RICE model constrains the team’s ability to respond quickly to new insights and changing priorities. As a result, the team may feel compelled to adhere strictly to the initial prioritization decisions dictated by the RICE scores, even if they no longer align with evolving user needs or market conditions.

Alternatives to the RICE Model:

Given the limitations of the RICE model, I have started exploring alternative approaches to prioritization. Some of these alternatives include:

  1. Value vs. Complexity Matrix: This matrix evaluates features based on their value to users versus the complexity of implementation, allowing product managers to focus on high-value, low-complexity initiatives.
  2. Opportunity Solution Tree: This framework helps product managers identify opportunities by mapping user problems to potential solutions, fostering a more customer-centric approach to prioritization.
  3. Kano Model: The Kano Model categorizes features into basic, performance, and delight attributes, helping product managers prioritize enhancements that drive customer satisfaction and loyalty.

I will discuss in detail about them in upcoming articles.

Final Thoughts

While the RICE model has been a valuable tool for product managers in the past, its shortcomings have become increasingly evident in today’s fast-paced and complex business landscape. By acknowledging the limitations of the RICE model and exploring alternative prioritization approaches, PMs can make more informed decisions that drive meaningful impact and value for their users and businesses.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got ideas to contribute to this conversation please comment. If you like what you read and want to see more, clap me some love! Follow me here, or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Rohit Verma
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Senior Product Manager @AngelOne, ex-@Flipkart, @Cleartrip @IIM Bangalore. https://topmate.io/rohit_verma_pm