Prioritization – Part 1: Should we do this?

As a Product Manager and an Agile Enthusiast, I have lots of conversations about prioritization.  It is really tricky.  Well, that’s not always true.  If you really only have one thing to work on, then I guess it’s easy.  For the rest of us that live in the real world, we have to balance multiple number one initiatives in a way that will deliver the most value to the business.  This is a first in a blog series about Prioritization.

The First Question

The very first question that should always be asked when considering something for prioritization is – Should we do this at all?  People are too often moving too fast and trying to be responsive to the point that sometimes we stop thinking.  One of my mentors had a saying:  “This is top of mind, not top of list.”  I love that.  I first heard this when he called me after just having talked to an important client about a feature they wanted.most_imp  He was excited and it was a good idea.  I asked him if he felt like we should reshuffle our priorities and execute on this newly introduced concept.  He paused and took a moment to really think through my question.  And then he responded with the now often quoted “Top of mind, not top of list.”  That is a fantastic barometer to keep in mind when you have a flash of brillance.  It might just be a flash and you need to stick to your existing priority list.  Bright, shiny objects can come into view, but they do not always warranted our immediate attention.

The Pragmatic Three

Pragmatic Marketing (I am a big fan!) has a three part test to see if a feature or idea is worth pursuing.  They suggest that we should always look for problems that are (1) urgent, (2) pervasive and (3) that the market is willing to pay to solve.  That is a great list to consider.  If the business problem isn’t urgent, then it can wait.  There is probably something on your list that is urgent so if something new doesn’t have time pressure associated with it, then it should not be at the top of the prioritization list.  The business problem needs to be pervasive.  If only one existing client wants it, then it isn’t a great thing to pursue.  As Product Managers, we want to look for solutions that will solve the problems of many – a wide market opportunity. Finally, we need to make money.  If we create a feature or product that is totally cool but no one cares enough to pay for it, then it shouldn’t be at the top of the list.  It might serve some other need, but generally speaking, revenue talks and the features that drive the most revenue should be prioritized the highest.

Decision Flow for Customer Feature Requests

Hutch Carpenter wrote a great blog  about how to assess customer feature requests in the B-to-B world.  I love his series of questions towards ascertaining if this is something you should work on at all.  First, is it a firm request from a priority client?  Those are powerful words – a firm request?  We have all heard the ‘top of mind’ ideas from clients.  Is this one different and meaningful?  And does this client matter?  If so, then it is worth considering.   If it doesn’t meet the first criteria, then is it a request that keeps coming up?  If so, then it meets the pragmatic marketing criteria for pervasive.  If this feature request doesn’t meet either of those criteria, then will it significantly enhance the application or product?  If so, then it should be considered for prioritization.  His last question I absolutely love – are you willing to maintain it?  How many times have we gotten excited about a feature and in our enthusiasm, neglected to realize that this new feature will involve upkeep?  How many times have we been frustrated because we have to do maintenance work on a feature that was hastily included in the product?  A great viewpoint from Mr. Carpenter!


Prioritization is hard.  It can be a difficult conversation involving significant trade-offs.  Poor prioritization can cripple a company.  It is really that important.  Once you have determined that the request is, in fact, worth doing, you can use tools like MoSCoW and the Risk-Value Relationship detailed in the second blog in this series, and the Kano model from the third blog to help determine the correct priority.

2 Responses to Prioritization – Part 1: Should we do this?

  1. Prioritization is so critical to any company reaching its goals. It reminds me of a customer I worked with long ago who would respond when asked what was the priority, “There all top priorities!” One thing that help me to get stakeholders to make decisions was to show them the product backlog board and have them arrange the user stories.
    I love you Pragmatic Three Kristin! The last one really resonates with people. Will someone pay for this product? That does make everyone think.



  2. Vladimir Shnaydman says:

    I agree that prioritization is important. However, in the world of limited (or even scarce) resources (money, manpower, production capacity, etc.), projects selection is critical. For example, if someone needs to buy a car, Porsche would be #1. However, this decision could stretch family finances. Therefore, the “right” selection should align resources (available and projected), projects value, strategic and operational goals, and a variety of business rules.

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