How to Prioritize Features in Agile

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Effectively prioritizing features ensures you develop the right things for the right people. It can pave the way to product success and provide your time and resources are spent wisely.

This article will explore the seven steps to prioritizing features and then introduces 9 different prioritization frameworks.

7 Steps to Prioritize Features in Agile Development

Defining the goal is the first step in prioritizing features.

1. Define the goal

The first step in prioritizing features is to define the project’s goal. What do you want to achieve? Once you have a clear goal, you can determine which parts will help you achieve that goal and which features are optional.

2. Identify the stakeholders

The next step is to identify the stakeholders in the project. Who are the people who will be affected by the project? What are their needs and expectations? Once you have identified the stakeholders, you can prioritize product features based on their needs.

3. Create a feature list

Once you have defined the goal and identified the stakeholders, you can create a list of all the features that could be included in the project. This list should consist of both essential and non-essential features.

4. Prioritize the features according to their importance

The next step is to prioritize the features by importance. Which features are essential to the success of the project? Which features have the most significant impact on stakeholders? These are the features that should be prioritized.

5. Prioritizing the features based on feasibility

Once you have prioritized the features in order of importance, you need to consider feasibility. Which features can realistically be implemented within the timeframe and budget of the project? These are the features that should be prioritized.

6. Weighing short-term and long-term needs

When setting priorities, it is essential to balance short-term and long-term needs. Some features, while important to the project’s success, may only be able to be implemented later date. In these cases, it is important to prioritize other features that can be implemented in the short term so that the project can still achieve its goals.

7. Communicating priorities to stakeholders

Once you have established your priorities, it is important to communicate them to everyone involved in the project. This will ensure that everyone knows which features are priorities and why.

9 Product Prioritization Techniques and Frameworks

1. Story Mapping

User Story Mapping is an innovative design tool for developing products and experiences tailored to users’ needs. It starts with collecting data about user goals, activities, and stories – all information needed to create a visual product backlog (user story map). This creates clarity in product management and ensures that customers are satisfied with the desired outcome while allowing teams to propose new ideas during development. User Story Mapping has become a popular prioritization technique in software development since it’s highly visual and based on the users experience.

User Story Mapping has become a popular prioritization technique in software development since it’s highly visual and based on the users experience.

2. Desirability, feasibility, viability

Evaluating new designs is an essential process for any product development team. According to industry leader IDEO, a genuinely innovative design must meet three criteria: Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability. Only by evaluating ideas against this triad can companies ensure that the products they develop offer maximum user appeal for a reasonable investment of resources – and deliver business value.

3. KANO model

The Kano Model is a practical method for determining customer satisfaction with product features. It encourages us to gain insights into how customers respond to each feature and product backlog item, leading to these categories: Must-Have features for basic features; Performance features that promote greater efficiency; Enjoyable features that can surprise and entertain customers; Indifferent items with little or no impact on users; and Reverse specifications that are detrimental when included but beneficial when excluded. By taking advantage of this model, we ensure that our products are optimally tailored to satisfy each user.

4. RICE model

The RICE scoring model provides product teams with an evidence-based approach to prioritizing initiatives. By assessing the scope (number of people impacted), impact (quantitative target or qualitative target), trust, and effort required to execute your initiative, you can make more informed decisions with less bias. The framework also helps users defend their priorities to stakeholders by detailing why specific projects were chosen over others.

5. MoSCoW Method

MoSCoW prioritization is a popular tool for managing requirements and consists of four categories: Must-Haves (essential for success), Should-Haves (important but not mandatory components), Could-Haves (optional – useful when there is an opportunity or additional resources), and Won’t Haves/Will Not Have Right Now. The W can also mean “wish”. To use the MoSCoW Method successfully, all ideas should first be collected; then, it’s just a matter of assigning the appropriate category to each initiative according to your team’s goals.

MoSCoW consists of four categories: Must-Haves, Should-Haves, Could-Haves, and Won’t Haves/Will Not Have Right Now.

6. Impact Effort Matrix

An effort matrix is a helpful tool for optimizing time management and increasing the efficiency of any project. It classifies each activity into one of four groups based on the effort required for it and its potential impact – quick wins, major projects, fill ins, or time eaters. This creates a clear visual guide that simplifies and facilitates resource allocation decisions.

7. Buy-a-Feature

Buy-a-Feature is an innovative backlog prioritization framework that allows product managers to develop clearer ideas about the products they intend to build. By providing stakeholders and customers with a set amount of ‘play money’ (like poker, French fries, or Monopoly money), they can vote with their wallets to determine which features will add the most value.

Buy-a-Feature involves using play money to use your wallet to vote.

8. Weighted Scoring

The Weighted Scoring prioritization framework is helpful for product managers to quantify the value and cost of initiatives and weigh their strategic elements against each other. By creating criteria against which features can be scored, weighting them accordingly, and tallying up the points, each piece receives in the various categories. It’s possible to accurately prioritize initiatives based on quantitative data rather than subjective measures such as customer feedback or market trends.

9. Weighted shortest job first

WSJF is a powerful tool used by teams in organizations to prioritize initiatives. It was developed for use in SAFe, and its success lies in the simple calculation of the delay cost divided by the job’s duration or size. This formula can be applied to any project – whether marketing campaigns with an eye on ROI or product backlogs that need to be addressed – and enables smarter decisions about resource management and development focus. The detailed steps are simple: calculate the cost of delay and duration/size, then divide; the items at the top will have a higher overall score if prioritized accordingly.

6 Ways Not to Prioritize Features

1. Because HIPPO says so

When there is a highly paid and influential person in the room, it can sometimes be challenging to express your ideas and articulate them as effectively as you’d like. This can lead to being influenced and making decisions inconsistent with your product strategy, research findings, and principles. While it’s easy to agree with HIPPO, and it may win your favor, the best way to impress HIPPO is to make good product decisions that ultimately add value to the customer and the company. Do your best to use data and sound logic when influencing stakeholders.

2. Without strategy

It’s a risky proposition to prioritize on your own. Even if it feels like you’re making progress and ‘getting things done.” Without a clear picture of the outcome, you need to achieve, and the customer needs you to need to meet, you could end up building a monster and creating a lot of development debt. Go slow to move fast. First, figure out who you’re developing the product for and their fundamental needs, the long-term vision, the product principles, and the product roadmap to get there. 

It is risky to prioritize without strategy.

3. In committee

Everyone will have their own opinion on what should be prioritized and when. And sometimes, it’s much easier to satisfy a group of stakeholders if everyone in the room casts their vote. While it’s valuable to get the opinions and expertise of the many bright minds on your team, the decision should be based on data and insights aligned with a product roadmap and the product strategy.

4. As a knee-jerk reaction

When the timeline is tight, and the stakes are high, it’s easy to panic and react to a new piece of information without carefully considering your response. A competitor has launched a new product, the scope or schedule has changed, or the CEO has expressed a preference. While these are all excellent reasons to hurry, they shouldn’t replace your commitment to finding the right idea, not the most convenient one.

5. According to gut feeling

Without a proper foundation and knowledge base for making decisions, it can be tempting to make them based on gut instinct. Your gut feeling is much more accurate if you’ve done your research beforehand, but if you still need to, do your best to get the information you need to make a good decision. Too many gut decisions can lead to a bad customer experience and may not be the best way to achieve your vision.

Gut feelings should not replace research when making decisions.

6. Because you have a preference

We all have a tendency to fall in love with ideas too early. We develop a considerable bias early on that can influence all of our decisions going forward. Try not to get too excited too early before you have done thorough research and thought to make a good decision. You can always find ways to incorporate elements of the idea you love, but ensure you’re building the right idea, not your favorite one.

4 Principles and Best Practices for Effective Prioritization

1. Agree on the big picture first

Before prioritizing, ensure you’ve created a clear vision, strategy, and product roadmap. These components are the foundation for your eventual success.

2. Know who you’re prioritizing for

To build products that customers love, you need to know your target audience’s motivations, needs, and goals. You can tailor your features to meet those needs and deliver a compelling value proposition.

To prioritize successfully, ensure you have a clear vision, strategy, and product roadmap in place first.

3. Have the proper research and data at your fingertips

Work with the necessary team members to gather and interpret the data you need to make informed decisions. Ensure that research findings are organized and presented in a way that everyone understands and agrees with.

4. Gather the right people in the room

Even if the final decision is made by a product owner or a senior product team member. It’s essential to leverage the insights and experience of the entire team. Be sure to consult with design, research, engineering, and marketing.

How to Prepare for Feature Prioritization

Preparing for feature prioritization in the agile methodology means thoroughly understanding customer requirements and the product development process.

Feature prioritization ensures that customers get precisely the product they need. This is best done through research and data collection.

This includes examining existing customer feedback, analyzing market trends, looking at user experiences, and interviewing stakeholders.

Effective feature prioritization ensures that customers get precisely the product they need.

During this process, teams must prioritize communication and collaboration so that everyone is on the same page when deciding how to prioritize features.

With the proper preparation, prioritizing features with an agile methodology can be successful and end with satisfied customers.

Who Should Be Backlog Prioritization

Prioritizing features in agile methodology is critical to ensure that goals are met on time and within budget.

Key stakeholders such as project management, the product manager, scrum master, product development team members, the business analyst, and key customers should be closely involved throughout the feature prioritization process.

Key stakeholders such as the project manager, product manager, scrum master, product development team members, business analyst, and key customers should be closely involved throughout the feature prioritization process.

The product manager is responsible for understanding customer needs and delivering value, while the scrum master guides the team in executing tasks efficiently.

Development team members can provide technical advice on product feature selection, while customers provide valuable feedback on the options that would benefit them the most.

Involving all of these parties brings together many different perspectives to ensure that product features address the priorities of the user stories.

The Core Values of Agile

While this article is primarily about prioritizing features, let us take a step back to look at the core principles of Agile that drive how we work and make decisions. 

As you read, pay attention to the focus on the customer, collaboration, communication, and iteration.

1. Customer Satisfaction

The first core value of Agile product development is customer satisfaction. This means that the primary goal of agile development is to ensure that the customer is satisfied with the final product. To achieve this, agile team members work closely with the customer to understand their needs and requirements. Based on this information, they create a product that meets or exceeds customer expectations.

The primary goal is to ensure that the customer is satisfied with the final product.

2. Functioning software

The second core value of agile development is working software. This means that agile development focuses on creating a functional product that can be used by the customer rather than creating documentation or other deliverables. Agile developers believe that having a working product is more important than having extensive documentation.

3. Early and continuous delivery

The third core value of agile development is early and continuous delivery. This means that agile developers strive to deliver working software as early as possible in the development process. They also continuously deliver new product features and functionality throughout the product development process rather than waiting until the end to deliver a complete product.

4. Frequent releases

The fourth core value of agile development is frequent releases. This means that agile developers frequently release new versions of their software, typically every two weeks or less. By releasing new versions frequently, agile developers can get early and frequent feedback from customers, which helps them improve the quality of their products.

Frequent releases are necessary for getting feedback from customers and improving quality.

5. Close collaboration between business and development teams

The fifth core value of agile development is close collaboration between business and development teams. This means that agile developers work closely with business stakeholders to ensure that the product they are developing meets the needs of the business. This close collaboration allows agile developers to ensure that they are developing the right product for the customer.

6. Self-organizing teams

The sixth core value of agile development is that teams are self-organizing. This means that teams in an agile organization are responsible for organizing and managing their own work. Self-organizing teams are typically small, with 5-9 members, and each has a specific role to play in the team’s success.

7 . Regular reflection and adaptation

Agile development’s seventh and final core value is regular reflection and adaptation. Agile developers regularly reflect on their processes and make changes as needed to improve their effectiveness. They are also willing to adapt their approach as new information emerges or customer needs change.

Key Takeaways

  • Define the project’s goal to identify which features will contribute to achieving that goal.
  • Identify stakeholders and SMEs to consult and involve in backlog prioritization.
  • Conduct user research and collect data that will help you make decisions.
  • Create a list of all potential features, including essential and non-essential features.
  • Choose the prioritization framework that best fits the way you work 
  • Weigh short-term and long-term needs when making feature prioritization decisions.
Jack O'Donoghue Avatar