Hot take: feature prioritization isn’t essential to building an outstanding digital product.
That said, from experience partnering with clients over the years, our product strategists would tell you that it’s an incredibly beneficial exercise when ensuring an efficient project plan or determining a limited feature set for MVP.
Identifying and ranking product features according to various factors—business goals, customer value, effort required, and technical viability—at the outset allows for two things:
It’s for these reasons that RocketAir often supports our clients with feature prioritization. Ultimately, it’s a business decision, but it’s our job to help teams stay focused on the product strategy, use resources efficiently, and advocate for the best possible UX.
Here, we share how we typically approach feature prioritization with our clients.
More often than not, it begins with a strategic brainstorm with all the necessary stakeholders (and sometimes sticky-notes). We kick things off by providing our perspective on priority features, taking into account various factors such as practicality, development schedule, and the level of design and development effort. This “first draft” starts the conversation, which helps us establish a collaborative approach with our clients and eventually lets us find alignment. This also clarifies feature prioritization for what’s crucial now versus what can wait. Says Brandon Fiksel, Product Strategy Lead at RocketAir:
One thing we often do with clients is look at MVP features versus what we call ‘wave two’ and then future waves—groupings of features that are launched together.
Once we’ve aligned on the feature prioritization, we can start building out a roadmap. A tool we like to use for this is Notion, which lets us visualize the roadmap in a way that prioritizes features based on the project timeline and helps clients track our progress.
We’ve seen clients use several different methods for determining feature prioritization—there’s no one right way to go about it. And as a partner, we’re nothing if not flexible. That said, here are three methodologies we commonly employ:
This method involves looking at the degree to which a feature will impact the user experience and the amount of value it will bring to the product. In tandem with the client, we then consider how much design/development effort it will take: if it's low effort but high impact, we prioritize it in the current wave; if it’s deemed valuable but takes a lot of effort, we might push it out into a future wave. Once we've aligned on the value and effort of each feature, we can start building a roadmap.
This method is similar to Values vs. Effort, but more granular and spreadsheet-oriented. It reflects a bit more nuance by scoring the features based on their impact (I), how confident we are in that impact (C), and the ease of implementation (E). The resulting ICE score helps us then prioritize certain features.
Usually employed after the value and effort of each feature has been determined, this method is based on four priorities: must, should, could, and won’t.
Although these methods are owned by the product leader on the client side, our team is actively advising based on our expertise—whether it’s a product strategist speaking to the impact of certain features and leaning on data when available, or a designer weighing in on the practicality of the project plan and the time it takes to design a given feature.
A key part of feature prioritization is basing things on facts versus feelings. Regardless of the approach, we help clients make decisions that are informed by best practices, user research, and other proof points—rather than going off of standalone sales or support requests, urgent executive requests, individual gut instinct, or general group consensus. This is especially important when considering the fact that feature prioritization isn’t a one-and-done endeavor—we’re continuously analyzing new data, collecting additional user feedback and insights, and adapting plans accordingly.
We know that one of the biggest challenges clients face when building products is deciding where to spend their team’s finite amount of resources, time, and attention. But this doesn’t need to be tackled alone. Collaborating with a team like us can help clients make smarter design decisions about the future of their product, align on a shared vision for what we’re building, and stay on a focused, efficient path for getting there.