Wouldn’t it be great if you could build everything all at once? Every new feature idea, every update, every improvement just magically appearing in your product the moment you think of it. There would be no backlog of feature requests or no roadmap of future plans needed; just pop! Everything is already there.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works (I know, I know. Sorry to get your hopes up). In the real world, you’ll receive a lot of ideas and requests for product updates, and you’ll have to triage and manage all of that.

Feature prioritization ensures that you work on the features that will drive the greatest value for the end user. By prioritizing certain features to work on over others, you can build out new, impactful features in a timely, organized fashion. Now it’s important to note that choosing to focus on certain features right now doesn’t mean you won’t eventually get to those other features at some point down the line. But the question then becomes, how do you choose which updates to work on when? How do you go about prioritizing new features?

How to Prioritize New Product Features

Before we get into common practices for feature prioritization, let’s quickly clear up some of the most common mistakes people can make during this process.

What Not to Do

1. Gut Reactions

Oh, man. This is a tough one and an easy trap to fall into.  You may want to believe that your immediate gut reaction is going to lead you in the right direction with this sort of thing, but the truth is feature prioritization should be based on user feedback, research, and hard data.

2. What Your Competition is Doing

It may seem like a good idea to check out what your biggest competitor is implementing and take inspiration from their plan, but that’s not the best way to go about deciding which features to build. First of all, no two company structures or roadmaps are exactly the same; just because your competitor decides to focus on a certain aspect or feature doesn’t mean you should too. What’s best for your competitor may not be what’s best for you, so keep your focus steady and don’t let what others are doing detract from your plans.

3. What is Easiest

As the cliche goes, the easiest path isn’t always the right path. Sometimes, a certain feature is going to take more time, effort, and money than a different feature, but if it’s the one that will provide the most value for your end user, then it’s the right one to prioritize.

4. Isolated Feature ROI

Feature prioritization should not be about short-term gain. If you solely focus on the return on investment of a specific feature and you don’t look at the whole picture, you may miss out on opportunities to build a better product in the long-term by focusing on short-term reward. 

Okay, now that we’re clear on how not to do it, let’s cover some common tactics product teams use to ensure that they’re building the features that drive the greatest value for their end users (Stay tuned till the end- we offer up our suggestion for the best way to do this).

10 Ways to Prioritize New Features

1. Use a Value-Complexity Matrix

A Value-Complexity Matrix is a simple yet analytical way to decide which feature is going to drive the most value for you with the least amount of effort. You take the feature you’re thinking of building and look at two things: Does it provide a high or low impact for your business? Does it have a high or low level of complexity? The first feature to go after, obviously, will be the feature that has the highest impact with the lowest complexity.

However, a complex feature should not scare you away. If it drives enough value for your company, it should at least be considered no matter how complex it is. But comparing the impact it will have to your business against its complexity will give you a better understanding of when and how to allocate resources.

The problem that this solution does not address, however, is customer sentiment. You can try to estimate how much value a feature will drive your business, but you don’t fully know how your customers react until you gather their feedback.

2. Crowdsource User Feedback

If your users are invested in your product, they’ll want to provide their feedback. After all, if the product is improved and their feedback is incorporated, their experience will improve. By sending out a survey to your users, or sending out a preview of a potential feature for feedback, your team can get a better idea of what matters most to your users.

With Parlor, you can send out surveys or feature previews to specific users. Want to only get feedback from your highest paying customers? You can send out a survey to just that group of customers to see how they feel about a potential new feature. By segmenting out your users in that way, you can get pointed and relevant data to help inform your decisions when prioritizing different features.

3. Place Features into Themes

One of the best ways to understand the value a potential feature can drive for your company is to group your feature options into different themes or categories. Placing features into common groups allows you to take a high level view of the different types of features you’re thinking of working on, and you can narrow it down to find the features that are most closely aligned to your current goals. Themes can be more metric-focused, such as, “Features to reduce churn rate”, or more general, such as “customer requests”. 

4. Try the RICE Method

The RICE Method is a popular weighted-scoring method of prioritizing features popularized by Intercom. RICE stands for the four factors that go into considering a feature: Reach,  Impact, Confidence, and Effort. Reach estimates how many users may be affected by a specific feature within a given period. Impact is used to measure how much a product change supports a specific goal, such as “increase customer satisfaction” or “reduce churn”. The Confidence score is exactly what it sounds like; it allows you to evaluate your confidence in the other estimates in your RICE calculations. Lastly, the Effort score is used to calculate the amount of time required from all the involved members of your team (generally from product, engineering, and design).

The RICE Method is a great, data-driven way to prioritize your features, however it doesn’t take into account shifting priorities to meet the needs for a specific customer, and it requires existing metrics in order to be used effectively, so it may not be the best option for all teams. But it can be a helpful, objective way to look at your potential features. To go more in-depth on the RICE Method and other ways to analyze user feedback, check out our blog post here.

5. Let Users Create Personal Roadmaps

Who better to tell you what your users want than, well, your users! Send out some surveys, conduct some user interviews, ask users to rate previews of potential features you’re thinking of working on. Listen to what your users are saying are important to them because at the end of the day, they’re the ones you’re trying to provide value for.

The trick here is to make sure you’re not just asking your users if these new features would provide value, but having them decide which features would provide the most value. If you ask a user if they want a new feature, they’ll likely just say yes. Who doesn’t want more of something they enjoy?
But if you make them choose between two options or have them rank several different features based on which ones they’d find the most valuable, you’ll get a better idea of which feature will have the most impact based on other potential features.

For example, if a user makes more than one feature request inside of Parlor, we require them to prioritize their requests. This not only sets the precedent that the product team cares about their input but can’t possibly get to every single request all the time, but it also gives the product team insight into what features are most important to their users.

6. Use the ICE Scoring Formula

Similar to the RICE Method, the ICE Scoring Formula allows you to take a measured and analytical approach to prioritizing new features. An acronym for Impact, Confidence, and Ease, the ICE Scoring Formula allows you to give a weighted score to each of those factors and multiply them for an overall impact score. This is a simple yet objective way to prioritize potential new features, however it should not be used in exclusivity. There are a ton of other factors that need to be considered as well, such as who is requesting which features, how long each feature will take to build out, and what company goal it impacts. If you’re looking for a quick-hit way to easily prioritize features across the board, then the ICE Scoring Formula can be a good option, but it will not give you a holistic view of your feature prioritization options.

7. “Buy a Feature”

Looking for a fun and unique way to engage your users and find out which features matter the most to them? The “Buy a Feature” activity may be your answer. List out a couple different potential features and assign a “price” for each feature based on how much effort and time it would take your team to actually build it out. Then, give a council of users a certain budget and have them “purchase” different features. The features that get the most money allocated to them, therefore, are the features that are the most important to the users that you surveyed.

While this is a cute and unique way to engage users and help you better understand what they value, it doesn’t provide a whole lot of insight into why these features matter to your users, or what kind of value it could drive for your business. Using this in combination with other tactics would give you a more well-rounded approach to prioritizing features.

8. Implement the Kano Method

The Kano method allows your team to measure each potential new feature through the emotional lens of your customers. Each feature gets broken down into three different categories: attractive needs, performance needs, and basic needs. Features that meet attractive needs means that the feature causes feelings of satisfaction, but wouldn’t necessarily be missed if they were excluded. Features that meet performance needs also cause feelings of satisfaction, but will also cause friction if it is not included in the product. The user can accomplish the job they set out to do, but it won’t necessarily be pleasant or easy to do. Features that meet basic needs are your must-have features; your product does not exist or work without these features. Once you dissect each feature, you can map it out on a grid similar to this:

Features that are in that upper right-hand quadrant are the features you should be pursuing as soon as possible, as they’ll drive the highest value for your company. 

9. Prioritize Features by Constraints

Sometimes, it’s easier to prioritize features by focusing on the things that are blocking you from building certain features. If you simply don’t have the money or resources to build a certain feature at the moment, that should be one of the first ones to rule out, right?

It’s again important to note here that just because you can’t build a certain feature at the moment due to constraints doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to do it in the future. Money comes in, teams grow, resources are expanded. Maybe down the line you’ll be able to build that one incredible feature but for right now, if you don’t have the resources, it’s best to just focus on the things you can feasibly create.

10. Use a Weighted Scoring Model

A Weighted Scoring Model is an in-depth but fairly effective way to prioritize potential new features. First, you’ll need to establish what criteria you’re using to measure each feature. You could use anything from “increases income” to “provides value to customers”, or even “confidence in success”. Each criteria will need to be assigned a certain weight based on how important it is (i.e. increasing income is very important, so it will carry a higher weight than confidence in success). From there, you’ll assign each feature a certain score in each category and you can then compare the overall scores for each feature. The feature with the highest score is the feature you should prioritize over the others. Both the RICE and ICE scoring formulas are good examples of weighted scoring.

While this gives you a good overall, data-driven idea of which feature to prioritize, it again does not take into account the needs of different customers or shifting needs in your roadmap. This also is a time-intensive approach, so every time even a little detail changes, you would have to go through each feature and adjust their score.

Feature Prioritization Best Practices

Alright, so hopefully by now, you’ve got some clear ideas about how you can go about prioritizing your features. But you may be asking yourself, “Which one is the best way? What’s going to guarantee that I am going to prioritize working on the best feature?”

The truth is, there is no hard-and-fast way to guarantee this. But you can better your chances of choosing the best feature by using some amalgamation of the above practices.

What do we recommend? Listen. To. Your. Users.

You can run all the tests you want, create all kinds of statistics and scores, but at the end of the day, your users are the ones who will determine the success or failure of the new feature. If it is impactful for them, then it will be impactful for your business. Ask your users pointed and specific questions about new potential features, and have them tell you which ones they prioritize over others. Send your users previews of the features and have them provide feedback on how much value they believe it would have and how you could improve it. You can get actionable data and insights by asking your users to provide specific details on what they like about these potential new features and why, and you can let that information guide your prioritization of features.

As awesome as it would be to be able to build every single feature you want all at once, it just isn’t possible. You’ll have to prioritize building certain features over others, and it can be difficult to decide which ones will drive the most value for your company at any given time. Your users want to help you build a better product; you just have to know how to ask. Settle on a specific goal that you want the feature to achieve, engage your users, and gather feedback. You’ll be well on your way to adding a shiny new feature that your users will love.