A correct product prioritisation is fundamental to support specific business milestones.
Picking the next feature to build though is not trivial.
"How do you decide what to build next?"
I get asked this question a lot. Customers and prospects, founders I mentor, potential investors, and newly formed product teams – they all care about how a product is going to evolve.
Prioritisation is hard. Specifically at a startup where you have multiple "sources of truth" to juggle. Founders' intuitions, feedback from customers, requests from prospects, product usage data, and bottom up engineers' ideas; on top of that, you have limited time and resources to execute well.
A good prioritisation exercise can be distilled and structured around three points: assumption, need, and objectives.
It might sound counterintuitive, but it's good to start with an assumption because you likely have a long term view of your business trajectory and product strategy. You're also familiar with the aspects that need validation in order to achieve your goals.
For example, at Humaans we know that it's part of our value proposition to have zero on-boarding friction, a noticeably faster experience than any other HR platform in the market, and the ability to truly support the needs of companies with a remote and distributed workforce.
This knowledge helps us put ideas into perspective and think about how do we envision addressing these challenges.
Outline customers' needs (not their wish-list)
As you do your research interviews, you need to keep your assumptions aside and mitigate the risk of cognitive bias when asking questions to customers. This could lead to a direct validation of your ideas or, even worse, a list of "must haves" that are not solving problems for a wider audience nor supporting your long term strategy.
The goal here is deep dive and understand the root cause of their problem. What are the real challenges they're facing? And how can your product alleviate their pains and elevate their day to day?
At Humaans when we interviewed HR/People Ops leaders to get a better grasp of their needs, we learnt that for different people "speed" means different things, or that their unpleasant on-boarding experiences are caused by a variety of factors – some which we couldn't have assumed.
One other aspect not to underestimate is how you evaluate and weight the feedback collected from paying vs non-paying customers and from target vs non-target customers. Learn from your audience, engage with them, and listen to what they have to say, but remember to filter this data to educate your strategy.
Objective definition strategy
Based on your stage of growth, you can channel efforts in a single direction. For example, you may want to reduce churns and prioritise features that facilitate retention; or you may want to increase adoption and focus on reducing friction to use your product, or you may want to improve engagement and add "hooks" that can drive people back to the app.
Although we like hyper engaging experiences, and our customers would love for their people to use their HR software more, it wouldn't be wise for us at this stage to prioritise something like a peer to peer reward mechanic. Instead our focus is on features that can drive acquisition and adoption (e.g. making our power users successful by automating tasks for them).
Without clarity around why you need a specific feature, even if some customers might benefit from it, you increase your risk exposure.
If you're a large company you of course have multiple streams of work running in parallel, with teams tackling different problem areas independently.
Time vs Effort mapping
For us it's important to balance the velocity of execution (how much time do we need to build and ship a new feature) with the value that a given feature can drive (which customers and how many of them will benefit from it and how much this can help us achieve our goals).
- 🤔 Top right → If we identify a feature that customers would love, but that can take us 6 months to build, we would likely de-prioritise or break it up into smaller chunks. Shipping small and at high frequency helps validate.
- 👍 Bottom left → This is where the low hanging fruits sit. Some level of value and not to much time implement. We generally like to pick the most interesting ones from here and push them up in our roadmap.
- 🚀 Top left → This is the "no brainer" zone. Features that live in this slot have a high degree of value added and are not hard to build. If you have many features that sit here, great for you. Stop reading and go shipping!
- ☠️ Bottom right → Here are placed the things that you can confidently remove from your roadmap!
Prioritising is an art. It’s a balancing act between what people want (explicitly asked for) and what they don’t yet know they want (but that you defined based on specific challenges you have observed), as well as any business milestones you need to get to, to prove your product is truly amazing.
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