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How to find the right prioritization framework for your team (including 4 examples)

We make decisions all day, every day. Most of them are low stakes—like deciding to skip a song on Spotify, or gauging how big your coffee mug needs to be this morning. (Probably pretty big.)

Other times, the number of factors and people involved swells. When this happens, decision-making can be a long and arduous process. 

Last updated

7 Sep 2022
product prioritization framework

For product teams, product prioritization can be a complicated decision: if you take too long to decide what initiative to work on next, you cut into already precious time; but taking shortcuts could lead to wasting time on products that lack impact. 

This is where a product prioritization framework comes in, to help you make more informed decisions faster and with less of a mental burden. 

This guide tells you what goes into a product prioritization framework and how to choose one for your team. You'll also see four example frameworks to choose from, to make it easy to get started.

Hotjar supports your product prioritization

You could make decisions based on your gut feeling, but at what cost? Hotjar helps product managers uncover user insights you can use to help with product prioritization.

What are product prioritization frameworks?

If prioritizing products is the destination, then a prioritization framework is the tried-and-true route to get there. 

Your team can’t work on every idea and initiative simultaneously, so you need to choose your next steps carefully. Product prioritization weighs ideas against constraints and opportunities to help you pick which product to create or initiative to work on next. 

Andrei Beno, a Senior Product Manager at Hotjar, explains the impact of product prioritization:

“As product teams, we spend a lot of our day-to-day assessing options and making tradeoffs. With a seemingly endless list of features and initiatives we could be working on, but with limited resources to do that, prioritizing what’s most impactful and adds the most user or business value is arguably the most important activity we can spend time on.”

Put simply, a product prioritization framework outlines a repeatable process to consider variables for potential initiatives. Following a framework ensures you don’t forget to consider something essential or let personal bias get in the way.

4 common factors of product management decision-making

Product prioritization frameworks help you streamline decision-making and reduce mental fatigue, but they're not all the same. For example, some frameworks base decisions on revenue costs or gains, while others put user needs front and center. 

While there's not a one-size-fits-all framework for every team, here are four categories of key variables you’ll come across in most product prioritization frameworks: 

1. Quantitative data

Nothing cuts through personal bias quite like cold, hard facts. Quantitative data lets you compare and communicate quantifiable metrics and goals like revenue, retention, and activation. 

Examples of quantitative data from product research you could use in product prioritization include:

  • Filtering session recordings by date and applying user attributes to measure how many new users exited your site before making it to an important step in the user journey

  • Using an NPS survey as evidence that a customer segment who uses a particular product is unhappy

  • Ranking issues on a page based on heatmap data—for example, are users scrolling far enough down a key page to know which step to take next? 

2. Qualitative insights

Your users aren’t robots or numbers on a page, so adding qualitative data to your decision-making adds critical context. Reviewing unmeasurable feedback also builds empathy for users.

Attison Barnes, Co-founder & Head of Product at Captain Experiences, says that “if you aren't using qualitative and quantitative research to inform your product strategy, you will fail. The flip side of this is that organizations can get carried away with data analysis. At the end of the day, it’s up to the product manager to use their discretion, make decisions, and be willing to admit when things don't work and may need to be rolled back or edited.”

Examples of qualitative insights that will add perspective to your product prioritization framework include:

👀 Seeing is believing

Quantitative data is necessary, but it can remove product managers from the humans on the other side of the screen. The team at Marlin, a digital signage company, uses Hotjar Session Recordings to see users interacting with their product in real-time. 

Stephen Ippolito, a Product Manager at Marlin, recalls this win:

"We released a new feature and were able to see a customer navigate right to a specific part of the feature we highlighted in a user email. In most applications, there is a veil of secrecy because you really don't know how users use your app beyond speaking to them or using other analytics tools. We literally saw the fruits of our labor today.”

Want to learn more about how the Marlin team uses Hotjar to understand and communicate how people use their product? Read the full customer story here.

Hotjar insights revealed that the Marlin workflow is drastically quicker than competitors. These insights help the product team understand performance.

Hotjar insights revealed that the Marlin workflow is drastically quicker than competitors. These insights help the product team understand performance.

3. Company goals

Since your product team doesn’t work in a vacuum, you have to align your work with company goals and priorities. In turn, it's easier to get buy-in and build products that move the needle on KPIs. 

Matthew Ramirez, the Director of Product at WriteLab and Founder at Rephrase Media, uses business goals to prioritize features: “If you have high confidence that implementing a product feature can lift a core KPI, such as revenue, it should go on the strategic product roadmap. If there is more uncertainty around the payoff or the effort still needs to be sized up, it should go in the product backlog.”

Examples of company goals that will affect your product prioritization include:

  • Focusing on increasing retention within a specific timeframe

  • Trying to reach product-market fit for a new user segment

  • Moving quickly to be the first solution with a particular product feature, or to be the first to solve a particular job-to-be-done (JTBD)

4. Team resources

Finally, consider your team’s availability and resources during product prioritization. Gauging how long initiatives will take helps you fit products into a given sprint or timeframe. 

A few examples of scenarios that could impact product prioritization include:

  • Two teammates focusing on a new product launch for the upcoming quarter that can’t take on other projects

  • Planning to grow your product team in the coming months

  • Wanting a quick win after completing a big product push

Pro tip: if you’re facing prioritization roadblocks, channel your inner PANDA!

What does that mean? A PANDA 'Prioritizes Amazingly and Needs Data Always'. A product manager that uses a data-informed approach to decision making can:

  • Focus on tasks that add real value to the product

  • Keep the product team aligned on priorities

  • Build trust with stakeholders

  • And more

Bonus reading: learn more about the scenarios that can derail your product management plans (and how to navigate them).

4 product prioritization frameworks to try

As we said, product prioritization frameworks are not one-size-fits-all, so you have to look for one that best suits your team's current needs. When choosing a framework, consider which factors align most with your product roadmap and positioning, and what will help you get buy-in from stakeholders.

You don't have to stop there, either; you can tweak an established framework if it isn’t right. Andrei suggests that “any team that’s just getting started with prioritization frameworks use an existing one as a base and tailor it and make it their own.”

Here are four product prioritization models to explore:

1. RICE

The RICE framework makes product prioritization decisions based on four factors: reach, impact, confidence, and effort. This framework could be a good choice if you’re looking for one that lets you weigh initiatives differently. 

RICE framework pros:

  • Refer to multiple factors for a well-rounded decision

  • Weigh decisions based on confidence

  • Gauge a product’s impact on users

RICE framework cons:

  • Have to calculate figures for each potential product

  • Can get hung up on the specifics of the numbers

If you’re worried about calculating exact reach and impact, Andrei recommends focusing on how products relate to one another. He shared, “I believe teams can get more value from using frameworks to regularly assess the relative priority of each initiative against each other, instead of attempting to estimate the absolute priority of each piece of work as accurately as possible."

Pro tip: getting the right sample size on your survey increases confidence that the results accurately reflect your audience. Check out our favorite sample size formula and calculator in this guide.

#A small audience requires a larger relative sample size for accuracy than a large population.

A small audience requires a larger relative sample size for accuracy than a large population.

 How to use the RICE product prioritization framework

  1. Measure reach. This is how many users will interact with a product in a given time. For example, 500 users a month. 

  2. Establish impact. How much will a feature boost revenue or increase adoption? Keep the timeframe consistent across variables, like weeks or months. 

  3. Adjust for confidence. If you don’t have the same data for each potential product, you can weigh them accordingly. For example, if you are twice as sure your assumptions are correct for one initiative, give it a factor of 2. 

  4. Calculate the required effort. The last component of the RICE model is the team effort. Estimate how long it will take your team to complete the product using the same timeframe you’ve been using. 

  5. Plug your numbers into the equation. Multiply R x I x C divided by E. A higher score is a higher priority because the output more heavily outweighs the input.

A small audience requires a larger relative sample size for accuracy than a large population.

An example of the RICE product prioritization framework

 2. MoSCoW

The MoSCoW product prioritization method puts product team and stakeholder input at the center of decision-making, based on 'must-have', 'should-have', 'could-have', and 'won't-have' criteria. As a result, this framework doesn’t explicitly consider potential revenue or workload. The MoSCoW method isn’t completely emotional, though, since you’ll qualify initiatives based on your product vision or roadmap.

MoSCoW method pros:

  • Stakeholders can vote on what they think is most important

  • Pick and choose products that fit with the company’s direction

MoSCoW method cons:

  • Involving too many opinions can slow down the process

  • Decisions made in a vacuum might not reflect the entire picture

Since the MoSCoW prioritization framework has subjective elements, it’s important to lay some groundwork before discussions begin: bring in user experience data where possible, to better understand the current climate and issues or opportunities at hand, and establish how you’ll break ties if conflicting opinions arise. 

How to use the MoSCoW product prioritization framework

Organized product backlog management makes the MoSCoW method easier, since you’ll start with a list of potential product initiatives to categorize. There are a couple of potential approaches to putting products in the MoSCoW categories: you can either have everyone vote on where they believe a product should land or leave the decision to a specific person or team. 

  1. Pick 'must-have' product initiatives. The highest priority category, and the first letter of the framework’s acronym, are 'must-haves'. These are non-negotiable features that render a release useless if they’re absent. 

  2. Identify 'should-have' initiatives. The next priority tier adds significant value but isn’t mission-critical. These products elevate the user experience and would be helpful to include. 

  3. Label 'could-have' initiatives. Your third product priority adds minor benefits. If you have the time and resources, go ahead and add these to the queue. If not, don’t sweat it. 

  4. Put 'will not have' product initiatives out of mind. If your team wants to avoid scope creep, heed the 'will not have' initiatives. These are initiatives and ideas you can revisit in the future but won’t make the cut this time. 

3. Kano

Consider the Kano model if you want to put user preferences at the heart of your decision-making. This prioritization framework ranks product ideas and features based on how likely they are to satisfy customer needs. Then, you can compare the level of customer delight to the implementation investment. 

Kano method pros:

  • You don’t need to calculate specific revenue, effort, or cost—relative amounts will do

  • Putting customer needs first can help you increase satisfaction

  • Gauging user demand and reaction before work leads to more impactful initiatives

Kano method cons:

While using user insights as your guiding light is a noble goal, you still need to make sure the decision aligns with your product positioning. Screen the list of products for fit before running them through the Kano framework.

Learn how to go above and beyond!

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How to use the Kano product prioritization framework

The Kano prioritization framework plots each potential product on a chart with customer delight on one axis and implementation effort on the other. Before you can graph out the initiatives, you’ll need to do some user research

1. Research how users perceive features. While you could try to guess how your user base would react to a product, it’s best to bring in quantifiable evidence. Your Kano starting point is user surveys that gauge their sentiment towards existing and potential features.

2. Estimate the effort to create each product. You don’t need to calculate the exact workload with the Kano model, only relative requirements for the products at hand. Which of the initiatives you’re considering are low-hanging fruit versus intense product overhauls?

3. Categorize initiatives across Kano levels. The Kano method categorizes products into three categories of customer delight: basic, performance, and excitement features.

  • Basic features are what you need to stay competitive

  • Performance features have a 1:1 relationship between team effort and customer satisfaction

  • Excitement features have a disproportionately high level of customer delight considering the required time investment

4. Decide what product category to prioritize. The Kano method helps you understand potential products, but it doesn’t tell you which is necessarily better. The basic features category helps you narrow your scope. Then, you can pick which performance features to implement and whether there are any relatively easy excitement features to work in.

#The Kano method compares the relative increase in customer delight against the effort to create a product. Image via ProductPlan.
The Kano method compares the relative increase in customer delight against the effort to create a product. Image via ProductPlan.

4. Cost of delay analysis

A cost of delay (CoD) analysis is a handy prioritization framework if money talks on your team—and let's be honest, money talks on every team. The CoD method determines how much potential revenue is lost by not working on a product or initiative. To use the cost of delay for product prioritization, you’ll add a time frame to compare multiple projects, turning it into 'cost of delay by duration', or CD3.

Cost of delay analysis pros:

  • Compare different projects on a single variable: revenue

  • Earn buy-in when revenue is a key initiative for the company

Cost of delay analysis cons:

  • You have to be able to quantify revenue for a product initiative

  • It doesn’t help if you only have a few similarly profitable and time-intensive projects

If you come up against a scenario where your two product options have a similar cost of delay by duration, turn to user insights to break the tie between equally lucrative features. 

How to use a cost of delay analysis as a prioritization framework

We have a full cost of analysis process breakdown (with a template!) in this guide, but here’s a summary of the process:

  1. Estimate how long a product will take to create. If you aren’t sure how long to dedicate to a product, look back on similar feature timelines as a starting point. Factors like cross-team collaboration can also impact your schedule. 

  2. Calculate potential impact for each product. Metrics like activation, revenue, and retention are perfect for your cost of delay analysis. Use a consistent timeframe for your timeline and impact, like weeks or months.

  3. Divide product outcome by time. You want to compare each product initiative's impact on a level playing ground, so you have to account for how long it will take to complete. For example, if Initiative A takes two weeks and delivers $1,000 in weekly revenue, its CD3 score would be 500.  

🤗 The easiest way to get started with a cost of delay analysis

Mohammed Rizwan, Senior Product Manager at Hotjar, created a cost of delay analysis spreadsheet that anyone can use. (Thanks, Riz!) Make a copy for your team to take the prioritization framework for a spin. 

CoD template screenshot

Hotjar gives you a front-row seat to user experience insights

Hotjar helps product managers make informed decisions with both quantitative and qualitative data you can add to prioritization frameworks. Leveraging Surveys, Heatmaps, Feedback, and Session Recordings in your decision-making also helps you get stakeholders on board with your vision. 

Hotjar supports your product prioritization

You could make decisions based on your gut feeling, but at what cost? Hotjar helps product managers uncover user insights you can use to help with product prioritization.

Product prioritization framework FAQs