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How to prioritize your product roadmap: 4 steps for roadmap prioritization
The reality of building products is that you can never get everything done—you need to ruthlessly prioritize the initiatives on your roadmap before you run out of resources.
As a product manager (PM), your responsibility is to make sure your team is working on the most important things first.
Last updated7 Sep 2022
This chapter helps you understand the basics of product roadmap prioritization with a step-by-step framework for deciding which features deserve your team’s limited time, resources, money, and energy.
Prioritize your roadmap on a solid, user-centric foundation
Hotjar supports your decision-making process with product experience insights that help you prioritize your roadmap
Prioritization and product teams
Building a product roadmap is exciting. You start to picture all the amazing places your product could go, the results it could generate, and what the best case scenario is. But as a PM, you need to be the voice of reality.
Product roadmap prioritization helps you focus on the things that matter most, ensures resources are used efficiently, and supports product growth.
How to prioritize your product roadmap is a big decision—and a challenging one. You’re choosing the future path of your product, and helping pick features you know your customers will love—and that will help the company grow.
Here are four guiding principles and challenges that product teams face in learning to prioritize product roadmaps:
1. Roadmap prioritization is about choosing what, when, and why to build
A product roadmap helps you effectively plot out the execution of your product strategy. But figuring out what to build first (and second, and third) can be a challenging part of the job:
Do you focus on really big, high-impact features, or do you prioritize getting a range of little ones done fast?
Should you invest in the platform or risk racking up more technical debt?
Is it better to prioritize features aimed at attracting new customers or satisfy the ones you already have?
Choosing the right initiatives to work on means prioritizing from your long list of good ideas. You’re looking for what’s most important, realistic, and urgent.
Product roadmap prioritization ensures your high-level business objectives and product vision come together, and guides you through times of uncertainty—without letting opinions and ideas lead you off course.
2. Who’s involved in product roadmap prioritization?
Product roadmap prioritization stars with a shared vision and purpose among product managers, teams, and stakeholders. But that’s not where it ends.
It's important for everyone involved to see the big picture, but there’s always a possibility of reaching stalemates and decision deadlock on what to do next. The reality of product development is that not everyone can have equal say in what initiatives are prioritized. Yes, you’re working with good, smart people. But not everyone has the context needed to make major product decisions.
PMs are responsible for ensuring that a product meets customer needs and achieves the company's desired results. They should have final say in how to execute that strategy. This involves business justification, marketing, research, design, and everything in between—pretty much all the stages of a product’s lifecycle.
💡 Pro tip: get the entire team and stakeholders involved at the ideation stage.
When you prioritize features, you need to act as a collaborative leader. A good opportunity to exercise this is at the ideation stage of your product roadmap strategy.
Give everyone on the team a chance to share their best ideas. Run brainstorms, meet with opinionated team members, and get ideas from C-level stakeholders.
You can even host a Hotjar Watch Party, where your entire team takes a moment to watch real users interact with your product to inspire ideas.
Getting input from everyone—especially the most passionate stakeholders and team members—helps prevent them from throwing a wrench in the roadmap later.
The Spotahome team hosting a Hotjar party in February 2022
3. There’s more to product roadmap prioritization than just features
Product roadmaps involve more than just feature prioritization. Designing a winning product roadmap means prioritization happens at different levels:
Strategy: prioritize on the high-level initiatives for the product
Architecture: prioritize platform technologies, scalability considerations, interoperability challenges, etc.
Release: prioritize sprints, features, user stories, epics, and bugs
Goals: prioritize metrics, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to evaluate and track progress toward the objectives
At all these levels, prioritization is performed using a combination of data, instinct, and consensus among stakeholders. Which leads us to our next point.
4. Product roadmap prioritization is about data, not opinions
Teams that build products based on internal opinions prioritize the features and initiatives they think would be a good idea—and hope it works out. They make decisions based on their own opinions, rather than data-informed, educated hypotheses.
To be successful, product roadmap prioritization can’t be personal, which means not making prioritization calls based entirely on:
Following your gut leads to product decisions not being tied to strategic goals
Sales and support requests
Prioritizing based on sales and support requests leads to priorities being driven by the loudest executives or the latest sales prospects
Stakeholders questioning prioritization
Prioritizing based on stakeholder pushback often involves an unproductive combination of executive and personal bias
Making a decision based on an opinion or feeling might work out sometimes, but it’s not a scalable or repeatable process for a product team to build on. Data, on the other hand, is.
Actionable data is essential to prioritize roadmaps. It can be used to discover trends, uncover bugs, develop better experiences, and plan productive product roadmaps that deal with what matters most.
Using the right quantitative and qualitative data helps you prioritize new product features and fixes—no guesswork involved. This gives you the insights needed to prioritize product features that drive results, and see which ones need to be deleted or archived.
By using data, you’re not picking someone’s idea over someone else’s. You’re making the right move for your company’s customers, strategy, and product goals.
If you aren't using both qualitative and quantitative research to inform your product strategy, you will fail.
How to prioritize your product roadmap in 4 steps
Every product has a feedback loop. Your customers have a wish list of features, your sales team has a set of requirements, engineers come up with tasks to make the product more resilient, and your designers have these great ideas for a better, more intuitive UX/UI.
With such a long list of ideas, it can become extremely difficult to decide what to build next. What you need is a process for generating ideas, prioritizing which ones to focus on, and getting buy-in from key stakeholders.
There are a few techniques you can consider working into your team’s process to help you make better roadmap decisions, including considering the impact they’ll have or won’t have on customers.
By following these four steps, you’ll see the bigger picture and learn where to focus your product roadmap prioritization efforts to keep your team on track.
1. Understand how customers use your product and its features
There are many factors to consider when setting priorities for your product roadmap. But first and foremost, you have to prioritize solving real customer problems.
Empathy is one of the most important skills in product management. Product managers are responsible for both knowing their customers, as well as their product-related pain points.
A good product roadmap tells a story about where your product came from and where it’s headed, in a way that helps your customers achieve their goals. Knowing all about the problems they face and using your product to provide solutions is the first step in figuring out how to prioritize a product roadmap—and a surefire way to increase customer satisfaction.
You have a much better chance of making a product people actually want to use when you:
Understand what your customers need from your product and their sources of hesitation
Focus on fixing the areas where your product has the biggest drop-offs—where users are getting stuck
Instead of chasing after the ultimate game changer, it’s better to prioritize spending resources on removing friction points and making things a little easier. To do that, start by pinpointing instances where your customers are having difficulties achieving what they’re there for.
For example, let’s say your customers are dropping off right after they’ve reached one of your product feature pages. You’ve identified a pain point and diagnosed the problem causing the pain.
Tools like Google Analytics will give you quantitative data to judge the severity of the problem: is it the vast majority of customers or just a small percentage being affected? For those affected, do they use the page every day? Or just periodically?
Then, use Heatmaps for a clear, visual overview of how people interact with a product. By seeing where users do and don’t click and scroll, you uncover the most popular and ignored features, and can add and prioritize bug fixes to your product backlog.
Analyzing Session Recordings can also help with prioritization. They give a clear picture of how an individual user experiences your product, helping you build a case for feature updates with data.
With Hotjar, your recordings will be automatically prioritized by relevance, from very high to very low, so you can focus on the ones that are most likely to give actionable insights and inform your product decisions.
After you’ve done a triage of what’s creating friction, you’ll have a better idea of what product areas require your attention first. If the pain is both severe and frequent, then the solution should be high on your product roadmap priorities.
2. Collect input and feature requests from your customers
Now you know what users do on your site. But do you know why? Observing your customers using heatmaps and screen recordings allows you to see your product from their perspective. Next, it’s time to ask for direct feedback, in their words.
Asking your users for input on new and existing features—or even collecting requests for future features—adds context to customer feedback and helps inform your product roadmap prioritization.
Input from customers is a gift. 🎁 It offers PMs insight into what people value, what they dislike, and what they want from a product.
Gathering insights about a new high-value initiative or a feature’s ideal spot on your roadmap? Use interviews or a targeted survey to validate your ideas and better understand your users. These types of product feedback add voice-of-the-customer (VoC) insights to your decision-making.
A Hotjar survey in action
Another option is to use a feedback widget that acts like a real-time suggestion box on your site. It lets users express frustration or delight about individual parts of your product, right down to the page, feature, form, or image they're looking at.
Based on the quantitative and qualitative data you’ve collected so far from your potential and existing customers, you should now have a big list of product issues and feature ideas.
Your next step is to figure out which initiatives are worth working on, weed out the ones that aren’t, and determine where the solution to the problems should be on your roadmap.
3. Score and prioritize new features and fixes objectively to validate what to work on next
Once you’ve plotted all the initiatives you identified in your initial research, you’ll need a way to prioritize the highest value items on your roadmap and figure out which ones to say “no” to.
As a PM, you need to make sure you’re not just prioritizing customer requests above everything else. You only get so many chances to make an impact, so it’s vital to choose wisely and make the most of your window of opportunity. This is why product roadmap prioritization is such a critical part of the job.
The best way to decide if initiatives and features are worth implementing is based on the effort they will take to develop, versus the value they’ll bring. Fortunately, there’s a variety of tried and trusted prioritization techniques that can help you with that.
Product prioritization frameworks are a set of principles. Depending on your company’s size and maturity, and the culture of the product development organization, you can use a particular framework to develop a strategy to help you decide what to work on next.
Popular examples of prioritization frameworks that are useful for product roadmaps include:
Value versus Complexity Quadrant
The Kano Model
Buy a Feature
The Moscow Method
Many of these frameworks use a scoring model to prioritize initiatives. Assigning a score lets you quantify the value of each item on multiple vectors. With this information, you can not only be sure that your roadmap contains high-priority items, but also that there's some balance with the product backlog.
The right prioritization framework will help you answer questions like:
Are you working on the highest business value item?
Are you delivering the necessary value to customers?
Does your work contribute to the broader business objectives?
Can you get this product to the market?
💡 Pro tip: use OKRs in your product prioritization frameworks.
If your organization has established OKRs (like we have at Hotjar 👋), you can also leverage them to prioritize your product initiatives.
Use OKRs as a starting point to define the structure of the roadmap. Set each objective as an epic or roadmap theme, then directly tie each user story or development item to a measurable key result that you’ve prioritized.
Then, use one of the many frameworks to prioritize specific features that will help the product meet the target key results.
This article has a great overview of a few prioritization frameworks and how to decide which one best suits your needs.
As you start prioritizing your roadmap, you’ll slowly see a series of milestones appear, and along with them an increased sense of clarity. To make this process easier to manage and maintain, use software specifically created to make your life as a PM easier.
Roadmap prioritization tools like Jira, Productboard, and Aha! address one of the main product roadmap challenges, helping product teams collect and manage qualitative and quantitative user insights, assign and compare prioritization scores, and plan and share the product roadmap—all in one place.
There’s a variety of SaaS tools out there you can use to build a tech stack to create, manage, and prioritize your roadmap effectively. The right tools will help your team:
Collect and manage qualitative and quantitative user insights
Display and share data with the product team and stakeholders
Assign and compare prioritization scores objectively, without bias
Stay on top of tasks and deadlines in the short and long term
Note: check out the Product Roadmapping Tools chapter of this guide for a more detailed list of product roadmap tools
4. Manage and share the prioritized product roadmap with teams, stakeholders, and customers
Product prioritization isn’t just about making a stack of potential features in a certain order—it also involves juggling the many inputs and opinions of teams, stakeholders, and even customers.
Narrowing that list of demands and feature requests for a product roadmap becomes easier when you get buy-in at every level:
Team: enabling product development teams to align their vision around shared goals is one of the main benefits of a product roadmap. Show them that you used a structured thought process using customer data to evaluate opportunities—rather than just going by your gut or your opinion.
Stakeholders: during the product roadmap presentation, walk your stakeholders through the process you used to create your prioritized product roadmap, proactively addressing a few of their key concerns. Rather than just talking about what a new feature will do, tell them how it will impact the bottom line and move the needle on the KPIs that your stakeholders care about most.
Customers: create and manage a public roadmap that highlights your priorities. Public product roadmaps serve as a communication tool to create alignment and excitement among the customer base. When done right, they can increase product adoption and activation, and generate more trust among your user base.
Regardless of the tools and techniques you use, stay transparent with your team, stakeholders, and customers, and give them insight into the process you used to create your prioritized product roadmap.
Next steps in product roadmap prioritization
Product managers have a lot on their plate, and they’re constantly adding more. Learning to prioritize your roadmap will optimize your cross-functional team’s workflows, assess feasibility, and allow you to quickly decide whether an initiative is worth your company’s time and budget.
As you prioritize your roadmap, remember that your overall, user-centric product strategy and vision always need to be front and center. Don’t lose focus on the big picture by focusing on only one exciting idea. Long-term strategy always beats short-term results.
Lastly, make time to regularly re-prioritize. As your business and markets change, set aside time to go through your list and make sure everything is still aligned with the big picture.
Prioritize your roadmap on a solid, user-centric foundation
Hotjar supports your decision-making process with product experience insights that help you prioritize your roadmap