In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss the best ways of prioritizing a list of products and features.
In my monthly column Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts provides answers to our readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].
The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
Drew Davidson—Senior Experience Director at ÄKTA
David Kozatch—Principal at DIG
Shane McWhorter—Executive Director, User Experience Strategy & Design at Product Concept, Design, and Experience
Itamar Medeiros—Senior User Experience Designer at ROAMWORKS
Janet Six—Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design; UXmatters Managing Editor and columnist
Simon White—UX Manager at Voyages-sncf.com
Q: What are the best ways to prioritize a product and feature list?—from a UXmatters reader
“There are lots of different ways of prioritizing features,” replies Itamar. “And just like any other type of method, the best way depends on lots of different variables—such as how early in the product development lifecycle a product is, how mature a market is, or how well-known the targeted personas are. I’ll discuss two methods that you can use in two different contexts:
Outcome-driven Innovation—“Anthony Ulwick created this framework for a strategy and innovation process, which he detailed in his book What Customers Want. Its basis is the premise that people buy products and services to get jobs done. (See Strategyn’s whitepaper ‘Jobs-To-Be-Done’ for further discussion of this framework.) Clayton Christensen credits Ulwick and Richard Pedi of Gage Foods with the approach to thinking about market structure that he described in his book The Innovator’s Solution, in the chapter ‘What Products Will Customers Want to Buy?’ as ‘jobs to be done’ or ‘outcomes that customers are seeking.’ From a product development perspective, I’ve found this method very productive of insights in the context of discussing business opportunities with product managers during a product development cycle. But I’ve found it hard to integrate this approach into the day-to-day prioritization discussions that I’ve had with development teams.” For further discussion, see Itamar’s blog post “Product Definition and Requirements Prioritization.”
UXI Matrix—“Jon Innes created the UXI Matrix, or Pugh Matrix, which is a decision matrix that helps you to evaluate and prioritize a list of use cases based on a set of predefined weighting criteria. This is different from Outcome-driven Innovation in that its focus is not necessarily on eliciting requirements. That said, this approach is easier to integrate into your day-to-day prioritization discussions with development teams—especially agile teams. Jon actually created this method to help Scrum teams integrate UX metrics into agile development cycles.” Itamar recommends Jon Innes’ SlideShare presentation “Integrating UX into Agile: How to Ensure Your Sprints Result in Usable Software.”
Balancing Business, Technical, and User Priorities
“What a great question that speaks to the heart of user experience!” exclaims Shane. “User experience brings a more customer-focused approach to product development that involves seeing a product as a whole experience whose goal is to help people to perform their tasks successfully rather than thinking of a product as providing a set of features without considering how people would use those features to get something done.
“A feature list’s only purpose should be to support the user in performing tasks. Those tasks differ in terms of their business priority, frequency of use, and importance to the product’s overall use. Some tasks account for 90% of the use of a product, while other tasks may represent only 1% of the use of a product. Some features are critical to performing that 90% use case, but others are less so. A stakeholder might even ask you to prioritize a feature that supports no use case at all! Removing features that do not support any use case—even those already in a product—is the single most effective way of reducing development costs and time to revenue, while also improving the product’s user experience! First, list your customers’ tasks by business priority, then by frequency and importance, and you’ll find prioritizing product features to enable those tasks a snap!”
“Whenever I’m prioritizing products and features for a certain project,” answers Drew, “I use the following exercise to determine their priority: I list the business needs, the user needs, and the technology requirements. Then, I consider where the needs from each of these categories intersect—for example, which business need aligns with which user need and which technology requirements align with the needs of the business and the user. Don’t prioritize user needs over business needs. While user needs are incredibly important, they won’t matter if they don’t end up driving business. Once I’ve determined the right priorities, I break down what’s possible within the specified timeframe. This exercise helps me to determine the priority of each product or feature.
“One note: some features are bigger and more time consuming to create than others. A product’s internal architecture is something that often gets overlooked when scoping out the technology and requirements for a given release. When you’re considering making changes to a Web site or application’s architecture—or creating a new architecture—be sure to establish a realistic timeline that accommodates a mixture of both large and small features. The small features are easy, but the big changes are what will make your project stand out.”
I whole-heartedly second Drew’s recommendation not to prioritize user needs over business needs. As UX designers, we empathize with users and want to give them the best possible experience—while showing off our spectacular design skills, of course. However, if we fail to relate our design work to the business’s bottom line, that’s a problem. Many companies truly care for their customers, but they must do that while ensuring that they are making enough profit to stay in business. Fortunately, this is not a binary choice. You can often both support business needs and make your users ecstatically happy. Just put business concerns first, so the company can be successful and keep distributing your awesome products to customers.
Sort by Potential Revenue
“The ideal basis for prioritization is potential revenue, of course,” responds Simon. “On a coarse prioritization pass, you need to separate the nice-to-have features from the real revenue drivers. Sadly, the fine details of a user experience are often nice-to-haves. Maybe you can fight for an earmark for customer satisfaction as a source of soft return on investment (ROI) or pick one feature from a list of UX priorities each cycle, or Sprint.”
Use a Bucket Sort
“If you have many features to rank, I recommend using three buckets or piles,” recommends David. “Have stakeholders or respondents identify each feature as one of the following:
Nice to have
Then, run through the feature list and ask them to indicate whether each feature is unique in comparison to those of competitors—as far as they know. Run through the list again and ask them whether they would personally use a unique feature starting on Day 1 of trying your product. Features that stakeholders have rated as essential, that are unique, and that have high expected-usage scores will be your winners once you design, then market the product.”
Christensen, Clayton. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2003.
Ulwick, Anthony. What Customers Want: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and Services. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.
As Principal of Lone Star Interaction Design in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research. Janet is the Managing Editor of UXmatters. Read More