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The art of prioritization in product management

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Reading time7 min

Product management runs on choices. What to develop next, what to put on hold, and what to discard altogether. Getting these choices right steers products toward success. It's more than just a list; it's understanding needs, managing resources, and aligning with the company vision. Prioritization is, without a doubt, a major skill for any product manager.

For most of us, the daily challenge is juggling plenty of tasks, features, and stakeholder requests. But not all demands carry the same weight. It's easy to get swayed by the loudest voice in the room or the most recent email in the inbox, but these aren't necessarily what the product or the users need most urgently.

To get it right in product management, we need the right tools and approaches. Let's see what it takes to nail prioritization.

Key challenges in prioritization

As I noted before, in product management, facing various and often unpredictable challenges is part of the job. However, deciding which tasks to prioritize can be especially confusing, and here are a few factors to consider.

1. Changing customer demands: Customers are the heart of any product, and their needs and desires can evolve rapidly. One day, a feature might be all the rage; the next, it's old news. For instance, a messaging app might find its users clamoring for dark mode due to its increasing popularity across platforms. Adapting to these shifting demands requires constant observation and a readiness to pivot.

2. Evolving market trends: The broader market can influence product decisions as much as individual user feedback. If there's a sudden surge in voice-activated technologies, products that don't incorporate voice features might find themselves left behind. Staying attuned to the market means continuous research and the agility to tweak your product roadmap accordingly.

3. Stakeholder expectations: Stakeholders, from investors to internal teams, come with their own set of expectations. An investor might be keen on expanding to a new geographical market sooner than planned, while a sales team might push for a particular feature they believe will help close deals. Matching these expectations without straying from the product's main objective often requires careful balancing.

Here are a few key considerations to help you navigate these issues: 

  • Use feedback loops: Regularly collect and analyze feedback from both users and internal teams. This offers a pulse on changing demands and needs.

  • Stay updated: Find time to study industry reports, competitor moves, and emerging technologies. This keeps you informed about bigger market shifts. 

  • Keep communication open: Try to build an environment where stakeholders feel heard. Regular updates and open channels for input can help in managing expectations and reducing potential friction.

By actively engaging and communicating clearly, product managers can make informed decisions on task importance. This way, the product consistently meets the needs of users and aligns with what stakeholders expect.

Prioritization frameworks and tools

Getting a grip on prioritization involves knowing the tried-and-true frameworks available. These tools offer professionals a set of handy insights, helping them make well-informed choices.

1. MoSCoW

The MoSCoW method divides tasks or features into four categories to help us understand immediate needs vs. long-term goals.

     - Must have (M): Essentials without which the project cannot proceed.

     - Should have (S): Important but not critical; can be postponed if needed.

     - Could have (C): Nice-to-haves, but not necessary for immediate success.

     - Won't have (W): Items that won't be addressed in the current iteration but might be considered later.

Example: When launching an app, user login might be a “Must have”, while a social media sharing feature could be a “Could have”. 

2. Value vs. Effort

This framework evaluates tasks by the benefit they provide against the effort they require. A 2x2 matrix is formed with 'Value' and 'Effort' as its axes. 

Example: A bug fix that takes minimal effort but drastically improves user experience would be high value and low effort, placing it in the top-left quadrant and making it a top priority.


The framework scores tasks based on four factors:

     - Reach: How many users will this impact?

     - Impact: How significant will the effect be?

     - Confidence: How certain are we about the other estimations?

     - Effort: How many resources are required?

Example: Introducing a new feature might have a large reach and impact but requires significant effort. If the confidence in the pluses is high, it could be prioritized over smaller changes.

4. ICE

ICE evaluates tasks by three criteria:

     - Impact: The potential benefit or change.

     - Confidence: Certainty about the impact and ease of estimations.

     - Ease: Naturally, ease of execution and straightforwardness in application.

Example: Enhancing a website's loading speed could have a high impact on user retention, and if the team is confident about the ease of making this enhancement, it would score high.

5. Kano Model:

The framework centers around customer satisfaction, categorizing functions according to how users respond to them.

     - Basic Needs: Features expected by users. Their absence can cause dissatisfaction.

     - Performance Needs: Features that can satisfy users when fulfilled and cause dissatisfaction when not met.

     - Delighters: Unexpected features that can please users but, if absent, won't cause dissatisfaction.

Example: In an online store, a secure checkout is a basic need, recommendation algorithms might be a performance need, while surprise rewards can serve as delighters.

Apart from that, there are several widely used software tools, which can help you prioritize with ease. 

- Trello: This service offers boards, lists, and cards that can be customized with prioritization templates. Its interface makes it easy to see tasks at a glance and adjust as necessary.

- Jira: It integrates with several frameworks and offers built-in prioritization templates. Jira’s set of features supports everything from agile methodologies to more traditional project management approaches.

- Confluence: Not a prioritization tool per se, but still useful. It's a platform where teams can collaborate on documents, create pages, and organize content. Its layout ensures quick access to information and good team coordination.

Using these frameworks and tools gives product managers a systematic method, making sure decisions are based on data rather than just intuition.

Stakeholder communication

Talking clearly with stakeholders is key to a product's success. This ensures everyone knows why certain choices are made and helps keep the project on track.

To put it simply, during the development process, stakeholders have different views and needs. Being open about why certain product decisions are made helps everyone understand the bigger picture. For example, if a popular feature is delayed, explaining the reason can help stakeholders see the overall plan.

Here are a few ways to keep everyone aligned:

1. Check-ins: Regular meetings, like daily updates or weekly catch-ups, keep everyone in the loop. It helps share updates and discuss any changes.

2. Keeping records: Use a central place to note down all decisions and reasons. Tools like Confluence can be useful here. This way, anyone can quickly see why a certain choice was made.

3. Open feedback: Let stakeholders share their thoughts. It could be in official meetings or casual chats. When people feel heard, they trust the process more.

4. Share information: Once in a while, update stakeholders on what's happening in the industry or what users are saying. This helps them see where decisions come from.

5. Clear rules: At the start, let everyone know how decisions will be made and who'll make them. This avoids confusion later on.

Good stakeholder communication is about trust and clarity. By being transparent and using these methods, you can make sure everyone understands and supports the prioritization choices.

The balance of agility and vision 

Here are two sides of the same coin in product management: agility helps you adapt to immediate changes, while a vision guides your broader, long-term strategy. Keeping them both in mind may not be that easy, though. 

Agility is about reacting to the here and now. Say your analytics show a sudden drop in user engagement because of a glitch. An agile approach would have you quickly divert resources to fix it.

On the other hand, vision is your north star. It's what guides major features or new market entries that might not pay off immediately but are crucial for the product's long-term success. For example, investing in AI capabilities might not bring instant profit but could just give you a competitive edge in the long term.

So, how do you balance these two? There are several key factors here. 

1. Resource allocation: It's important to not use up all your resources on immediate tasks. Keep some reserved for long-term ideas that align with your vision.

2. Time management: While it's tempting to resolve urgent issues as they come, block out time for strategic planning and review. This ensures you're making progress toward broader goals.

3. Feedback mechanisms: Use both real-time analytics and periodic market research. Real-time data helps in agile decision-making, while market insights guide your strategy.

4. Alignment meetings: Bring together team members and stakeholders to ensure everyone understands both immediate needs and long-term goals. 

5. KPIs: Use different Key Performance Indicators for tactical and strategic efforts. For example, a tactical KPI could be “time to resolve bugs”, whereas a strategic KPI might be “user growth over a quarter”. 

6. Review and adjust: Make it a habit to review your balance of agility and vision. Is your team only firefighting? Or are you only focusing on the distant future and ignoring current issues? Adjust as needed.

By considering these things, you can achieve a healthy balance between meeting immediate tactical needs and pushing toward strategic goals. It allows for a well-rounded approach to product development.


In product management, making the right call matters. What we decide now impacts how well our product does later. It's about meeting today's demands while keeping an eye on the future, tuning into what customers want, and keeping everyone on the same page. Being alert, informed, and on-target helps product managers choose wisely. Those timely, smart decisions are what make a product stand out. Every choice counts, so choose smart, and good luck. 

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