Are you a product manager and have a stale backlog with items from 6 months or more, probably even 5 years ? Potentially heaps of untouched tech debt too!?! 🤕 Well, that says you have a few very common problems.
Here is the good news, there are easy ways to solve this that can make a world of difference in experience and performance of your product from implementing simple to use prioritization framework which allow you to set expectations, align and manage stakeholders, basically say no to items that add no value on your backlog.
But wait - management doesn't care
A product manager once told me, my manager & management team don't care about that fluffy framework stuff, they just want their feature items delivered as per the roadmap that was thrown over the fence!
The unsaid expectation
The important thing that your manager doesn't tell you and is normally an unsaid expectation is that as a PM, you are responsible for prioritizing what problems development teams should solve next by actually spending time on discovery, analyzing data and communicating with stakeholders, clients and customers and to understand and refine the problem.
To do this a PM actually needs to understand
- how to 𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐟𝐲 𝐯𝐚𝐥𝐮𝐞 and have a few 𝐩𝐫𝐢𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐳𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐟𝐫𝐚𝐦𝐞𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤𝐬 up their sleeve.
- they then need "buy in" for that framework to explain value and get alignment on decision making from the stakeholders.This "buy in" is required to get alignment and acceptance which allows you to build trust.
Pro Tip #1: Don't forget to make the items on your backlog that are de-prioritized redundant or deprecate them so they disappear from the backlog. This will allow you to quickly shrink down your backlog to items that add no value and prioritize the ones that actually do add value.
Pro Tip #2: Sometimes, don't ask for permission, just do the whole exercise of prioritizing first and show the evidence of it being useful.
Pro Tip #3: Over communicate, this is the key to managing expectations. Avoid keeping things behind the scenes as that doesn't help generate trust which is where your ability to influence starts to increase.
What framework to pick
There are many different methods of prioritization, some of which are easy and some that are complex. Many organizations also tend to try to put in some process for this.
Each one has its place and time and some depend on the maturity of the product function in an organization or even complexity in analysis required for the items to be prioritized.
When you are faced with challenges and low product maturity in the organization, my recommendation is to pick an easy method to execute such as the the value effort 2x2 matrix which pretty much any stakeholder gets.
I would argue that many senior stakeholders actually think like this and I have personally found great success with it.
It doesn't need any fancy tools, you can literally do this on a piece of paper or PowerPoint or post-it notes and a wall! My preference is using a miro whiteboard as per the image below.
Value x Effort prioritization model
This model involves making the value to effort visual and easy to map out by quantifying the scores for each initiative, feature or bug.
Important: This method is based on guesstimation and opinions.
The questions its helps visualize
- How much value does this backlog item add?
- Is it feasible to build with our available team and pipeline of work?
It then provides enough talking points to have a discussion about what decisions are required and what needs to be either be done now tactically or done later as a strategic initiative.
Pro Tip #4: Balance is important when making decisions on what to de-prioritize because of the effort involved.
What I often find is many high value low effort items can be tactical initiatives and high value high effort happen to be strategic. It is very important to balance out the prioritization of strategic efforts to tactical as not doing anything strategic because it takes lot of effort can actually be very decremental to the products competitive advantage.
Fictitious example below in figure 1
Here are some quick ways to identify value of a particular item:
- Calculate potential revenue
- Identify performance benefit which in-turn improves customer experience or reduces long term issues
- Identify benefit to customers
- Identify benefit to business
- Helps achieve business & strategic goals
- Helps build an unfair advantage
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