The Art of Decision Making: Top 7 Agile Prioritization Techniques for Product Owners
Explore 7 practical and popular prioritization techniques in Agile app development. Employing them allows you to quickly gather user insights, and focus on developing features that deliver a strong ROI.
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Being a decision-maker sounds exciting until you face the first splash of opinions from people engaged in your mobile app development process. Your stakeholders may have different interests and urgent needs. And it is your challenge to decide who will get what they want first. What’s more, you probably have a lot of great ideas, and it would cost you a fortune and a lifetime to implement all of them at once. So you will have to choose only a few. Good luck with that!
If you are working as a Product Owner with an Agile Development Team – you are not alone! Your Scrum Master has pockets full of prioritization techniques that will help you make the best decisions for the success of your Product. Developers will support you with their technical expertise and advice about the risk, complexity, and effort needed to complete features.
Let me guide you through the top prioritization techniques in Agile, as I did with 9 Product Owners I cooperated with.
What is prioritization in Agile, and why do you need it?
Prioritization allows you to arrange all product requirements in order from the most important to the least important. The techniques I’m going to share will enable you to observe various aspects in which your ideas affect users or your business and make it easier to make complex business decisions.
Developing your first mobile application from scratch is quite a challenge. You will need to learn to work in a new environment, hold a new role (Product Owner), and keep the Team (including yourself) focused on delivering value. The point of Agile Product Development is to get to the users fast, gather feedback as soon as possible, and improve the app to help them solve their real problems. But if you want to satisfy all your stakeholders at once or include all your ideas in the first release, it may take months or even years to get there! And this is where prioritization comes in.
When should you use one of the requirements prioritization techniques?
- struggle with choosing the best features for the first version of your product
- have a group of stakeholders sending you their requests
- know your Team is blocked, and waiting for your decisions
- want to consider the perspective of your Team
- wish to challenge your ideas and be sure of the “why” behind each feature
…. continue reading and see how requirements prioritization techniques may help!
7 popular prioritization techniques in Agile
Below, you will find the list of the most popular prioritization techniques in software development. I will briefly describe each, take you through their benefits, and show you how to use my favorites. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with them yet – one of the benefits of having a Scrum Master in your Agile Team is their constant support in finding well-suited prioritization techniques and educating you on how to use them.
7 popular prioritization techniques in Agile:
* Start with the Product Goal and Value Pyramid
Before I discuss the techniques mentioned above in detail, I am giving you a list of 10 powerful questions that can be an excellent introduction to prioritization in your project.
10 helpful questions in the prioritization process
- What is more vital for you, time or budget?
- What is crucial for this application to make sense on the market?
- If you had to base your decision on a single-choice customer survey, which feature would they choose?
- If you had a budget for only one feature, which would you implement?
- What feature gives you the best opportunity to get your investment back?
- What worry about the product doesn’t let you sleep at night? What should the Team implement to make you sleep a little bit better?
- Finishing which features would be the best reason for a celebration?
- Why did you ever think about getting this feature done in the first place?
- What will your users or business gain if you go with this feature? What will they lose if you drop it?
- What feature is required to achieve your main goals?
It is possible that answering these key questions will get you closer to deciding which feature should go first / next. That is perfect! Read on to find out how the specific techniques may help you prioritize the rest of the requirements.
Start from a Product Goal and Value Pyramid
Although they’re not techniques, the Product Goal and Value Pyramid are both must-haves to determine what value for your business, alongside what benefit for the user, we will realize during the development process.
While not actual techniques, the Product Goal and Value Pyramid are essential in identifying the business profit and customer value we’ll deliver during the development process. Learn how to set Product Goals with examples from the article prepared by Marta, our Head of Delivery.
Let’s explore an example case with Jack, the CEO of a fast-growing network of training centers for dogs. He feels this is the right moment to take his business to the next level and create the digital funnel with a mobile app. He noticed that his clients work hard with their dogs at their sessions but do not continue to work at home, which is crucial to see the effects. Another problem is that dog trainers’ time is limited, and they can’t share the knowledge with all interested dog enthusiasts. In collaboration with the Droids On Roids team, he established the Product Goal:
Support dog parents in raising well-behaved, happy pets to increase customer engagement.
From this simple, direct sentence, we can figure out that:
- In the upcoming version of the product, the primary beneficial users will be dog parents, so we have to prioritize their needs.
- The principal value for Jack’s business will be increased customer engagement, so everything that can lead us there should be our priority.
We already know how to use Product Goals for prioritization, but what the heck is a Value Pyramid? It is a simple tool that will allow you to point out the main elements of value that your product will provide to customers.
From the futuristic point of view, the more elements you provide while growing your product, the more satisfied and loyal your customers will be.
From my experience working with Agile Teams, the Value Pyramid is handy for keeping the Team focused on the current needs of potential users. During my recent discovery workshop, I observed that the group consciously referred to the Pyramid multiple times when the ideation phase went too wild.
If you decide to work with us, we will help you establish the Product Goal as early as the offer preparation stage!
How do you use the Value Pyramid?
You can select the primary elements yourself or seek assistance from your team or stakeholders. Share the story of your vision and goals with them, and ask them to choose one customer value they believe the product will deliver in the upcoming version. Fun fact: if this will be your first release, most of the Team will probably choose elements from the “Functional” category.
Later, when deciding which feature to implement next, you can return to the Value Pyramid and check if it supports the most-voted elements.
Let’s now move on to Agile prioritization techniques. I will introduce a few of them, which are not only among the most popular but also the simplest to implement. They don’t require extensive preparation. Keep in mind that involving your Scrum Team in this decision-making process is beneficial. They’ll gain a deeper understanding of your business and provide technical insights that can be invaluable during prioritization.
1. Customer Feedback
Surprising? I intentionally put this first on this list. Feedback should always be the most crucial Agile prioritization technique in your pocket. As a Product Owner, you should learn to listen to your potential users. Picking up their needs regularly equals high customer satisfaction.
At Droids On Roids, we love working with Customer Feedback. We used it during the development of Greenr, and other projects. We also have a habit of starting new product development from Product Discovery.
How do you use it?
When developing a product’s first version, start with market research or competition analysis (or both!). You will discover what your target group loves about different apps and what they hate about them. The point is to collect information on how your product can be better than existing solutions. With that in mind, you should always prioritize what your audience wants.
2. Impact Effort Matrix
This one is my favorite! It has a visual form based on the Product Goal and considers the Developers’ perspective. Product Owners love this technique! I usually do it with the Team at the beginning of the development, even if there is no struggle with decision-making yet.
How do you use it?
At first, you have to be aware of your Product Goal. Then, place your features, requirements, or user stories on the matrix with two dimensions.
1. Impact: How will this impact the Product’s success? How much customer value will it bring? The challenge is that you can’t put two features on the exact impact level. You have to put them in order. Try to do this relatively: “Feature B is important; it has a bigger impact on the goal than feature A. But feature C is more impactful than feature B.”
2. Effort: Is it challenging to implement? How much effort does the Team need to develop this? Ask Developers!
After mapping every task, just draw two lines across the Matrix and split it into four quadrants. Let’s take a look at what they say:
- [Upper right] Strategic
Strategic features that are essential to the success of your Product but will take a lot of time, effort, and planning to produce. These are your need-to-haves and should be tackled thoughtfully and with a measured approach.
- [Lower right] High Value
These features are easy wins. They bring high value to your users and are easy to produce.
- [Upper left] Luxury
These features are often costly, dramatic, and eye-catching but are typically just want-to-haves, not need-to-haves. These fireworks can wait for later; they don’t bring many benefits to your users.
- [Lower left] Distractions
These features are distractions. They are cheap and easy to build but offer little value to the users. You can use them as filler tasks when the Team is blocked somewhere on the way.
The MoSCoW method is the most popular prioritization technique, and is not limited to an Agile environment. It may seem hard at first glance. One of the common mistakes is to do it on your own. Use the benefits of working with the Scrum Team and take the MoSCoW activity for the next Planning Meeting. Talk with your Team and make the decision based on that discussion.
How do you use it?
A User Story Map may be helpful here. Write down all the steps the user will take in your app. Then, split the Team into groups and let them think. Assign every user story to the following tag.
Essential for the Product, and necessary for the current version.
Important but not vital functionalities that bring significant customer value.
Nice-to-have initiatives; including them in the scope would make a minor difference to the user.
Things that we can give up in the upcoming version. They are not the priority.
4. The Kano Model
The Kano Model is the second visual Agile prioritization technique on my list. It shows the connection between customer satisfaction and quality level. The Kano analysis stands out because of the user-centric approach, placing a high level of consideration on what would delight potential users.
How do you use it?
Take all the functionalities you want to include in your mobile app and put them between two dimensions: possible customer satisfaction (Y) and their expectations (X). Ask yourself these questions: How do users feel if they have this feature (Y)? How do they feel if you did not give them this feature (X)? It will allow you to sort product elements into four categories:
- Must-be (or basic) features
These functionalities are highly expected but won’t satisfy the user. Your product needs them to be competitive. They simply must be included. And if they do not work correctly, they will cause dissatisfaction or frustration.
- Performance features
Also called “one-dimensional”, these functionalities have a linear correlation between how much you invest in them and how much satisfaction they bring to the customer. They will lead users to choose your product over the competition. They’re essential from the business perspective.
So-called “fireworks”. Customers will probably not notice or miss anything if you don’t include them. However, they lead to exceeded expectations and raise the delight with your product. Remember, they won’t be the delighters forever – their popularity lasts for a short period, and eventually, they will become basics.
- Indifferent features
They do not influence people’s emotions. Your users will not care about whether they are implemented or not. It’s better not to waste time and money to develop them.
The RICE Scoring Model is the prioritization framework that will help you determine a single score for each feature you will implement. It considers four factors: Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort.
How do you use it?
Determine the value for each of the above aspects. Multiply the reach, impact, and confidence that represents the benefit for your business. Then, divide the result by effort, which represents the costs you must bear.
Let’s use Jack’s example.
Jack and his Team described their Reach as the number of users interested in the feature. The reach for “basic dog training” would be 100, as many customers come to the training center to teach their dogs basic commands. The reach for “behavioral issues” would be 300, as many more dog owners look for help in this topic.
The Team estimated the Impact for both features as massive, giving them a score of 3.
The Confidence score would be 80% because they determined the Reach score on data, but Impact was based on intuition.
In the case of “basic dog training”, they will need 1 week of a dog trainer’s time to prepare materials, 1-2 weeks of designer work, and up to 4 weeks of developer and tester work, which gives the Effort score of 3. The “behavioral issues” feature requires the same engagement from the designer, developer, and tester, but the dog trainer’s time is extended to 4 weeks, which gives the Effort score of 3.5.
After a quick calculation, Jack and his Team assign the “basic dog training” feature with a RICE Score = 80 and the “behavioral issues” feature with a RICE Score = 205. A higher RICE Score indicates that solving a behavioral problem for dog owners will have a higher reach and impact with less effort than introducing basic training.
6. Cost of Delay
Let’s do some more math. To be honest, I do not like using Cost of Delay at the early stage of mobile app development. It is hard to estimate the potential revenue of every feature, as you’re just building the basics, and some of the essentials may not be profitable at all. Nevertheless, I will share it with you, as it may be helpful to determine which feature will give you the best ROI.
Cost of Delay works well for Agile Teams developing products in the further stage, like CCC.
How do you use it?
The formula is simple:
- Estimate the potential revenue that this feature will bring to your business each month.
- Estimate the amount of time needed to complete this feature.
- Divide the profit by the duration of the development.
The results show how much money you will lose every month by delaying this feature’s delivery.
The Monopoly method, also known as the “buy a feature” technique, is beneficial when you hold the Product Owner role, but there are still many other stakeholders waiting for your product. They usually represent distinct departments and have different needs. This activity may help you manage their necessities. Treat it as a last resort; if any other prioritization framework from this list works for you – stick to it.
How do you use it?
Invite your partners to the table and give them Monopoly money ($1000 each). Give them one task: to buy these features that they think are the most important now. To get to the correct value, encourage them to think about the business value, reach, impact on the product goal, risks, and effort needed to develop. They will pay more for the features that they truly want. As a consequence, they will have less budget for other things. Remember to timebox this activity, as they certainly could negotiate with you for long hours!
Selecting the suitable prioritization method for your Agile Team
What connects all of these techniques? They’re just different ways to bring the most valuable features for the app user to daylight and highlight the best opportunities to grow your business. Prioritization is essential for maximizing the chances of your product’s success!
As you can see, many tools may help you with the decision-making process. It is worth experimenting with them to find the one that suits you best.
If you need any guidance, ask your Scrum Master for help. At Droids On Roids, Scrum Masters are prioritization navigators, illuminating the intricacies of each technique. Many of our Product Owners have already harnessed this expertise, enhancing their initial implementations. Connect with us; together, we’ll streamline and enrich your app development process.
Wrap-up: The power of effective prioritization in Agile
Knowing how to prioritize requirements in Agile is one of the Product Owner’s greatest superpowers! It enables you to reach the ultimate goal of working with Scrum: gathering feedback as quickly as possible. Someone wise once said, “If everything is important, then nothing really is”. Keep that in mind, and you will become a master of prioritizing tasks faster than you can imagine.
Tell us in the comments which techniques you’re most excited to try!