One of the biggest challenges that startups and business owners have to tackle is prioritizing the features of their company. It’s an area that we here at Due.com are all too familair with. As John Rampton, Due’s cofounder and CEO, has said, “When I was building out the freelancer section of Due, we had 200+ customers request a couple of features, so we built them. Turns out only three of the 200 people were willing to pay $5/month more to get that feature. Don’t let that happen to you.”

So, how do you prioritize the features at your company so that you don’t make the same mistake that so many other business owners have in the past?

Review Your Long-Term Roadmap

Daniel Elizalde, A Product Manager and author of Tech Product Management.com, says that “the struggle to prioritize features is just a symptom of something bigger. The real problem is usually lack of strategic vision or direction.”

He suggests that you ask the following questions when prioritizing your features;

  • Are you prioritizing features without a solid strategy and prioritization criteria?
  • Are you only listening to the loudest stakeholder, biggest customer, or squeaky wheel?
  • Are you just chasing after the features of the competition (feature parity)?
  • Are you trying to chase the latest trend in your industry?

Daniel says that if you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, “then your prioritization will not only be difficult, but it’ll be highly ineffective.”

He recommends that you go back and revisit your overall strategy and long-term roadmap to help guide you when it’s time to prioritize the features of your company.

Take a Goal First Approach

Brian de Haaff, co-founder and CEO of Aha!, adds, “you must establish a “goal first” approach and a true north for your product based on the best information you have.” You should also “reaffirm your strategy and tweak it as a necessary, but stay grounded in what you are trying to achieve.”

After accomplishing that, you need to get your team on-board in order to stay the course. Brian says, “Explain to the company and product team where you are headed, and the value that new releases and features will deliver to customers and the business.”

Curate Ideas

There are numerous ways to generate ideas, “such as analysis of core metrics, customer feedback through usability tests, interviews and more.” Itai Raveh, Product Manager at Yotpo, also uses feedback from both customers and employees.

By using a tool like UserVoice, Raveh and his team creates community-powered development that can develop solutions to problems. However, Raveh says on the Next Web that “it’s important to understand not just the ‘what,’ but also the ‘why.’” He adds, “It’s necessary to understand the issue that caused users to request a feature so you can identify weak spots and find more comprehensive solutions.”

He also suggests that you use a tool like Trello to store, keep track of, and rank all future product ideas and their features.

Vijay Balachandran recommends on Medium that your startup use something known as the iterative process. This is where “you develop a hypothesis based on your understanding of customer problem, come up with a solution, draft detailed requirements (can be collaborative for better results, but keep time as a constraint).” You then “develop a mockup and discuss with one or two relevant customers” and use their feedback to “ fine tune the features further.”

Select Your Framework For Prioritization

Next up, it’s time to develop a framework for your prioritization of features. While this will vary from startup to startup depending on your industry, Ian McAllister, Director at Airbnb, has a very solid framework that you should consider using.

The framework focuses on the following six items;

  • Focus on themes themes, not projects, by creating a list of themes for your product or business and selecting the most important ones for your product given its stage.
  • Prioritize your top three themes from above and develop “an idea of approximately how many of your resources you’re going to allocate to each.”
  • Develop project ideas that are directly related to your themes.
  • Estimate the impact that each project can deliver.
  • You also want to estimate the cost of each of each project.
  • Finally, prioritize the projects within each theme. Start with the projects that will have the greatest impact at the lower costs.

McAllister says that the benefits of using this framework are that it will make you focus on the most important themes for your project, allocate the proper resources, prevents you from pitting projects against each other, and forces you to model/forecast the impact of projects.

Find the Method That Highlights Your Best Features

You also need to find the right method or techniques that validate the features of your product. Jim Semick, co-founder of ProductPlan, offers the following seven strategies.

  • Value vs. Complexity Quadrant evaluates all of your potential opportunities based on business value and the relative complexity to implement.
  • Weighted scoring uses the Value versus Complexity model, but also includes scoring to arrive at an objective result.
  • The Kano Model is where product managers review the potential features “through the lens of the delight a feature provides customers versus the potential investment you make to improve the feature.”
  • Buy a feature is where you list potential features and assign a “price” to each (based on a relative cost to develop it). Hand these out to customers or stakeholders and ask them to buy the features that interest them most.
  • Opportunity scoring measures and ranks all opportunities based on their importance versus customer satisfaction.
  • Affinity scoring is a brainstorming activity that asks everyone to list opportunities on sticky notes. As a team, you then group similar items together and rank them.
  • Story mapping is when you “create task-oriented story cards and group them into a workflow. You then arrange the cards in priority order for each group. The final step is to draw a line (often with tape) across all the stories to divide them into releases/sprints.”

These strategies can be used when developing a new product or when maintaining a new product.

Visualize the Product and Road Map

To keep your entire team on the same page, you should take a visual approach during this process. It’s more effective and easier to explain than having written documents. Thankfully, there are number of excellent product management tools that can assist you with this task.

Some of these tools, which you could add to your small business’s toolbox, include the aforementioned Aha! and Product Plan, along with ProdPad, ProdThink, and Validately.

However, one of the best visualization methods is using Customer Journey Mapping. As the Harvard Business Review states, this is a diagram that illustrates the steps your customer(s) go through in engaging with your company, whether it be a product, an online experience, retail experience, or a service, or any combination.

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Best known as an Entrepreneur and Connector. John was recently named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine as well as a blogging expert by Forbes. He is the Founder and CEO of Due.

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