The Product Manager’s Checklist for Prioritizing Features

Let’s say you’re getting underway on the development of a new product. You have a finite amount of resources to get things done, and your executive stakeholders want to know when milestones will be hit. “It’ll be ready when it’s ready” won’t cut it.

You’re going to have to prioritize. That means some things will make it into your first iteration of the product, but others—even some of those ideas you really, really love—will have to wait.

But how do you prioritize? What do you prioritize? What if you have no idea where to start?

Good news: You can start right here, with this product manager’s checklist. Review each step and ask yourself, have I completed this step in the prioritization process?

Step 1: Take a look at your product’s big-picture strategy.

Before you can start determining what specific features your product will need, you should first refer back to the high-level strategic objectives you and your team have set for the product. Remind yourself of those big, lofty goals. They should help guide your decisions in this feature-prioritization exercise.

You’ll also want to keep your product’s strategic objectives handy, because you’ll want to refer back to them often throughout the development process.

Step 2: Gather up all of your available user and market data.

As you start combing through that big, long list of feature ideas, suggestions, and requests, you’ll also want to have all relevant data nearby.

Data can be gathered from a number of useful sources and it’s important to take advantage of more than just one. By referencing a diversity of data sources, you’ll improve your chances of landing on high-priority features that are worth pursuing.

For a list of five great sources for gathering business intelligence, refer to Chapter 1 of The Product Manager’s Complete Guide to Prioritization. We’ll tell you why certain sources offer value and how to go about using them effectively.

Step 3: Develop a plan for an MVP.

No matter how hard you and your team are willing to work, you will not be able to launch a fully mature product, capable of everything your team envisions for it, on day one.

First-generation iPhones didn’t come with copy-and-paste functionality and, as hard as it is to imagine today, they didn’t have any third-party apps, either. Products grow over time.

So prioritize just a few things for the first version that you’ll be rolling out to customers, and maybe a add couple more on your product roadmap. In other words, start with a minimum viable product (MVP).

When you go into development with the MVP mindset, you can develop your product faster, launch it sooner, and then allow actual users to help guide you on how to prioritize your next items.

Step 4: Get a full accounting of your available resources.

Remember, you won’t be developing this product under utopian conditions—with unlimited people, skill-sets, and budget.

You’re going to be limited in terms of all of those resources, so you’ll need to lay that information out in front of you as you’re prioritizing your features, because resource constraints could affect your decision-making here.

Step 5: Narrow your list to those features you can start on now.

Although feature prioritization is a difficult and stressful undertaking, you can make things a lot easier by first shortening your feature list—for now, at least—to those your team can start working on right away.

If you still have to do more research on a feature, or wait for development resources to become available to help with it, you can’t push that item to the top of your priority list.

See? You’ve already narrowed your list substantially. Now, as for the features that remain and still need prioritizing…

Step 6: Select a prioritization model.

How can you objectively choose one feature over another for your early version of your new product? Will you base your decisions on customer requests alone? On other market research? And how will cost and resource allocation factor into your decisions?

You’ll need some consistent way to measure the strategic importance and feasibility of one feature against another, and you’ll want to have this model ready when you set out all of the features vying for the limited space in your development cycle.

We’ve identified 7 different prioritization techniques that product managers should consider at this step of the process. Refer to Chapter 3 of The Product Manager’s Complete Guide to Prioritization to see the full list. In the guide, we explain each technique and offer suggestions for when and how to use each.

Step 7: Make sure to include at least one “customer delight” feature.

As we’ve argued on this blog before, customer delight is a must-have on your product roadmap.

This is especially true in your product’s early days, because this is when you’ll be making your first impressions on users. If they find your product sufficient but not great, they won’t be as likely to stay with your product on its journey, or to talk about your product with their friends and colleagues. Plus, a “sufficient” competitor might come along at any time.

Here’s another way of thinking about this: Your MVP should always have at least one customer-delight feature in it. Otherwise, it probably won’t be viable to go to market.

Read the Essential Feature Kickoff Checklist ➜

Step 8: Develop a plan to persuade your stakeholders.

At this point, hopefully you’ve narrowed down your feature list to only a few highly strategic, high-priority items. You should also have strong reasoning—including data and even a scoring framework—to support your decisions to include each of these features.

So now you’ll need to share your feature-prioritization strategy with your executive stakeholders, so you can earn their buy-in to move ahead with your plan.

This can include presenting your prioritized features compellingly on your product roadmap.
It can and should also include knowing each of these stakeholders and understanding what motivates them and what their priorities are, so you have the best chance of persuading them to green-light your prioritized features.

None of this will be easy, of course, but now at least you can map your progress to these 8 important checklist steps. For supplemental guidance on prioritization (and more detail-oriented content), download your free copy of The Product Manager’s Complete Guide to Prioritization.

If you have any feature-prioritization strategies that have worked for you, please share them in the comments section.