An Algorithmic Model for Product Feature Prioritization

Introduction

Product feature prioritization is a key and critical activity in the product definition process. This review explains how to efficiently prioritize future product features according to the Blackblot PMTK Methodology .

Product Features

A Product Feature is primarily a product’s functional capability that satisfies a specific customer need. The sum of all of the product’s features is referred to as the Product Feature Set and it represents the reality of all that a product can do.

The product, by merit of its feature set, is the solution to the market problem which customers wish to solve. This obviously means that any given product feature set will have a direct bearing on the product’s chances of achieving marketplace success. In addition, the selected product feature set immediately impacts the development effort and subsequent marketing and operational activities.

Every product feature has to be developed, tested, fixed, documented, marketed, sold, supported, and possibly terminated at some point in time. The business implications and accumulated costs can be immense if certain product features in the product feature set are unnecessary or less desired by the customers.

It is therefore critical to select the best product features and optimize the product feature set to fit market needs, subject to budgetary and scheduling constraints. A key component of the product feature selection process is feature prioritization.

Product Feature Selection Process

The product feature selection process has three objectives:

  • 1. Identify redundant or missing features
  • 2. Build product versions and roadmap
  • 3. Analyze and prioritize features

Identifying redundant or missing features is accomplished via traceability between representations of market problem facets (e.g. market requirements) and the defined product functionality (e.g. product requirements) which addresses those facets. Defining product versions and a roadmap is dependent on and also an outcome of feature prioritization, so this means that the centerpiece component of the product feature selection process is the product feature prioritization activity.

The most commonly used and arguably the most biased and ineffectual way of prioritizing product features is a simple unstructured debate. The product stakeholders, primarily team members from the product management and product development departments, convene for a series of periodical prioritization meetings in which they argue feature preferences and negotiate feature prioritizations. These meetings are notoriously lengthy without much progress being made, except for one or two meetings near critical milestones such as an upcoming product launch where quick resolutions are compelled.

The prioritization meetings can be long and rife with internal bickering on areas of ownership and final decision-making when there is an internal lack of clarity on the division of ownership and responsibilities concerning the product.

Sometimes more structure is brought to the debate by centering the discussion on market-related considerations such as the pervasiveness and urgency of the feature being reviewed. Sometimes an arbitrary score that is based on a preset series of numbers is assigned to each feature. But all of these have a marginal effect in bringing about a speedy or optimized resolution because the market considerations and the arbitrary numbers are profoundly subjective. The dreaded unstructured or semi-structured debates are not the right tool to prioritize product features.

The lack of a solid product feature selection process and structured prioritization method may also lead to Scope Creep, a situation where uncontrolled modifications, mostly additions, are made to the product feature set. Scope creep occurs when the product feature set is not fully defined, not fully documented, or not properly controlled.

Incidentally, scope creep may also be the result of Research-oriented Development, a situation where product development begins while there is incomplete, ambiguous, or missing information about the market problem. This forces further study of the market and causes occasional readjustments to the product feature set, whilst the product is being developed, as more market knowledge is gained. Whatever the cause may be, scope creep is a most undesirable negative phenomenon because it almost always adversely impacts the project schedule and budget, as well as possibly catalyzing the re-architecting of the product.

 
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