Best practices for managing and prioritizing features

Have you ever asked yourself the following questions?:

"How should I manage all incoming feature requests and prioritize my roadmap?"

"How can I best figure out where we should be going?"

If so, this article was written for you.

These are tough questions for any product manager and product team. Efficient requirements management takes skill even in single product /single target market companies. But in more complex organizations it takes real expertise.

Here are four tips to make roadmap planning and requirements management more efficient, meaningful, and enjoyable:

Goal first

As a great product manager, you must establish a "goal first" approach and a true north for your product based on the best information you have. Reaffirm your strategy and tweak it as a necessary, but stay grounded in what you are trying to achieve. This is even more important if there are several teams involved in managing the product. The product team must agree on strategic initiatives first, then align the roadmap and requirements against them (they must also make the necessary trade-offs as a group). 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. If you do, your company and team will follow. If you lose your direction or whip-saw the team back and forth, then complaints will quickly beat you down.

Lead with conviction

In all organizations, competing interests demand that different enhancements and improvements be made to the product. There's a reason that PMs are considered the CEOs of their product. They must make tough decisions and lead with conviction. Even on great teams where consensus and trust come easy, someone must make the final call when there are real reasons for disagreement. If you do not resolve these disagreements and try to push indecision into engineering, they will either smile and start building what they think is right or thrash and simply stall out.

Write more (and less) down

Engineers often complain that there is not enough written down, which makes it impossible to focus their efforts. Capture features and their related stories or requirements as bit-sized chunks (instead of long requirements docs*). This gives you a record of what customers and other key groups are requesting. It also allows you to incrementally improve these ideas and add additional details over time. The key is to capture what's essential and what the new capability should enable. This is not the place to detail every last bit of minutiae, or explain how engineering should build each feature.

*If you must produce a requirements doc as part of your process, build and publish it dynamically on the Features List view. Just filter by the release, add features and descriptions, and you're done.

Rank features based on business value

If you are taking the first three actions, then this last one is relatively easy. If not, it is nearly impossible to quantify the value of each feature and do a good job of prioritizing next steps.

Let's recap:

  1. You need to know what the goals or key business drivers are for your product so you can create a scorecard that includes these key metrics.;
  2. If it is not clear who owns prioritization, your scoring will not be trusted. It's essential to know who is in charge;
  3. If there is not enough detail per feature, then the functionality of each feature will be unclear. 

If you have these sorted, build your scorecard so you can quantify the value of features against the metrics that matter to your business. Then, rank these features (and their supporting requirements) based on those scores. Use a simple "effort" scale in your scorecard or turn on capacity planning, so you know how much each feature will cost in terms of resources. This is not the "official" effort estimate, but it will give you a sense of what it will take for you to consider regarding your roadmap planning.

Requirements management should be an ongoing process throughout the lifecycle of a product. And requirements should be generated by lots of folks, including customers; partners; sales; support; management; engineering; operations; and -- of course -- product management. Yet it is product management's job to set priorities, make sure these align with business goals, and are communicated to key stakeholders and teams. If you follow the four recommendations above, you will be well on your way.

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