In the previous parts we have done the heavy lifting – got clarity and came to conclusions. In the third and last part we are going to discuss practical prioritization mechanisms and tools. We will also touch sensitive topic how to communicate changes in priorities.
Let’s assume that you have list of clear customers’ requests. You can articulate why they are important and what is the actual need behind the request. They may look like equally important, but they are not. When everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
We need to introduce additional dimension(s) and rank items from our list according them. It is not a rocket science and plenty of tools are available for that. So, here we will touch only tiny percentage of them.
Before we jump in how to do prioritization properly, let’s align on what methods should be avoided.
Your, or someone else’s, gut
Prioritizing solely on your or some executive’s gut instinct can be totally misleading. While your CEO or other founding member of the executive team may have once been close to customers (or even been one at some point), their day-to-day experience is likely different now, and they are no longer in touch with the market.
Popular request, technology or feature does not always means high priority. There is even a name for such bias – Bandwagon effect. The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same thing. When Gartner puts certain tech on their chart, everyone decides to adopt it even without understanding how it relates to their use case.
Competitive me-too features
The quickest way to reduce the value of your product or solution is to get into a tit-for-tat feature war with your competition. As long as you got into such feature race, you are building a commodity. Be obsessed with your customers and not with your competitors.
When your list of customers’ requests is long, you need to have fast and easy way to figure out what requests have high impact.
Fundamental to this approach is the concept of ROI, or return on investment. You can’t do everything at once, so you should do the most leveraged things first—those that have the most impact for the least effort.
- Value/Effort = Priority
Value is the benefit the customer or the company gets out of a delivered request or other change. Effort is what it takes for the organization to deliver that. If you get more benefit for less effort, that’s an idea you should prioritize.
If you map all your requests on the diagram above, it will be very straightforward to identify “low hanging fruits” in the top right corner. These requests should be your priority.
The bottom left corner are candidates for a glacier. Why do you need to spend time on something that does not create any value?
The Kano model, developed by Dr. Noriaki Kano, is a way of classifying customer expectations into three broad categories: expected needs, normal needs, and exciting needs. This hierarchy can be used to help with your prioritization efforts by clearly identifying the value of solutions to the needs in each of these buckets.
The customer’s expected needs are equivalent to the MVP (minimum viable product). If those needs are not met, they become dissatisfiers, and your customer will not buy your product or use your solution. When you’ve met expected needs, however, customers will typically begin to articulate normal needs, or satisfiers—things they do not strictly need but that will satisfy them. If normal needs are largely met, then exciting needs (delighters or wows) go beyond the customer’s expectations. These typically used for competitors differentiation and value proposition.
The key benefit of Kano model – it allows to look on requests value from customer perception. It does not make sense put a priority to delighters and kick out all expected needs. Nobody needs a car with perfect mirrors but without wheels.
Desirability, Feasibility, Viability
Kano model and ROI Scorecard cover mainly customer’s view on value and priority. However, your organization is limited in resources, time or simply may not be able to deliver customer request at all. These parameters should be also part of prioritization equation.
Scoring each request in terms of desirability, feasibility, and viability can help to get this view.
Desirability indicates the value to your customer of solving a problem, providing a feature, or performing a function. Things customers value most have higher desirability. (Counterintuitively, exciting needs have lower value than expected needs because the latter are absolute minimum requirements.)
Feasibility indicates how easy it will be for your organization to solve this problem, build this feature, or perform this function. Solutions that require more money, effort, or time to deliver have lower feasibility
Viability indicates how valuable this solution is for your organization, often measured in revenue or profit. Solutions that make the company more successful have higher viability.
Using a simple 1 (low), 2 (medium), 3 (high) scale for each possibility allows you to add up the scores on each axis and come up with a composite score for priority. Ideas that score high on most or all of these criteria will rise to the top of the heap, above those that may score highly on one measure but not the others.
In the end, you will have a table below with priority score assigned to each request.
|Add custom fields to API||3||1||3||7|
|Improve engine performance||3||3||2||8|
|Reduce error rate||1||1||1||3|
Any prioritization involves risks. Input information may be incorrect, conclusions premise can be weak or you may miss something while applying prioritization framework. Risk is not possible to remove completely, it just contradicts with the nature of the world. Instead, we should measure it and have a mitigation plan.
One of the easiest ways to introduce risk as a parameter is to use “confidence level” in prioritization. Confidence level reflects how sure are you that the priority score is correct. Another way to look on it – how strong was your premise when you came to the conclusion?
Your decisions will always include risk. By making a conscious effort to evaluate risk and its factors, you’ll understand where you and others are uncomfortable. Now you have something to discuss.
Communicating Change in Priorities
People are uncomfortable with change. It is a natural reaction. But let’s try to look on it from critical thinking point of view.
In order to explain the thinking that takes place during change, we have to look at the premise that forms our conclusions. Remember the premise components and how they work: facts, observations, and experiences are combined to form assumptions, which are filtered by beliefs, until you come to a conclusion. The stronger the premise, the more confident you can be in the conclusion; the weaker the premise, the less confidence you’ll have. In the context of change, the conclusion is what to do. If you don’t have confidence in this, you’ll be uneasy about taking those actions.
People often lack experience when change occurs—experience in that new venture, process, or manager. When your experience diminishes, your premise weakens—and as we have seen, a weaker premise means less confidence in the conclusion. You’re not sure about what to do or say or how to act. As a result, you feel uncomfortable with the change.
So, when you are bringing to a customer new priority list, you are withdrawing possibility to predict and taking away their previous experience. And it is very unsettling for a human brain.
So, what should you do?
First of all, If you change something, acknowledge it. Understand they will be uneasy about what to do next. Acknowledge that you know they have little experience with the new list of priorities or process, so now they may not have as much confidence in what to do. That’s okay.
Second, you should strengthen their premise to increase level of confidence. Bring new facts and proving data points that change is good. Explain your assumptions and the process how you came up with new priorities and factors did you consider.
Third, connect the new priorities with vision and “want-to-be” state. Work backwards from the future to the moment in presence and demonstrate that change is needed to get there.
This concludes our series of articles about Critical Thinking framework for prioritization.
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