3 Feature Prioritization Techniques With Your Users In Mind

A new product or service with plenty of ideas will constantly require feature prioritization. This carries great responsibility, as new functions might impact usability and also affect business interests. Feature prioritization isn't a solo activity: the more diverse a team, the better are the results of the session. 

This article deliberately didn’t try to become an ultimate list of feature prioritization techniques (others have done a pretty good job). Instead it presents three great examples that our UX company uses effectively. 

We consult with companies that need help with UX every day. Here are three of our preferred methods:

  • Hierarchy of User Needs
  • The Kano model
  • The Impact – Effort analysis

And don’t forget: keep combining holistic (analytical) methods with long and short-term product goals in mind, in tandem with models which take available resources into account as well.

Feature Prioritization Techniques

Hierarchy of User Needs

In his book Designing for Emotion, Aarron Walter adapts the Maslow pyramid for user needs. This approach to feature prioritization can work extremely well categorizing the long list of features in an idea pool. It also helps to make tough decisions, even when certain nice-to-have features fall out of the actual scope.

prioritization techniques - nngroup pyramid

According to the theory, an upper level can only be reached when the previous one has been satisfied. This is a reasonable and useful approach, especially when building an MVP.

In fact, this method of feature prioritization saved us a lot of debates and rationalizing when members of the product team clung to ideas that did not serve the product’s vision.

prioritization techniques - mobile screens
In the Tep sports tracker app, you feed a virtual pet (tamagotchi) by doing sports activities. As a gamified activity tracker app, it turns the pyramid upside down: our team focused on features of delight first. As a consequence, the functional and reliable features still have some technical hiccups which would need more work.
Challenge the method

However, doing everything by the rules may result in a product that functions but lacks personality. It might sound like an exaggeration, but ending up with a well-done output that has no impact because it makes no impression comes very easy.

Basically that creates the tension in the theory and encourages allowing one or two tiny (low-effort) “pleasurable” features in a to-do list to season a product.

If justified and well prioritized, small delightful touches don’t always require extra effort. Even a well-formed sentence at the right time reacting to the right action can work. (But debate the idea; everyone can come up with good and bad examples – let us know your opinion). The Nielsen Group wrote a good summary about the theory of user delight.

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The Kano Model 

Another popular prioritization technique used by our team is the Kano Model.

The strength of the Kano model is that it approaches feature prioritization from the perspective of the actual users of a product or a service. At the same time, its complexity is a handicap as well.

Compared to the hierarchy of needs, it differentiates only three categories: threshold, performance and excitement features.

  • Threshold features: Sometimes called satisfiers, as users expect these features by default. Single-function or typical MVP apps exemplify this category. Getting threshold features right won’t give you any competitive advantage, but not paying them enough attention in your product roadmap would be a big mistake. 
feature prioritization example
Headspace app has a clear purpose: help users to release daily stress with guided meditation audio recordings. It has consistent neat design, such as the above play/pause feature screen.
  • Performance features: The baseline expectations. Performance features are noticed and evaluated by users, having a linear effect. Generally, user’s satisfaction increases the better these are implemented. Product features that have been designed taking into consideration context of use exemplify this kind of convenient feature.  
continue watching feature prioritization
An example of performance feature is the ‘Continue watching’ list of Netflix. The product team identified the pain of users that had to find again the exact moment at which they had previously stopped watching a move or episode, and provided a quick solution.
  • Excitement features: Also referred to as delighters, these features are not expected by users – they won’t be missed, but can increase drastically user’s satisfaction. Delighters tend to have a short-life. The more successful, the faster competition shifts excitement features into basic user’s expectations. We indulge users so much, they take these for granted over time 🙂 
feature prioritization example
Last year Revolut implemented a surprise feature for its users: the possibility to add a GIF and personal note to any app-to-app transaction. Revolut explained that the idea behind was to make payments more fun and social, and users seem to have embraced this unexpected possibility.

 

Once we have categorized feature ideas we can elaborate and support the entire discussion by positioning them in the two dimensions of customer satisfaction and investment:

prioritization techniques - kano

Whereas the latter represents the product team (the quality of implementation of the feature), the former defines its product vision (its possible success within a target audience).

The Kano’s questionnaire

At this point the Kano model gets hard core. To take the method to the next level, do the homework and prepare a survey, or allocate time in interviews or usability tests. We advise to get at least 20 responses per feature.

The questionnaire aims to justify a feature from two opposite angles: what would users feel if they had access to a certain feature (functional) and what would they feel if they didn’t (dysfunctional).

Here you can find some great example questions by Daniel Zakarias:

  • Functional question: “if exporting any video takes under 10 seconds, how do you feel?”
  • Incorrect dysfunctional question: “if exporting any video takes longer than 10 seconds, how do you feel?”
  • Preferable dysfunctional question: “if exporting some videos takes longer than 10 seconds, how do you feel?”

The answer options include: I like it – I expect it – I am neutral – I can live with it – I dislike it.

The feature is then classified into one of six categories: Questionable (Q)- Attractive (A) – Must-be (M) – Reverse (R)- One-dimensional (O) – Indifferent (I)

prioritization techniques - table

A feature considered ‘Indifferent (I)’ does not evoke any strong feelings in users (either because it does not bring any value, or simply this is not perceived by them). A product feature is considered ‘Reverse (R)’ when its presence decreases satisfaction among users.

Kano model: make it yours

Nevertheless, Kano model can also be successfully used as a prioritization method without the questionnaire part. In that case it’s important to have somebody on the team that represents the customer’s viewpoint based on proper research. For an existing product, this would ideally mean having usability-tested the feature and other relevant UX research methods.  

research design methods

Remember the Kano model is one more tool: if in doubt, use it when you feel more comfortable. We suggest to start experimenting with it in the decision making of new feature updates, and then implement it at other product decision stages if your team members see value in it. 

Impact-Effort Analysis

Among the fastest and most common feature prioritization techniques is the impact-effort matrix. This technique is a great choice for new products and MVPs because it’s easy to select good ideas that can be implemented in a given timeframe.

prioritization techniques - diagram

The horizontal dimension defines a feature’s impact, the value it adds for users. The product and the business impact can also come in here as a justification factor. Either concentrate on one of these three aspects at a time or draw an average to position it in the model.

The vertical line shows the effort, the resources it requires to deliver the feature. The best case scenario results in providing a high impact feature with the lowest effort level. The so-called ‘quick-wins’. 

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The Impact-Effort Analysis is a concept extremely ease to understand by anyone in the room. It also fits product backlog grooming sessions and enhances discussions about the time a certain task requires to implement.

#WiseMoments alias Closing Thoughts

Keep your product roadmap in mind

Most feature prioritization techniques prove the most useful if they follow a strategic workshop. This session should end with the common, most up-to-date product roadmap, value proposition and clear goals for all team members. This way the focus won’t go missing, allowing some feature ideas not serving the current goal to go into “hibernation”.

Feature prioritization is like a time capsule

As your product roadmap, the features in your backlog don’t solidify like rigid elements, so they need prioritizing again and again. Your audience may need a function once it gains momentum, even though maybe no one wants it now.

Less is better

Don’t fear to implement fewer features, especially in the very beginning of a product story. User engagement does not relate in direct proportion to the number of features, so a narrow scope creates no problems but rather makes the best of it. The need to get back to backlog grooming will come up sooner than expected anyway. 🙂

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Katica Babarczi

Superempathetic designer with a strategic mindset. Designing accessible products is my ongoing mission in my digital product design journey.