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. The following prioritization techniques approach a product’s functions from various perspectives.

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

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

And don’t forget: keep combining holistic analytics 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 kind of 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, there is no level-up as long as a layer lacks satisfaction. 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.

However, doing everything by the rules results in a product that functions but won’t earn trust because it 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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Product managers' guide to UX design

The Kano Model

Another one of today’s popular prioritization techniques is the Kano Model.

As its biggest advantage, the Kano method 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.

Apply this technique as designed, do the questionnaire (mentioned below) and analyze it, organize a proper workshop, and take the time and effort to discuss the insights and the features.

Compared to the hierarchy of needs, it differentiates only three broader categories:

  • Threshold features: Sometimes called satisfiers, as users expect these features by default. Single-function or typical MVP apps exemplify this category.
prioritization techniques - marky let's get started
Marky is a good example for single-function apps (UX Studio’s first experimental product). The app can record interviews for later listening. Users download it with this basic expectation and it manages this requirement well.
  • Performance features: The baseline expectations. Consideration of usage context when building a mobile app exemplifies this kind of convenient feature.
prioritization techniques - kano marky
Marky’s performance feature is minimal. Simply mark touchpoints at important parts of interviews to search for highlights more easily when listening back.
  • Excitement features: Delighters that indulge users so much, they take them for granted over time 🙂

Sometimes prioritizing feature ideas based on these three categories helps – but positioning them in the two dimensions of customer satisfaction and investment elaborates and supports the entire discussion:

prioritization techniques - kano

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

And at this point it all gets hard core with the questionnaire. To take the method to the next level, do the homework and prepare a survey, or allocate time in interviews or usability tests.

The questionnaire aims to justify a feature from two 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 tolerate it – I dislike it:

prioritization techniques - table

People debate the required number of survey responses, but we advise you to get at least 20 responses per feature.

It might sound blasphemous, but Kano can also work without it, but it’s important to have somebody on the team to represent the customer’s viewpoint based on former research.

They may also question applying the Kano model (including its questionnaire) when working on a totally new product. Do so with an existing one when the method can help in the decision making of new feature updates.

Impact-Effort Analysis

The quickest and most common prioritization technique is to prioritize features. This technique is a great choice for new products and MVPs because it’s easy to select 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.

prioritization techniques - marky
When working on Marky, we planned to provide the transcript for the session recorded in the app. It would have proven highly valuable, especially combined with the highlighting feature. Since no low-effort solution arose to implement this feature functioning properly at the time, we had to let it go.

Its biggest advantage lies in the concept’s ease to understand. It also fits 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.