[HOPE GURION, FEARLESS PRODUCT]
Are you trying to align your product team and your leadership team on an agreed-upon method for prioritization? In this episode of Fearless Product Leadership I talked to five experienced product leaders working in B2C and B2B startup growth and mature companies and they tell me their favorite methods for prioritization in it you're going to learn the important distinction between prioritization and sequencing and you're going to learn about the critical importance of a North Star.
[STEFAN RADULLIAN, HEAD OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, BRAINLOOP, A DILIGENT COMPANY]
So I know what what does not work so setting priorities by gut-feel is risky yeah still it might work for a while well while in a product lifecycle while you are so if you're onto something and you know that this is something where you have to drill yeah where you have to go deeper putting things into the right order order something sometimes it's it's it's simple its it's the logical order of how things have to be built and then then there is no much of there's not no big opportunity costs to think about so that's where that feel or logical thinking eyes is enough and then and then it becomes difficult because you have to think about the opportunity costs you have to think about how how to maximize the value of the backlog and my I think the best the best methods I I have today is a scorecard having multiple criterias balancing the criterias against each other coming with some numerical quantifiable the number that you can you can put on a story or on a feature and try to sort the things and and this is this is just for your first order approximation of priority because then you have commitments and you have I don't know what you have to deal with reality like teams and their skills and and and I and also it's important to differentiate actually that's that's a very important thing to realize that priority is not order so the sequence that you do things should reflect as much as possible the priority that comes out by this scoring of features but it's it will never be the same and we will never be able to to just deliver your your stories according to the priorities I never seen that working actually so maybe there is but I never saw that working yeah so yeah so this scorecard would be my best instrument at the moment I'm not sure if that's the best one.
[LAUREN ANTONELLI, CHIEF OF STAFF, EVITE]
I’ve realized over the years there's two different ways to look at prioritization there's the business prioritization for the company as a whole and then there are day-to-day product manager prioritizations that you have to make I like to sort of divide them between business being prioritization and the product managers being more sequencing which are subtle differences but I think they're important and and here's why so at eBay we set strategic priorities for the year those are set from the top those are set from Victor they are not necessarily specific to moving a metric but moving an area of the business which is nice because it gives us freedom as product managers and as a company to fill in the way to get there so he sets the Northstar every year and we set the plan to get to that Northstar so what we did this year under my new role was we had a Bottoms Up project brainstorm where we allowed everyone in the company to sort of pitch the projects that would go under those strategic priorities so the North Star is set by the business by the CEO but we as a team can talk about how to move those KPIs once those came in and were presented the senior team actually he prioritized which projects we would work on for q1 and q2 and I purposely did it for half year and that's sort of my annual road map I don't believe in annual roadmaps I think but I think about what my product theory is our product management theory it's like the first thing I don't believe in is an in because what you learn in the beginning of the year changes everything that you're gonna do at the end of the year anyway so how many years do we have to keep reducing this ridiculous thing that's another question so I commit to six months six months is enough because you can do big projects you can do little ones and you can learn something in six months you could probably even learn something in a quarter really but try to give people a little bit more time so they don't feel too tight we decided which priority projects we would work on there's three projects under each strategic priority so there's 15 projects you know medium sized things that we're working on throughout the company so from the finance team to the product team to the development team and everyone has sub team priorities that fit under there so for example if we're watching a new product data team has to be able to tag what it needs to happen the finance team needs to be able to process the revenue that goes with that new product so there's all kinds of things where you can really see what your day-to-day work fits into the thicker goal so when it comes to a cut line for prioritization it actually makes things really easy we're working on these things and these things alone so if it's not on this list we're not working on it so it does cut the what about if we did X sort of stuff but then okay we still have 15 projects and you still have to prioritize within them there are three that are about the business today and there are two strategic priorities that are about the business tomorrow the business today those three take priority over the other two so there we have a little bit more and from there we have to sequence so prioritization is more of the like I said in my opinion a company-wide view of what's important sequencing has all kinds of other factors right that's where the product managers get to play Tetris with the developers right so you're balancing impact and feasibility you don't always want to do the highest impact and easiest things to do because then you're never going to get big giant boulders through the system so when it comes to prioritization figuring out if these are the things that we're focusing on and there's a lot of them what things are small medium and large and how do we make sure that we get the large started early and fill in you know rocks and sand to the rest of the sprint so instead of putting the prioritization on the PM's we put the sequencing on the cams so we take off the load of pressure of what is most important I've worked at eBay for a long time and back in the day the product managers had to sort of decide what was most important and it became sort of what stakeholder was the loudest or the last to talk to us and then their stuff got done it was never prioritized from a business perspective so again when I think about great high-performing organizations moving in the same direction it's because that direction is set from the top in a big way and when I talk to product leaders who don't have a North Star so much of their time is doing that sort of CEO level prioritization in my opinion so it's no wonder they can't get stuff down or they can't move the needle because they're too busy sort of doing the job above them in my opinion
[BRANDON ANDERSON, VP OF PRODUCT, SPORTSENGINE]
Prioritizing is something that's evolving pretty dramatically I came from e-commerce where we where we led a system of prioritization that we went in and fourth ranked everything and we took all of the so it was just a disaster beforehand got everybody's requests until one basically spreadsheet eventually had moved into a product management tool that we use we force rank that we force everybody to sit down with kind of the guidance that let's rank has based off the overall value to the company not taking level of effort into consideration and that's a big change for people to get their head around and the reason that we did that was to ensure that we had the North Star are we going after the things do we know what is the most important thing in our organization is that our North Star is that something that might take two or three years for us to get to yeah it might take two or three years of concerted effort to deliver something like that but you we think it's the number-one value let's find our way to that place so really did a force ranking no level of effort that has to go hand in hand with a road map how do you deliver when are you delivering things sometimes you're going to be working on number two number twenty and number 48 right in your list and you have to be able to tell a cogent story as to why that makes sense right and what are the trade-offs that you're making why aren't you working on number one right if that's in your product team right or your your group the other thing that I found has to come with that kind of prioritization process is that the teams have to carve out operational capacity outside of that so those end up being the big strategic things that are multi week multi months multi year you still have the day-to-day operations improving your product right it's not a project based organization you're a product organization so you have to carve out depending on what your product team is some operational capacity there that is the first stuff to go if the team is not doing their jobs extremely well and running it a tight ship right so they all of a sudden start to bleed that out they starve the product they work on the shiny new thing and then all of a sudden months later you're wondering why you have turn on your customer base so that's how I've done it when I brought it over to my new company which is a product based company it was great to bring everybody in because this is cross-functionally people are agreeing and prioritization so people can say oh you you like this idea better until you just did you did this guy's idea or whatever it might be you're not playing favorites if everybody's together so we started there what I found is people were really looking for our team to be the thought leaders our team was becoming very senior in this space and so we have we have started to move slightly away from that where the teams are feeding their own cue they're putting out their annual goals they understand what the big things are they're going to move towards and they're publishing out this is what's going to happen now they're not you know they're not dictatorship state sometimes you know get things that are inserted for myself or the CEO of our leadership team or an acquisition that comes in it and so you know what we want to do in those positions is make sure they understand the context on why that's important for their product and that they come to an agreement of that it is and maybe they don't sometimes they don't always agree but you know you just have to work through those one-off so I'd say on our journey to more autonomous teams we're trying to also more autonomously control our prioritization.
[ROSIE RULEY ATKINS, VP OF PRODUCT, HOMEBASE]
As we're pursuing these different ideas and each team has their own ideas that they're pursuing we can understand Tam and that that's probably the first lens what's going to have the biggest impact because we're trying to grow as quickly as possible right and growth in both customer base and revenue so it's nice to be to know what the what the overarching goal is for the company we're at a size where it's simple everybody's got the same revenue and growth goals once we do that prioritization becomes a much simpler question because based on the research we did we can write size a solution because we're not saying yet we want to grow the Tam by 10% or by the customer base by a certain number we're saying we believe that we can do it using this what can we build that we can learn the right way to do it and so we tend to build high quality smaller things first and launch them maybe test them or launch them and look at them against a benchmark we had and then say okay now this thing is really working well this one not so much let's invest a lot more in that and so when we're looking ahead to you know what we're building we're building on what we may have built two months ago and that thing was a winner we'll build more and invest more into it while we're also building something that we can learn from again so it's this learn and iterate cycle that makes it so easy and I think that for us that the biggest win on this has been that we can get to know and nobody feels bad there's very little investment you might have 10 customer conversations and be like it's a non-starter.
[TROY ANDERSON, CHIEF PRODUCT AND TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, SPINS]
What is my favorite method of prioritization? I'd say you know if you really have a good rubric or hypothesis of how your business of solving it becomes pretty easy to say what is going to be the biggest rock in the river. and if you're not familiar with that analogy it's like if the ships coming into our River and there's rocks in the river the size of the ship that you can get in is is only going to get in if the largest rock was removed and once at largest rapids remove then the next layer just shook like thing come in actually means the next load Israel and so it's pretty easy if you have a hypothesis but the key is you don't ever have their equipment so as you as you go along then your prioritizing you might have a good model for exactly what it is you think it's a higher strapping later but as you start to go into the channel and you bump into it you're like oh you know this we need to change hypothesis we need to change them all that said you can't have your model like leaving all the stuff isn't really like flooding from place to place and so hopefully you've come up with something a little bit more longer-term but then on the priority side you know restraints I've taught for something with more options right so if one option is you know we're going to get this and we're going to get like at 7 I get 12 that's usually the better option because then the uncertainty has more opportunity the set of them so I'm a big fan of options and treating things with options so when you're prioritizing think about what opportunity there is to pivot from that particular thing as opposed to going laser focus now as you're a business of alls and uncertainty the point then there's more sure that's that have lessons or you are going to be your better that's but from our prioritization model you want to understand where your uncertainty is and power
[HOPE GURION, FEARLESS PRODUCT]
Product leaders know all too well the importance of aligning on priorities. The product leaders that I coach are often coming from a place where the leadership team simply has not aligned on the North Star and the product teams do not have clear goals. That is one of the most important things that I’ve worked with them to establish. I quickly work with the product leader and the leadership team to recognize the reality of where they are and to establish that North Star and priorities so that they can set meaningful goals for their product teams and evaluate the trade-offs between different possible investments. If this sounds like the type of issue that you're struggling with has a new product leader, please do get in touch on LinkedIn or Twitter because it is some of the most rewarding of what I do.