Features make your product attractive and valuable. However, that doesn’t mean you should launch your SaaS product with every possible feature you and your team can dream up. Feature prioritization helps you identify features your product must have to attract target users and deliver impressive value. Your product development team can then rank these features to decide which to install first.
Prioritizing product features during development is crucial because without it, your product development process may be plagued by:
A lack of clear vision and direction
Missed market opportunities
An even scarier outcome is you could end up launching a product with a poor user experience. The poor user experience will be due to your product lacking features that address user needs and pain points. Without such features, your target users can’t experience value, leading to lost revenue caused by a high churn and bounce rate.
What's in this guide:
How do you prioritize product features?
Feature prioritization involves selecting and ranking the product features your dev team should build and implement first. Your product development team can use several factors to determine the most important features. Such factors include user needs, business value, available resources, and technical feasibility.
Feature prioritization is crucial because it helps product teams prioritize developing features that offer customers the most value. Following this process ensures the efficient use of resources and facilitates building iterations that align with business goals.
There’s more than one way to prioritize the right features to build. However, the most ineffective feature prioritization tactic is assuming what target users want or relying on gut feelings. Instead, product teams should take a data-driven approach to prioritize features.
A simple data-driven approach involves researching your target users to identify their most desired and preferred features. You can get this information through a user survey, questionnaire, or other forms of user research. Analyzing the customer feedback will reveal the features your users want, and the higher priority features will be the ones users ask for the most.
Higher priority features should appear in the initial iterations of your new product. Your product development team can gradually add lower-priority features to future iterations in order of importance.
However, this is just one data-driven approach to feature prioritization. Keep reading to discover other popular feature prioritization frameworks used in the SaaS industry.
10 product feature prioritization frameworks to know
Each feature prioritization framework is unique. In this section, we’ll explain the most popular frameworks so you can select the most suitable one for your project.
1. MoSCoW method
Contrary to your assumptions, the MoSCoW method has nothing to do with Russia. Instead, Dai Clegg created the MoSCoW method in the U.K., and MoSCoW stands for MUST-HAVE, SHOULD-HAVE, COULD-HAVE, and WON'T-HAVE.
A MUST-HAVE feature has the highest priority, meaning you must add it to your product as early as possible. A SHOULD-HAVE feature is second on the product prioritization list, meaning it’s important but can wait till later.
On the other hand, a COULD-HAVE feature is a desirable feature that users can do without. You can eventually implement such a feature or skip it entirely. Lastly, WON’T-HAVE features are unnecessary features that won’t add value to your product or benefit end users.
Deciding which features fall under which priority category requires considering a feature’s impact and value to your users and project goals. For example, MUST-HAVE features are essential to your product’s core functionality. The absence of a MUST-HAVE feature can frustrate a user’s ability to experience value with your product. It may also make your product incapable of addressing target users’ primary needs or pain points.
On the other hand, a SHOULD-HAVE feature is important but not critical for a user to experience value. However, adding the feature can boost your digital product’s user experience and attractiveness.
MoSCoW Method example
2. RICE method
RICE is an acronym for Reachability, Impact, Confidence, and Effort, which are metrics for measuring a feature’s value. You can determine a feature’s place on your priority list based on how high a RICE score it gets.
Reachability covers how many people will use the feature.
Impact covers how impactful the feature will be (Minimal = 0.25x, Low = 0.5x, Medium = 1x, High = 2x, Massive = 3x).
Confidence represents your level of certainty regarding your estimates (High = 100%, Medium = 80%, Low = 50%).
Effort represents how much it will take (person/months) to build and implement the feature.
You can calculate a feature’s RICE score with this equation:
Reach x Impact x Confidence / Effort = RICE Score
So, if a feature’s Reach is 500 users, Impact score is 2, Confidence rating is 80%, and Effort is 4, your equation and RICE score will look like this:
500 x 2 x 0.8 / 4 = 200
The RICE method is excellent because it comprehensively assesses a feature by considering multiple relevant factors. So, product teams can make data-driven prioritization decisions with quantifiable metrics, reducing the margin for error. However, the method’s effectiveness relies heavily on the accuracy of the inputs used for the evaluation.
3. Kano model
The Kano feature prioritization framework is an excellent model for identifying the right features to prioritize to engage and satisfy target users. The model considers the fact that different types of customer needs exist, and these needs fall under three categories – basic, performance, and delight. You can provide features to satisfy each category of needs.
Basic features satisfy users' basic or must-be needs. Such features are necessary for the product to work and deliver value. Performance features elevate the product’s usability and functionality, while delight features make the product more enjoyable to use.
Examples of basic features in a calculator app could include multiplication, addition, subtraction, and division buttons. Performance features in the same app could be a refresh button or an option to store results and equations. On the other hand, delight features may include the option to share results and equations via social media.
With the Kano model, product team members can prioritize features based on the needs of target users. We recommend using the Kano model if you have limited time or resources and want to identify your WOW feature.
4. Weighted scoring system
The weighted scoring system is a popular feature prioritization framework, especially among teams looking for a particular feature to give first priority. The prioritization method involves listing your potential features and assigning scores to each one. The score can be between one and ten, and a feature with a higher score gets a higher ranking.
The assigned scores represent each feature’s importance or value and how well it meets user needs. You can also use the method by applying a weighted factor – You will multiply assigned scores by the weighted factor to get weighted scores. For example, if the original score is 3 and the weight is 40%, the weighted score will be 3 x 40 = 120.
Below is a scorecard that illustrates using the weighted scoring system to prioritize apps for a budgeting app:
Using a weighted scoring system for feature prioritization provides a more accurate representation of each feature’s importance. However, assigning weights and scores in a weighted scoring system is a subjective process. Stakeholders and team members contribute to the process by assigning scores to each item on the list of features. Each score represents how much value each participant believes a feature has.
If your team doesn’t have a good sense of which features have more value, they can’t accurately assign scores. In such scenarios, the product team should use another feature prioritization framework.
5. Value vs. effort
The value vs. effort framework weighs the benefits of a feature against the amount of time and effort required to build and implement it. Product teams can use this model to determine if prioritizing a particular feature is the best decision considering their available limited resources.
If developing a feature will be too time-consuming or expensive and deliver minimal value to users, you can de-prioritize it. On the other hand, prioritize developing a feature that requires less effort and offers users more bang for their buck. The value vs. effort framework is ideal for a startup with a tight budget, small team, or limited product development resources.
6. Buy-a-feature prioritization framework
Do you want a fun way to prioritize features with your product team members? If so, the buy-a-feature game could be for you. The game helps teams weigh the value of each proposed feature and the impact the feature will have on customers.
The exercise involves making a list of new features for prioritization and assigning a price to each feature. Next, you provide each participant of the exercise with an equal and limited amount of money (you can use monopoly money). Participants will then use the money they’ve received to shop for their favorite features. The exercise will give you an idea of which features stakeholders consider the most valuable and worth buying.
7. Constraints framework
Product managers use the constraints framework to prioritize features by considering the obstacles they will face while developing each feature. Some obstacles the development team may face include limited time, budget, skill, or labor.
After identifying each feature’s constraints, the team can score the constraints according to difficulty and rank them. A feature with constraints with a higher difficulty score will go down on the priority list.
On the other hand, features with a lower constraint score will get a higher priority for development. The constraints framework is ideal for teams that want to make realistic product development decisions by considering the limitations they face.
8. Story mapping
Agile product development teams use story mapping to visualize and prioritize features during projects. With a story map, teams can better understand the user journey and plan product development to match the identified user journey.
During feature prioritization story mapping, developers create a visual representation of user stories. The visual representation will be a hierarchical tree diagram that showcases the workflow or user journey flowing horizontally. It will also show the priority or importance of the stories in a vertical flow.
You can create a story map with sticky notes on a board or use a digital whiteboard, which is far tidier and more eco-friendly. Each sticky note will represent a different feature, and you can get your list of features by brainstorming with your development team or reviewing customer feedback.
Once you have your list of features, you can build your hierarchical tree. The most important features, such as features that must be in place for other features to work will be at the top of the tree. Lower priority features will follow on the tree in the order of their importance.
9. Opportunity scoring framework
The opportunity scoring framework offers a systematic approach to prioritizing features. It involves evaluating a feature against specific criteria to determine its value. Depending on your project goals, the criteria may be market demand, revenue potential, strategic fit, technical feasibility, or resource requirements. With the framework, you can prioritize features according to their potential impact, business value, or ease of implementation.
10. Cost of delay
The cost of delay framework prioritizes features by considering a feature’s value and the business impact of delaying its implementation. It helps product managers prioritize features by revealing the potential costs of delaying the delivery of a specific feature. The potential cost may be financial, a loss of market position, or compromising strategic goals. Features with the highest delay cost will receive higher development prioritization.
Who should determine feature prioritization?
Product decisions, such as feature prioritization, shouldn’t be a one-man job. Instead, it should be a collaborative effort involving the following parties:
1. Product owner/manager
Product owners or managers should have the deepest understanding of the product vision and business goals. This puts them in a unique position to contribute to the feature prioritization process.
Product managers are also responsible for conducting user research. Insights from the research help product managers understand the needs and pain points of target users. A product manager who knows users' needs can offer solutions (features) to satisfy them and prioritize implementing the most important features.
2. Development team
Developers, designers, and other technical experts involved in the SaaS product development process can provide unique insights regarding features to prioritize. For instance, due to their experience, these experts understand the feasibility, risks, and complexity of developing and implementing specific features.
Their knowledge enables them to provide relevant insights into which features will cost more or be more difficult to build. The insight is highly valuable if prioritizing features with the value vs. effort framework or the constraints framework.
3. Target Customers/Users
You are not building your SaaS product for yourself or your team. Instead, you are building it for your target users, and no one knows what target users want more than the users themselves. As such, your target customers should participate in the feature prioritization process.
Use user interviews, surveys, usability testing, and other user research methods to get customer feedback regarding which features are most important to them. You can also use these methods to collect feature requests and prioritize the most requested or upvoted features. Involving users will ensure your product development process stays user-centric and focused on building a product that users will find valuable and engaging.
Stakeholders are individuals not directly involved in your product development process but have a vested interest in its success. Such individuals include members of your non-product development teams, such as your sales, customer care, or finance teams.
For example, customer support and sales team members interact with customers regularly. Their interactions give them unique insights into customer behavior and preferences. These insights can be invaluable to feature prioritization.
Note that collaborative decision-making with the above parties helps ensure a holistic and well-informed approach to feature prioritization. Leveraging diverse perspectives also helps ensure final prioritization decisions consider business goals, user needs and preferences, and project or product constraints.
6 best practices when prioritizing product features
You can use one of the feature prioritization frameworks we discussed to achieve your product development goals. However, we recommend adhering to these best practices to achieve a more effective prioritization process.
1. Combine feature prioritization frameworks
Selecting the right framework for feature prioritization is critical to product development success. Several frameworks are available, and each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Select the right framework by picking one that fits your:
Organization's culture and values
Industry and market
Product lifecycle stage
However, you can combine multiple frameworks instead of relying on one feature prioritization method. For example, you can shortlist features with MoSCoW or the value vs. effort method. Then, you can prioritize features that made the list with the weighted scoring system. This approach will help you verify your feature ranking and prevent wasted resources.
2. Understand each feature’s value
Knowing how much value a feature can provide simplifies categorizing and ranking it alongside other features. You can identify a feature’s value by asking these questions:
Can the feature help improve customer acquisition and retention?
How many customers will the feature impact?
Can the feature help increase revenue?
Will the feature help create more awareness in the market?
Your answers to these questions will help you identify the features that can fast-track your journey toward achieving product and business goals.
3. Use templates
You don’t have to build a MoSCoW table or a weighted scoring system scorecard from scratch. Simplify prioritizing features by using feature prioritization templates. Such templates simplify establishing a prioritization process and scoring features with relevant metrics. You can find templates for prioritization frameworks like the Kano model, value vs. effort model, MoSCoW method, RICE method, and more.
4. Understand user needs
User needs, pain points, and preferences should be at the core of your feature prioritization decisions. The reason for this is simple – you are building your product for your customers. If customers do not like or need a feature, it reduces your product’s value in their eyes. This can negatively affect customer acquisition, retention, and revenue generation.
Avoid such outcomes by doing user research to understand your user needs and preferences. You can then use insights from your research to identify high-impact features that address the most critical user needs and provide the highest value. Implementing such features in early iterations of your product will position you to release a final product that wins over more of your target market.
5. Focus on Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Identify your must-have features or most valuable features and implement them in your MVP. An MVP is an early prototype you can put out for users and stakeholders to test and provide feedback. The feedback from users will let you know if customers find your product valuable and worth buying.
You should also adopt an agile iterative process that fast-tracks completing functional prototypes. Such a process facilitates releasing new features with each iteration. User feedback from each iteration will help verify if each new feature helps or compromises your product’s value.
6. Communicate and collaborate
Product managers, developers, designers, and stakeholders should all participate in the feature prioritization process. Cross-functional team communication will bring diverse perspectives and insights that aid the process. Besides providing useful feedback, communicating feature prioritization decisions with stakeholders will facilitate collaboration and ensure everyone gets carried along.
How DevSquad helps
As we’ve pointed out, feature prioritization can help your development team focus resources and efforts on implementing the right features. Doing so leads to launching a SaaS product target users find valuable, engaging, and worth buying. However, prioritizing features yourself can be a lot of work, especially since you have to do it multiple times while iterating your product.
Reduce your workload, avoid guesswork, and get better results by letting DevSquad handle your entire product development process. Our full-service agency helps SaaS businesses build user-focused products that match business goals. Besides feature prioritization, we will handle every other aspect of building, testing, and launching your SaaS product, including QA.
With us on your side, you can be as hands-off as you want with product strategy and design and still get your desired results. Contact us today to learn more about our product development and design services.