How to Prioritize Product Features

Product prioritization is not about adopting one universal methodology; it's about your business environment and growth stage.

Impact

42% of startups fail because they don’t achieve product-market fit and cannot find and meet a market need. Simply put, businesses fail because they build a product no one needs. 

When deep in love with their ideas, some founders lose connection with the market reality and some might not even talk to customers since their product inception.

However, there are also businesses that do get their customers right; yet, they also run a risk of failure. In this case, they choose the wrong time for building the right features and try to achieve a pipe dream with limited resources.

So, what’s the right way to prioritize product features to build a product your customers will love? Let’s dive into some methods you can apply right away.

1Focus on the most impactful features

There is no universal way to prioritize product features in a startup, and you would probably work out your favorite method over time or use a few simultaneously. However, this one used by Intercom certainly deserves your attention before you move to examining other methodologies and approaches.

In Intercom, the product team is prioritizing features depending on how many users would benefit from them and the frequency of use. 

Let’s take an example of an invoicing app. If 90% of users are going to use an invoice template in your bookkeeping app every day, it’s worth improving it and building on new features. How about business reports? 

Probably just 10% of your users would have a need to look into it and most likely they would do that much less frequently than issuing invoices. That’s why you would improve your invoice template rather than adding another report.

If your startup has limited budget and technical resources—especially if you’re building your product in an area with a high talent shortage—here are some other product prioritizations you should consider:

2Go for quick wins among product features

Some product features that your customers will love are not worth implementing because they are too time-consuming to implement and absorb too much of your tech team.

In some countries, startups struggle to hire and onboard tech talent. In some cases, hiring a regular software engineer takes 40 days. Another challenge is costs of developing basic app features

That is why being too ambitious about product development can kill your team’s productivity and slow your company down.

Having limited resources, you have to weigh the risks of implementing each feature and involve your developers to help assess those risks better.

Your development team can give you a rough estimate of which resources they would need and how much time it can take them to implement it. 

Killing a product idea due to a lack of resources for implementation is not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, limited development resources can motivate you for finding high-value features that are easy to implement.

You can put all features you want to implement on the lean prioritization canvas. Then identify those located on the top left-side quadrant—the quick wins. These features will have the highest impact on user retention and the conversion from trial to paid, and they’re the easiest to implement.

3Ask your customers

Your customers have the right answers about your next killer feature—you just have to reach out to them. Asking for feedback at each stage of product development will help get your clients to love your product forever.

Customer centric organizations would normally touch base with their clients every quarter inviting them for user interviews and some would be doing it everyday by carefully analyzing conversations on a help desk and evaluating requests for new features or integrations.

In fact, you don’t need to talk to a hundred customers to catch some patterns. Even a few would give you a good idea of what your product lacks or some new market need.

A twenty-minute phone conversation with a client can teach you more and provide a better market insight than weeks of speculations on client challenges with your team. Such user feedback can be especially important when entering a new market and confronting legal limitations. For example, for medical companies this can be HIPAA compliance in the US, for accounting software—Making Tax Digital in the UK.

Depending on what stage of product development you’re on now, you would have to ask different questions.

For example, if you’re planning to build an MVP, you would find some of these questions useful to understand what users are struggling with.

4Get customers to upvote features

If you have already built a large user base, it’s worth having your clients request new features and get them upvoted by other users. The more users who upvote a feature, the stronger confirmation it is to know what to focus on next.

There are multiple ways you can gather feedback from your users. One method is creating a dedicated forum where you periodically invite your clients to participate with the help of in-app calls to action, newsletters, or changelogs. 

For example, if you’re developing an enterprise payment system, you would ask your users to suggest new payment integrations with banks and upvote them. You can then consider adding integrations with banks that received the most votes.

If you believe a forum is not a medium your users would like engaging with, you can ask for feedback right in your app by adding non-intrusive pop ups.

Recap

You can find a lot of methodologies and advice on choosing the right approach to feature prioritization. You can choose the Intercom approach or apply lean canvas to rank priority features—both are good. In fact, there are many more you can explore. 

Remember that product prioritization is not about one universal methodology, but about your business environment and growth stage. Choose the one that reflects your business needs, budget, and resources the best.

Margo Ovsiienko

Margo Ovsiienko is a growth marketing strategist. 
She creates content that converts website visitors into paying customers for SaaS companies and tech agencies with sales funnels.

Margo Ovsiienko
Margo Ovsiienko is a growth marketing strategist. 
She creates content that converts website visitors into paying customers for SaaS companies and tech agencies with sales funnels.