Perfect Prioritizing: Common Mistakes Made in Product Prioritization

By Andy Sio
September 20, 2017

There are plenty of reasons why your product might fail.

Bad user experience, limited functionality, or even a mistake in manufacturing could send you back to the drawing board. However, companies frequently forget that a range of problems can appear during the product prioritization stage - before development even begins.

Priorities are powerful things. Even if you have exceptional productivity and efficiency in your organization, those factors won’t mean much unless you’re focusing them on the most critical aspects of your company. Deciding exactly what you need to build for your target audience is one of your most essential priorities. Here, we’re going to look at the most common mistakes made in product prioritization, to help you build a product roadmap that leads all the way to success.

Mistake 1: Underestimating the Power of Prioritization

This is one of the first and most common mistakes that the average product manager will make. Learning exactly how you should build and develop your products is a process that takes time and focus. If you don’t sit down with your team to clearly prioritize which features you want to develop, and which you want to remove, then you have no chance of getting the job done right. At that point, you’re simply flying blind.

To help make sure that you’re on the right track for product prioritization, make sure you sit with the most essential personnel in your business and ask the following questions:

Mistake 2: Forgetting the “Big Picture”

Every decision you make for your product should focus on taking you towards a specific end-goal. Unfortunately, on the road to success, it’s easy to get distracted by events along the way. For instance, back in the 1980s, Coca-Cola decided to change the recipe of their world-famous beverage after analyzing some pretty significant customer research. They were sure they were making the right decision because they acted on user feedback.

Unfortunately, Coca-Cola failed to look at the big picture, and the result was one of the biggest backlashes in history. While it’s tempting to simply give your customer what they’re asking for with product prioritization, you need to look beyond that, and think about what they really “need”. Don’t let the trends and opinions of the moment distract you.

Mistake 3: Failing to Get the Right Information

As a product manager, it’s not unusual to feel moments of inspiration when you’re developing a new product, or improving an old one. You might think that you have what it takes to make company-transforming choices based entirely on gut instincts, and while that might be a successful solution some of the time, it can also be a dangerous gamble.

Product prioritization is a process that helps you to design based on purpose and intention. That means that you should be constantly running tests to gather the right data to inform your decisions. The more you learn from your analytics and feedback information, the more you’ll be able to create a seamless product roadmap that helps you to create something truly exceptional. Even the most innovative products are born from informed decisions.

Mistake 4: Refusing to Consider New Information

Setting priorities for your products should be a semi-firm concept. After all, if you were constantly changing your priorities, then you would end up with an inconsistent, and somewhat chaotic brand. However, there will be times when important information arises that might force you to re-think your processes. Ultimately, while you can’t transform your product to meet with every trend, as we mentioned in the Coca-Cola example above, you also need to make sure that you’re not designing products in a vacuum.

Since Steve Jobs suggests that effective companies should “start with the customer experience and work backward”, it might be helpful to use prototypes to help you decide whether new information is valuable, or not. Place your products in the hands of clients, and see how they respond, once you have a good idea of which elements your customers like and dislike, work with your team to map a plan based on what you understand about customer needs, the marketplace, and the future of your industry.

Mistake 5: Forgetting Technical Debt

Finally, it’s tempting to focus all your effort on speed and cost savings when it comes to product prioritization. However, these actions generally just pave the way for something called “technical debt”. This basically refers to the long-term consequences of your design choices, things like the extra work you’ll need to put in to keep speed high, or the quality metrics you’ll need to compromise on. While you should try to avoid technical debt wherever possible, there are times when it might be necessary, such as when you need to get ahead of a competitor or beat an important deadline.

Unfortunately, you can’t ignore technical debt forever. Eventually, it will damage the value and stability of your product, and that leaves your customers to suffer. Make sure that you understand what you’re looking at in terms of technical debt, and how you’re going to manage it in the long-term. Ideally, you’ll want to walk the line between developing quickly in the beginning and strengthening your foundations for the future.

Streamlining the Product Roadmap

Product prioritization is a complicated process and something that’s frequently overlooked by many product managers. However, with the right set of practices in place, and a careful focus on the bigger picture, your product prioritization practices could give you the differentiation you need to outshine your competitors and gain the long-term loyalty of your target audience. Use the guidance above to make sure you avoid common pitfalls in your product development and prioritize the right elements for success.

comments powered by Disqus