the priority spade

If you’ve got a digital product, then (unless something has gone very wrong) you’ve also got a bunch of potential features you haven’t built yet. There are likely to be a lot of things you could do and directions your product could go in. You’re going to need to come up with a way to work out where you’re going next; a prioritised backlog that makes up your product roadmap.

To help you make the right choices and avoid falling into a feature hole when doing this, we suggest using our new invention, The Priority Spade™️.

A pink spade, with yellow lines that indicate it is glowing

Great, isn’t it?

A spade?

What does that have to do with my product backlog?!

Alright, it’s not a literal spade, but it certainly looks like one, and ‘Priority intersection of Venn diagram’ doesn’t sound anywhere near as catchy. 😉

When we consider any given product feature, there are three perspectives we can look at it from. The spade is our method for balancing these and discovering how to prioritize the right things.

A venn diagram composed of three circles, one of which is highlighted and labelled 'customers'

Customers 🗣
Qualitative Data

It’s something we bang on about a lot, but we always want to be designing digital products for actual people. It’s vital that the voice of customers who use the product is heard loud and clear.

The easiest way to find out what users think is to ask them, but it’s important to try to remove as much bias as possible. We don’t want users to suggest features but instead probe using open ended questions that speak to the problems they face.
Some example might be:

  • Which issues crop up time and time again?
  • What are their biggest frustrations?
  • How have they tried to solve these problems in the past?

For more on asking the right questions despite everyone lying to you, we highly recommend The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick.

You’ll get some great comments but should you quantify this? A simple way to do this is to track how many times something gets mentioned. Doing this, you can build up a reasonable picture of what is a high priority for your customers.

A venn diagram composed of three circles, one of which is highlighted and labelled 'stakeholders'

Stakeholders 🤝
Qualitative Data

Your team will also know lots about the product, your customer and the plan for the future so you should definitely be talking to them. Customer facing teams are a great bunch to chat with to validate findings from user research. Are your support and sales people reporting the same gripes or are they hearing a different story?

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Product managers, senior team members and other people close to the development of your application will also have an opinion, especially around the vision for the growth of the tool. Building a sensible roadmap is a mix of building features that customers want and adding on extras that bring value to the business.

They will most likely also have a view of the technical and cost implications of what’s in the backlog. This will always factor into what can and can’t be prioritised and is a vital piece of the puzzle.

It’s important to make sure that you’re leaning on both sides. You shouldn’t be taking views from people with tunnel vision and no view of the customer (it’s easily done). Make sure that no one voice is weighted higher than another, good product roadmap management will take views from all sides and prioritise accordingly.

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A venn diagram composed of three circles, one of which is highlighted and labelled 'analytics'

Analytics 📊
Quantitative Data

What the data says is always going to be the least subjective way to find out what’s going on and to make judgements about what needs to happen next. It’s also a great way of backing up the qualitative data you’ve been gathering so far. Are the problems reported mirrored in the stats? Hopefully they are but, if not, should you be doubting the validity of the opinions given.

Pageviews in Google Analytics will tell you what’s popular and what’s getting missed. Analysing user flows throughout your application will show which conversions are performing well and which people are failing to complete. Heatmaps are a great way to see where people are clicking across your product. Diving into your database can reveal how much interactive features are being used.

Venn diagram of priorities (stakeholders, customers and analytics)

Pulling it all together

When a feature hits the sweet spot where customer, stakeholders and analytics are in alignment, you’ve got yourself a spade and it’s time to get digging into making that feature happen!

The product spade is just one element of building an effective weighted backlog though, and there will be elements like bug-fixing and development tasks that we haven’t even touched on here.

To find out more about building a framework for focusing your energy, check out our podcast on product roadmap management, and grab the accompanying backlog rating template to help you get going.