“We inevitably make emotional decisions, […] but we can try to put team members in the right decision-making mood.”

Slava Shestopalov

Choosing the right ideas, initiatives or features is most crucial when working on a product. But as promising as well known prioritization techniques may sound, they bear some significant pitfalls with them, that often result in decision changing down the road. This abstract refers to an article that is dealing the problematics and suggests possible solutions.

Non-experts and experts have the same voting power

Typically, a decision appears as a result of collaborative activities, such as dot voting, the value-versus-feasibility canvas, MoSCoW, the Kano model, etc.

This would work great if only experts were participating, but in reality, workshops often have a flavor for office politics: stakeholders with high power and low interest or non-essential specialists will take part and eventually you end up with the most popular but not the best decision, if you don’t bring the most informed opinions to light.  

People don’t decide rationally by default

Even if you involve experts, they could represent diverse areas and domains; thus, they’ll make choices differently. As humans are constantly exposed to over 180 known cognitive biases, rational thinking is not the default mode, even for knowledgeable and skilled people. Meaning that emotion or personal preference will often outweigh rational thinking, and “I love this idea” will overweight “This will help our company grow.” — unless you somehow support rational thinking in advance.

Measurement units are open to interpretation

Another trap in prioritizing activities is the measurement system, such as numeric marks (from 1 to 5), symbols (dots, stars, smileys, etc.), t-shirt sizing (S, M, L, XL) or the position of an item on the horizontal or vertical axis of a canvas. 

Getting a certain number of votes or special measurement units is intended to balance opinions during a prioritization exercise. But they don’t take into account how differently people perceive reality, due to their different roles.

So how to overcome these pitfalls?

The answer lies in sharpening the existing techniques, by reducing room for interpretation and tailoring them to the specific project constraints. The article author suggests the following methods:

Annotated marks

Instead of just providing a scale from 1 to 5, define beforehand what each unit in real-life means, and give context in order distinguish them from each other: What is the exactly added value of each unit and what is the trade off.

Descriptive canvas

Based on the previous consideration, the same method is applicable to canvases. Instead of relying on a very simplified and vague axis values (low-medium-high), elaborate how each section is defined within the project.

Diversified votes

Giving people with different expertise dots of different colors, narrows down the number of final ideas, by taking into account both the number of votes and the balance of various benefits.

Though all quoted solutions aim to provide a more rational ground for decision making, they will not fully eliminate subjectivity and ambiguity. As with every framework it is important to treat it as such: a tool to be adapted for the projects needs.

By Tymon Dabrowski

With the Power Team of Car For You we tried to avoid these common pitfalls and, for example, define together how to assess effort, that needs to be invested into the realization of an idea.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

Stephen R. Covey

Only a few years ago, Car For You was a startup and now clearly is growing fast while still being a rather small company. This evolution brings a great need for creativity and the ability to make successful choices, prioritizing the most promising initiatives. PUX has been supporting alongside with many projects and gained some insights about the importance and also the challenges of prioritization.

Power team: prioritization of product ideas

In Q1 2020 the main focus of CFY was to increase conversion. To achieve this in a short time, PUX and CFY joined forces with what we called the Power Team (see also the featured project of April 2020). In order to decide on which of the 300+ generated ideas to focus on, every team member estimated the impact (expected increase in conversion) and the effort (implementation time required). This simple prioritization method resulted in a fast identification of potential quick wins, as well as high-value ideas requiring more effort, to further explore. Also, it helped the team and stakeholders to align and agree on the next steps. In the meantime, several of these ideas have been successfully implemented at CFY.

UX Improvements prioritization

A UX Assessment or heuristic evaluation is one of the most effective methodologies  in prioritizing product roadmaps when there is no time for research or you need to exclude the obvious issues from your research efforts.
We applied this method  in Q2 2020, focusing on the buyer user flow.
We highlighted the issues with proven high severity and impact by combining data analytics, hotjar sessions observations and the HaTS scores (Happiness Tracking Survey). The result was a list of solutions touching areas like usability, trust, consistency and efficiency that we prioritized using the RICE model (Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort) combined with other factors like impact on trust & HaTS. The top 5 initiatives implemented, even if few, demonstrated to have a positive impact on the HaTS scores in the long run (results in Q1 2021 increased significantly overall).

Roadmap prioritization

Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 brought many changes at Car For You in terms of product process and prioritization of quarterly initiatives. Numerous new approaches were adopted and facilitated by PUX: the OKRs framework, the dual-track agile (discovery-delivery tracks), a new way of sizing initiatives (for UX and development) and shared sessions to align on strategic goals and roadmapping product initiatives. A highly engaging and collaborative process including product, UX, development and management proved to be efficient in creating a shared product vision and prioritizing those initiatives with the highest potential impact on revenue and leads generation.

Learnings 

  • The RICE prioritization model has some limits: it doesn’t specify precisely which type of impact area you want to influence with your ideas and if it is delivering real value. The risk of prioritizing initiatives easier to implement and with higher reach, but not solving real needs, is always possible. We mitigate this problem by using additional weighting factors connected with OKRs and user needs.
  • Long lists of ideas creates a lot of expectations in teams and stakeholders of getting everything done. Having only a few ideas implemented, it’s not always a bad sign, but means the converging work done to get a selection of high promising initiatives was necessary to de-risk and avoid working on the wrong things. 
  • Having a strong shared product vision and goals between all departments and companies roles, helps to drive ideas prioritization in the right direction. 
  • Shaping and scoping of initiatives done with different disciplines and experts involved, helps enormously to speed up the process and align on what you want to focus on and how much time to spend to get it done.
  • Forecasting the possible business impact can be key to get the buy-in of decision makers and measuring the success after testing helps to showcase and learn from what worked and what not, to inform future decisions. 

By The PUX Team

In the monthly Product and UX letter the PUX team shares insights about projects, interviews with product gurus and personal anecdotes inside and outside the TX group:

Subscribe to the Puxletter

* indicates required

What would you like to read about in our next "Project of the Month" coverage?