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Prioritize Problems, Not Ideas

Posted by Janna Bastow
October 21, 2020

Someone asked on the Mind the Product Slack group the other day for suggestions on frameworks for prioritization.

The thing is, there are a million different frameworks for prioritizing ideas. Whether you’re into RICE, Impact vs Effort, Hierarchy of Purpose, or whatever else, but the reality is, all of these can be ineffective and misleading if they are leant upon in the wrong way.

Everyone gets really caught up in the minutiae of these frameworks, and so where everyone else tends to recommend their favorite framework, I suggested that they took a step back. I’ll share my advice here as it might be useful guidance for others.

What I pointed out was that idea prioritization frameworks are rarely helpful in themselves. Instead, teams should use objectives and roadmapping to prioritize at the problem level, and the right ideas/experiments to work on will fall into place.

I shared this guide on product management approaches from my colleague, Liz Love, as it shows how teams can work from a broader perspective and be more effective in their prioritization. 

In essence, idea prioritization by itself is a bottom-up approach. The best product teams employ a mix of top-down and bottom-up approaches to figure out exactly what to build next. It basically means spotting what the main problems/objectives are first, and making sure those are clear and aligned with the vision, and then doing bottom-up prioritization within those problem spaces to figure out which solutions/experiments/ideas should be tried first.

ProdPad helps teams avoid falling into the bad habit of only prioritizing at the idea level, as it creates the space and paves the path to prioritize at the problem level. It asks questions like what the product vision is, what the company objectives are, and what initiatives will help tackle those objectives. ProdPad gives you lots of ways of seeing how your ideas might then fit within those wider priorities, but the tool itself isn’t bound to restrictive idea scoring methods that tend to lead teams astray. 

How about you? How does your team do prioritization currently, and what methods do you find work or don’t work? Share in the comments below! 👇

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