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The Product Tree Game: Our Favorite Way To Prioritize Features

February 21, 2016

ProdPad Labs

One of your biggest jobs as a product manager is to translate what feels like a million inputs flying in from across the company into one cohesive product roadmap. Just one.

To help you with this, we want to share a useful product management template with you today: The Product Tree Game.

Product management template product tree

The output of a recent Product Tree session

 

The Product Tree game is a feature prioritization technique developed by our friends at Innovation Games. We’re sharing it with you today because it’s a productive way to work out priorities as a team. During this game, everyone gets a chance to bring up the priorities they feel are important for the future of the product. But which priorities will win?

You’ll want to set aside an entire morning or afternoon for this riveting afternoon of discussion, debate and group prioritization.

Here’s an easy how-to guide on running your own session.

How to run your session of the Product Tree Game

What you’ll need

  1. The Product Tree template (download below)
  2. Post-its (these leaf-shaped post-its are perfect)
  3. Sharpies
  4. A whole afternoon
  5. Coffee? Can’t hurt.

Step 1: Print our product tree template

The Product Tree is what you’ll use to run your session.  It consists of four elements:

  • The trunk represents the core features already in your products.
  • The branches are feature branches. Optionally, you can increase the thickness of branches that are more important.
  • The leaves are individual features that the workshop participants will place on the branches. The closer the leaves are to the trunk, the closer they are to being delivered.
  • The roots represent the infrastructure that supports your product. As with any tree, the bigger it gets, the more support it needs from its roots – so remember your technology as you expand your feature list.

 

ProdPad product management template

Get the free Product Tree template

How you fill out this tree depending on the kind of product you want to build. If you want to focus on one area, your product

Step 2: Prepare your leaves

Print out all the features you already have in your product, or want to add to your product. Or, write them down on post-it notes. Also make sure to have plenty of empty post-it notes at hand for adding new ideas!

Step 3: Get your group together

Anyone can play this game. The more kinds of stakeholders you involve, the richer the output. It becomes especially interesting if you get customers involved in placing new features on the branches according to which they would most like to see in your product.

If you have more than 10 people joining in, prepare multiple sets of trees and leaves – ideally, you will have 4-10 people working on one single tree. This includes one observer per tree, whose role it is to ask the participants to clarify what they mean if there’s anything ambiguous on the tree.

Step 4: Prune your product tree

Get creative when your prune your product tree

Who thought pruning could be so much fun?!

Now the fun begins – like green-thumbed gardeners, get cracking on pruning the tree!

Here are some pointers on how to have a productive and fun session:

  • Personalize the tree to stimulate creativity. For instance, participants can add their own little markers to their ideas, or draw hearts around the features they really love.
  • Remember that significance of where leaves are placed. The closer the leaves are to the trunk, the more near-term they are. Leaves closest to the trunk are existing features, while leaves on the outer edges of your canopy represent the long-term future.
  • Don’t hesitate to use lines to show links or dependencies between features.
  • Don’t worry too much if the tree becomes unbalanced, usually, the group participants or the observer will bring this up naturally.
  • Take pictures of the development of the tree(s) – this is useful for the review process.

Step 5: Present and review internally

At the end of the session, present your tree (or multiple trees if you worked in groups). Encourage everyone to ask questions and discuss. Often, more ideas will come up during this process, or leaves will be shuffled around.
Once you’re all packed up, take your product tree and the pictures you took and compare them against your current product roadmap. Useful questions to ask are:

  • Which “prepared features” got pruned? Especially if you’re working directly with customers, you might find that a much-loved feature is actually dispensable in the eyes of the user.
  • Do the trees retain their general shape? If you’re seeing an obvious imbalance – such as lots of leaves on one branch – this could be a signal that your users aren’t aware of (perception problem) or interested in (product/market fit problem) a whole feature set in your product.
  • Are you growing your product fast enough? If there are a lot of leaves close to the trunk, you may not be releasing new features fast enough; whereas lots of leaves on the outside shows that they’re looking for great things in the future.
  • What does your root system need to look like? If your customers are changing aspects of your infrastructure, it’s likely of critical significance to them to establish trust in the longevity of your product.

This brings us to the end of this how-to. For more on how to use this information when you’re creating a product roadmap, keep an eye out for a follow-up post coming soon!

Janna Bastow is co-founder of ProdPad, software that helps product managers plan and deliver better products. Janna also organizes ProductTank events around the world, including Mind The Product, a global community of product managers. She likes to inspire great product conversations by asking: “What problem are you trying to solve?”

Leave a Comment

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Jayr Motta
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Jayr Motta

Hi Janna,

You’re doing such a good work with the articles, ProductTank, MindTheProduct and ProdPad. Congratulations and thanks for that!

I couldn’t get right the dynamics of the phase to prune the tree. After pinning the leaves the same participants has to prune the tree together?

Thanks in advance,
Jayr Motta

Bosky
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Bosky
Hi Janna, Great post – some questions as I was wondering about using it in our next ideation/prioritization: 1. When explaining the goal of this exercise if doing with stakeholders/customers, isnt there a risk where one would want their requirements and so would put it closer to the trunk or not remove it or move it further out? 2. Do we wait till the tree is unbalanced and then ask to balance it by either moving some features to another branch or just removing it? 3. Any tips on interpreting the final tree outcome? eg: a. Too much or too… Read more »
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