Prioritization techniques for product leaders

Alexander Thomsen
4 min readDec 10, 2018

It’s not surprising that prioritizing features rates high among the challenges faced by product leaders. Any product manager knows that the most difficult part of their job is determining what to spend time, money, and energy on. I will share the prioritization techniques that have assisted me the most and provide a list of other techniques and questions that I hope can help you improve your decision making.

Impact versus efforts

The quickest and most common prioritization technique is the impact versus effort approach. This is the most qualitative technique I use, but it’s a great choice for new products and MVPs when you have a little amount of data. I particularly like to use this in a situation where a decision needs to be made fast.

Source: UX Studio

Theme scoring

The theme scoring technique can be used to prioritize themes (group of epics) or epics (group user stories) against one another. Steps below.

  1. Identify the selection criterion. For example, expected customer value, implementation effort, and business value.
  2. Weight each of the selection criterion. For example, each criteria weight is 0.33, adding up to 1.
  3. Add the themes that you want to have compared.
  4. There are multiple ways of scoring, one way is assessing themes from 1–5 with 1 indicating a theme that does poorly and 5 indicating a theme that does well on that criterion.
  5. For each criterion, choose a baseline theme. The other themes are then compared to the reference themes and scored appropriately.
  6. For each theme, calculate its Net Score and then rank them.

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The most recent technique I have been experimenting with is RICE. RICE is an acronym for four factors: reach, impact, confidence, and effort.

REACH: Measured in the number of people/events per time period. For example, this feature is estimated to be seen by 10,000 people in a quarter.

IMPACT: Estimate the impact on an individual person. What is the expected impact on customer retention? (Massive = 3x, High = 2x, Medium = 1x, Low = 0.5x, Minimal = 0.25x.)

CONFIDENCE: Factor in your level of confidence about your estimates. If one feature has gone through multiple customer feedback iterations, then you would have a higher confidence of its success. 100% is “high confidence”, 80% is “medium”, 50% is “low”.

EFFORT: Estimated as a number of “person-months” — the work that one team member can do in a month. Stay with rough estimates due to the high uncertainty and use whole numbers and minimum of half a month. For example, this feature will take about a week of planning, 1–2 weeks of design, and 2–4 weeks of engineering time. I’ll give it an effort score of 2 person-months.

Putting it all together:

Source: Intercom

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Combining with MoSCoW

The MoSCoW method is a prioritization technique with each letter standing for one of the possible prioritization categories and thus classified as:

  • Must have — these are critical and must be included in the product.
  • Should have — these requirements are important but not crucial for the release.
  • Could have — these requirements are desirable but not necessary for the release.
  • Won’t have — these are considered to be the least-critical or even not aligned with the product strategy.

As a standalone prioritization tool, I don’t use it. However, if combined with for example the RICE technique, it helps you communicate with stakeholders what is required to be included in the next release and if time allows what could be included but not necessary for the release.

Other techniques I have come across

Helpful questions

  • Are you focusing on the problem? Make sure you really understand the root cause of the problem and you communicate the problem to your team. The team should focus on the user’s need — what you’re trying to solve and why you need to solve it, not how.
  • Does it fit your/company vision?
  • Will it improve, complement or innovate on the existing workflow? The majority of your time should be invested in improving, complementing upon existing ones. Adding a whole new workflow should happen less frequently.
  • Does it grow the business? You need to be able to connect the dots between the impact this new feature will have and new potential revenue.
  • Will it generate new meaningful engagement?
  • Can we design it so that reward is greater than effort?