You Don’t Have a Prioritisation Problem, You Have a Strategy One

I often find where places struggle with prioritization it’s not a ‘prioritization' problem per se, but rather a strategy one.

Either their product or organization strategy is vague or missing. Or they're misaligned creating friction between the product and organization goals.

Poor strategy or lack-thereof turns prioritization into a corporate-version of the Hunger Games where stakeholders all jump up-and-down, shouting why their thing is the most important and either the loudest or the HIPPO effect prevails.

The problem here is that we all have good ideas. There is no shortage of great ideas and things we would like to do. When we view prioritization as a single layer activity we are stuck trying to compare apples-to-oranges and trying to prioritize a million different ideas at once.

Prioritization as Layers

The first step before looking to prioritize anything is to define your strategy.

A strategy is a set of choices, not a roadmap, nor a vision or a prioritised list of features.

These are choices to do something, to be something, etc. And every time you make a choice to do-or-be something, you are also making a decision NOT to be-or-do something.

Without this clarity on what you are doing and why, prioritization therefore becomes hugely subjective, unfocused, and lacking any sort of rigor – and no RICE formula or spreadsheet will help you get out of this void.

Albert Einstein has been attributed to saying, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

You can think of Prioritization this way. You’re much better off spending 55 minutes nailing your strategy, and defining the outcomes before even attempting to prioritize ideas, solutions and features.

As a result, Prioritization is really a multi-faceted activity.

For example, choosing to expand your product internationally is a good starting point, and you can see how this already begins to make prioritisation easier as you can now focus on work that aligns to international expansion. But choosing to expand internationally in Western-European countries, or better yet, into Germany, France and the Netherlands, is even better. Any work that doesn’t advance us towards that goal is out of the question.

This is really where you need to start in terms of your product and prioritization. First prioritizing where you strategically want to take your product – what markets are you going to prioritize tackling first? Who within those markets will you target and why? – and prioritzing the opportunities and ideas within that strategy last.

Thus prioritization should really be seen as a set of layers where:

  1. You need to prioritise your goals first.

  2. Then look at where you want to play and where you will not play to achieve that goal – target markets, etc.

  3. Next you prioritise opportunities and short-term outcomes within that playing field.

  4. And ideas, solutions and features last.

Prioritization shouldn’t be hard. It’s only made hard by skipping critical steps and jumping straight to attempting to prioritize a long list of ideas, features and backlog items.

The next time your confronted with prioritizing a long list of features and ideas take a few steps back and consider whether these ideas align to your current goals and strategy – don’t have them, then invest time into setting one.

It's much easier to prioritise a handful of goals, and then a handful of opportunities within that goal, as opposed to attempting to prioritise 100s of backlog items.


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About the Author​

Anthony Murphy
Director, Association of Product Professionals
Anthony is a Product Coach and Consultant who has coached 100s of Product Managers all over the world. Often partnering with CPOs to help them and their teams succeed in Product. Anthony’s experience spans several industries, from early-stage startups to large corporates. A regular conference speaker and blogger. Anthony has been a top writer on Medium for ‘Leadership’ and ‘Startup’ attracting over 70k monthly views. Anthony is also a Director at the Association of Product Professionals.

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I joined APP because it was a naturally progression of my own mission to make the world a friendlier place for product people. Being part of the Association of Product Professionals is a way I can continue to contribute to the craft and help shift the dial on organisations to empower product people globally. Little things like finding a new job shouldn’t be hard, I hope to address these things and make life just that little bit easier for product people globally!

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