How to Prioritize Features for Your Product MVP: Alternative-spaces Expert Tips

by Anastasiia Diachenko

The number one reason that 42% of startups fail is misreading market demand. Hence, starting your project with an MVP is vital for business success since it helps to validate ideas with minimum losses, gather feedback on products from users, and test product-market fit. 

But to build MVP properly, you need to know what features to include and how to prioritize them right. Since you’re limited in the number of features when creating a minimum viable product, you must choose the most important ones. 

We asked our experts to share their proven methods for prioritizing new product features according to business goals and objectives. 

Keep reading to learn about the top techniques for MVP features prioritization.

Why prioritization of product features is your primary goal?

Defining and prioritizing MVP functionality requires thorough research and preparation, but it pays off when the product MVP is launched. Choosing the features for your future product MVP intuitively and spontaneously bears many risks for the business. And here’s why:

How to prioritize features for your MVP: top useful techniques

Now let’s consider proven features prioritization methods for your MVP. We analyzed dozens of techniques to choose the best ones. So, below we highlight the top 5 frameworks to prioritize your MVP features quickly and adequately. 

The Kano model

Developed in the 1980s by Professor Noriaki Kano allows companies to classify their product features based on their value to the target audience. The Kano model enables development teams to focus on optimizing the essential features of a particular product and divert attention from unnecessary or redundant features without wasting valuable time, money, and resources building and maintaining them.

It’s important to understand that the definition of the category that a particular feature falls into depends on its functionality and users’ satisfaction when this feature is present in the product. Depending on these two parameters (functionality and satisfaction), the product features will be placed in one of the following categories:

  • Required or basic features. If you don’t have this feature, the client will not consider your product at all.
  • Performance features: the more you invest in their development, the higher user satisfaction will be.
  • Attractive features: the user does not expect them, but they delight them.
  • Unnecessary features. Features that don’t influence user satisfaction.

To make it clear, let’s consider these feature categories on the restaurant business example:

  • A mandatory (or basic) need for the restaurant is to be clean and serve food on time. Without this, users can’t be satisfied.
  • Normal (or performance) need: the restaurant serves tasty food.
  • Delightful (or attractive) need: the restaurant offers free treats with the order.
  • Indifferent need: The restaurant has a self-service terminal.

The Kano model is helpful if you need to prioritize product features based on user perceptions of value. Perception is the keyword here. If you want to use the Kano model, you need to know your client well. To get information from customers about their needs, you need to make a Kano questionnaire to let them share how they feel about each function. The questionnaire may include the following questions:

  • How would you feel if you had access to such a feature?
  • How would you feel if you didn’t have access to such a feature?

And provide answers like this:

  • I like it
  • I expect it
  • I don’t care
  • I could deal with it
  • I dislike

An example of such a questionnaire looks like this:

Each prioritization technique has its pros and cons. You should consider them and decide if this technique suits your business goals. Advantages of prioritization according to the Kano model:

  • Helps the team stop overestimating attractive features and underestimating must-have features.
  • Helps the team make better product decisions and build market forecasts in line with audience expectations.

Cons of prioritization according to the Kano model:

  • Fumbling with the questionnaire can take a lot of time. To reach enough customers, you need to conduct an amount of research proportional to the number of your users.
  • Users may not fully understand the features you ask them about.

MoSCoW matrix

The MoSCoW method allows you to determine what is essential for stakeholders and customers by dividing features into four categories: Must-Have (critical), Should-Have (important), Could-Have (useful, but not critical), and Won’t- Have (optional).

Must-Have: These are the necessary features for the product to work. They are basic and non-negotiable. If one of these functions is not present, the product can’t be launched. An example of such features is having access to the users’ account. 

Should-Have: These are important but not critical features. For instance, the user must be able to reset their password.

Could-Have: A feature that is neither mandatory nor important to implement within a given time frame. Its implementation will noticeably improve customer satisfaction but will not have much impact if not considered. For example, it would be good for the user to be able to save their work directly to the cloud from the application. 

Won’t-Have: The least critical features, tasks, or requirements. These features may be included in future releases but are not mandatory for product MVP. For example, adding some third-party integrations or more broad functionality.

The MoSCoW model is dynamic and flexible and leaves enough space for reprioritization. A feature that has received the won’t-have priority may turn into a must-have one day. And now let’s look at its pros and cons.

Advantages of MoSCoW prioritization:

  • Allows you to involve stakeholders without a technical background in the process of prioritization.
  • A fast, simple and intuitive way to discuss priorities with your team.
  • Helps to think about the allocation of resources at the stage of prioritization.

Disadvantages of MoSCoW prioritization:

  • The method is more of a formulation of criteria for product readiness for release than a prioritization framework.

Buy a feature

Buy a feature is a game that customers and stakeholders can participate in. When you play it with your target audience, the method helps to quantify the value of a feature or idea to end-users.

To play this game, select a list of features, ideas, or upgrades and estimate the cost of each. This estimation should be formed from the time, money, and effort required by its implementation. Get a group of people together (up to eight people) and set the amount of money they can spend on estimating features. Ask members to buy the features they like. Some participants put all their money into one feature they like, and others spread it across several different features. Then, ask participants to explain why they spent the money the way they did. After discussion, make a list of features based on how much money is spent on them. That’s how project stakeholders can analyze and prioritize features. 

This technique replaces boring surveys with a fun game that will make customers think about why they need a particular feature. Note that this prioritization method can only include features already on the roadmap and will help you understand which ones customers value the most.

RICE scoring

This scoring system measures each feature or initiative in four dimensions: reach, impact, confidence, and effort. What each parameter means, and how can it be quantified? Here is the answer:

1. Reach indicates how many users will be affected by this feature in a given period. 

Example: Users per quarter, transactions per month.

2. Impact. What impact will this feature have on the user?

3 – a huge impact

2 – high impact

1 – medium impact

0.5 – weak impact

Example: How much will this feature affect your conversion rate?

3. Confidence. How confident can you be in estimates of reach and impact? How much data do you have to support this estimate?

100% – high confidence

80% – medium confidence

50% – low confidence

4. Effort

How much time will it take to invest in this initiative (product, design, development)? The parameter is estimated in person-months.

These factors come together in one common formula that helps product teams unify their approach to determining which initiatives to add to a product MVP roadmap. Here is how you can calculate it:

The resulting score can be used to rank features of any type to determine in what order you will implement these functions. The higher the RICE score, the more important the feature is. The product team has to learn how to set SMART goals to start applying this method. Applying this method reduces the influence of prejudices and biases on prioritization. Such a parameter as confidence minimizes the influence of each team member’s attitude. Instead of discussing how cool a feature is, the team discusses their level of confidence in its usefulness. But at the same time, estimates are never 100% accurate. RICE prioritization is simply a feature evaluation exercise by measuring the team’s level of confidence in their own predictions.

ICE technique

This is a great start if you are trying to form a prioritization habit in your team. If you are looking for a quick prioritization method, the ICE model will suit you better than RICE. The ICE framework was popularized by Sean Alice, who is considered the originator of the term “growth hacking”. Initially, ICE was used to evaluate and prioritize experiments in growth hacking, but then it became popular in product management.

ICE is an acronym for the following words:

  • Impact. What impact will the implementation of this initiative have on the user?
  • Confidence. How confident are you that this initiative will confirm the hypothesis and achieve the desired result?
  • Ease. How easy is it to implement? What costs and resources will be required?

Each of these factors is rated on a scale of 1 to 10, and the arithmetic mean of the three items gives the overall ICE score.

You can use this template to calculate your ICE score:

Four common MVP feature prioritization mistakes

When prioritizing the MVP features, startups usually make some common mistakes. To prevent this and prioritize each function the right way, let’s look at the top mistakes usually made by other companies:

Mistake 1. Inattention to users

Listen to your users. You may think that some features are great and important, while users may have extremely different opinions. You need to know everything about the audience, their preferences, and needs.

Mistake 2. Poorly defined focus

You need to monitor and analyze the behavior and actions of the app users to adjust and define your product focus. The creators of WhatsApp, who desired to create an address book, turned out to create a messenger. They were successful since they determined the focus on the necessary functionality in time despite the initial plan for the app. If they didn’t monitor the behavior of their own users, this app would cease to be useful soon enough. 

Mistake 3. Striving for the perfect

You should remember that the minimum viable product is just the beginning of your journey. Start with important features only, don’t try to include unnecessary functions in your product MVP. It would be best if you worked hard on knowing your market and audience to provide them with mandatory features first, and then improve your product according to how users react. Don’t strive to be perfect; try to listen to your users and grow your MVP gradually

Mistake 4. Too much idea content

You can engage in non-stop arguing with the audience, trying to convince everyone that your application is exactly what they need. But in reality, you make a product not for you but for your audience to use. Don’t be afraid to change the vector or reprioritize your features if your users give you adequate feedback.

How Alternative-spaces can effectively prioritize your MVP features: our approach

The Alternative-spaces team knows and applies a variety of techniques. But most frequently, we use user story mapping, and here is why. 

User story mapping

This way of prioritizing is beautiful in its simplicity and precision. That’s why we choose it for our clients. Also, it forces project stakeholders to focus on the user experience rather than what your team members think.

Along the horizontal line, we place a series of consecutive segments or categories representing each user journey stage. This allows us to think about how users navigate the product, from registering to setting up their profile and using certain features.

Then, we place those tasks on the vertical axis in order of importance from top to bottom. This allows prioritizing the features we will be working on. At the bottom, there may be features that will go to the backlog. And finally, our experts draw a line through all the stories, dividing them into sprints and releases.

Story mapping helps us quickly and efficiently understand what should be included in an MVP since the method focuses on what users need. 

The closing thoughts

The vast choice of techniques may leave you confused, but you don’t have to apply all of them to be efficient. Regardless of which method you choose, make your end-users a priority — after all, their acceptance will define your MVP success. Make sure your evaluation of MVP features is not one-sided, and include different people into your product discovery team to provide you with a broader outlook.

Surely, you may still be left with a lot of questions. At Alternative-spaces, we are ready to offer you a helping hand. Get in touch with us now for a free consultation!

Content created by our partner, Onix-systems.


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