How to Effectively Manage and Prioritize Feature Ideas from Internal Stakeholders

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We, Product Managers, have been there so many times. Our CEO just had the greatest idea ever last night. Sales Managers need that amazing new feature to please their clients. Some developers want to work on a new project because it is very challenging from a tech perspective. We, PMs (hopefully) have some product ideas as well.

And they all start asking the same questions: “Are we doing it? When? Can you give me a deadline?

Your responsibility, as Product Manager, is to deal with these requests daily — but how?

Must-haves

If you want to manage those requests effectively, you need some basic requirements. Without them, you will end up failing most of the time.

1. Product Vision and Strategy

First of all, you need to work for a company with a clear vision and strategy. Those are the pillars you need to rely on to be effective in managing your stakeholders. If you’re working for a company without vision, strategy, or even short term goals, it can be an opportunity for you to take the lead and build a product culture there.

2. Independence and autonomy

Your team needs a good level of independence and autonomy in what they do. I’m not saying you can do anything you want and nobody will ever be able to make some changes to your plans, but you need the authority and the ability to say “no” (and explain why). Every “no” is a “yes” to other things that are more relevant at that moment.

Tip: Make sure to proactively update and align the rest of your organization about your product strategy and goals, how you rank ideas and prioritize features.

3. Trust

You need to build trust in your company. You need trust from your manager, but also from other internal stakeholders, and even more trust from the rest of your team. If your colleagues think you’re not good enough for the job, or you don’t have the right skills, then try to understand the reasons behind it and start building consensus around you.

Tip: Empathy and kindness can be great assets when you lack some technical/hard skills.

Gather the ideas

Find a unique place to collect all the ideas and requests. It can be Jira, Trello or a Google Sheet — it doesn’t matter. It’s important that all the ideas end in the same place, and are accessible to everyone in the company.

You can decide to either:

  • Let any stakeholder add their ideas to the list.
  • Let them pitch their ideas to you — it will be your responsibility to write them down and organize them.

I prefer when stakeholders write their own ideas and share them afterward with me — the process of writing allows them to really focus on the details, and sometimes they will figure out their amazing solution is not so amazing at the end.

Also, this way, I don’t get continually interrupted at work and I can dig into the feedback in some specific times during the day or week.

I like the pitching deck used at Basecamp, but any other framework can do the work. Just make sure the following questions are answered:

  • What problems are you trying to solve?
  • What is the main goal of this new feature?
  • What are the main KPIs you’re expecting to improve?

If you decide to let anyone pitch their ideas in person, by phone or Slack, just make sure to find some time to write them down and organize them in the same place. Also, don’t forget the name of the person who shared the idea — you will need it later.

Analyze and prioritize the ideas

It’s time to analyze all these requests. First of all, they need to be aligned with your product vision and strategy. Also, try to find out if other internal stakeholders had the same or similar ideas, and finally check if something similar has been mentioned from some external stakeholders as well (users or clients).

If they don’t align with your strategy and/or there isn’t a wide and strong desire from other internal and external stakeholders, it may be that you have to say “no”. Give a brief but clear explanation and always try to support your decision with some data.

When the feature idea fits with your strategy, it has been requested by several stakeholders (internal and external) and it might solve a real problem, it’s time to prioritize it. In the meantime, notify the interested person that your team is evaluating the request, and that you will try to get back to them with some updates as soon as possible.

There are so many prioritization frameworks out there — just google them and find the right one for you and your organization. A great collection can be found here.

If you work in a real autonomous and independent team, the prioritization process in much easier. The team is empowered, they can make decisions and stick to them.

I love simplicity, and in my experience, one effective framework to prioritize features with an autonomous team is described below.

You can find the template here. Thanks Mario.

The fundamentals are really easy: each activity will be scored following the Fibonacci system by each member of your team, usually during a grooming or planning session, on two levels:

  • Effort — an estimation on how complex the task is and how long it will take to get it done, based on previous tasks (it will take a few weeks to find a good measure).
  • Impact — an estimation of how this task will get us closer to our goals. The PM must bring some data to support and explain the potential impact to the rest of the team.

The ratio between Impact and Effort gives a ranking score based on the Opportunity of each initiative. This score helps us to focus more on the activities with the highest impact and lowest effort.

Once the first scoring is done, it’s time to have a quick re-evaluation. If some scores seem too low or high, reconsider your initial estimates and make changes.

The framework is not bulletproof and lacks an important factor — the confidence in both impact and effort estimations (I can recommend the ICE framework for that). However, this can be a first and simple tool to get you started.

If you don’t work for a company with an independent and autonomous team, you can still apply this framework with a few tweaks — even though it will be less effective:

  1. You need to invite the interested stakeholders to your grooming session and they will have the right to vote on the expected impact of each feature.
  2. The effort section will be filled by only tech people — so make sure to invite your Tech Lead at least.

Don’t invite too many stakeholders from other departments, otherwise, you might have too many people in the room. Try to stick to a maximum of 10 in total.

Give feedback

The product features have been finally analyzed and prioritized — at least on a high level. It’s time to give feedback to your stakeholders.

Keep in mind this is not a one-time activity — things change, the product evolves and you need to update your stakeholders constantly and keep them in the loop. However, you now have an idea of when the feature will be considered by your team (in the short, medium or long term) and you can provide this feedback to your stakeholders: in person, via email or through your product management tool. Just make sure to keep track of everything.

If you’re going to work on the feature request in the short term, as a PM you’ll need to work with your team to refine the backlog items, set up meetings and probably involve other stakeholders and departments. However, this might become the topic of another post.

Hope you enjoyed and found this article useful, but please don’t hesitate to give me any feedback. It is a learning experience for me as well.

Product Lead @ Subito (Adevinta). Ex Jobtome & TransferWise

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