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Four Levels of Prioritization

Uncategorized Feb 21, 2020

 


 

 

SUMMARY:

 

In product management, I often get asked two questions:  “How do I go and become a product manager?”, “How do I get into Google as a product manager?” and “How do I prioritize features?”

 

In this video, I am sharing with you, not theories or frameworks, but the four levels of prioritization.  As you climb these four levels, you get more and more effective as a product manager. Do these four levels and you will soon notice that your efficiency have dramatically increased and you start doing more strategic things. 

 

So let’s get started.

 

First level: The basic level which is when you prioritize things essentially ticket by ticket.  It is where you break down the users’ story into all the engineering tasks, prioritize, sequence and categorize the tasks.

 

Second level: The must-have, should-have and could-have.  Here you start prioritizing by features or epics and let the team drive the actual technical tasks that need to be done to achieve that particular feature.

 

Third level:  Prioritize outcomes.  Here you start helping drive those high-level decisions and work towards driving the collective intelligence from your entire team. Here is where your team starts to they get ownership. 

 

Fourth level: Here is where you are prioritizing outcomes still but you are now teaching your team how you should think about making those decisions.

 

500 Words:

 

In product management, I often get asked two questions:  “How do I go and become a product manager?”, “How do I get into Google as a product manager?” and “How do I prioritize features?”

 

In this video, I am sharing with you, not theories or frameworks, but the four levels of prioritization.  As you climb these four levels, you get more and more effective as a product manager. Do these four levels and you will soon notice that your efficiency have dramatically increased and you start doing more strategic things. 

 

So let’s get started.

 

First level: The basic level which is when you prioritize things essentially ticket by ticket.  It is where you break down the users’ story into all the engineering tasks, prioritize, sequence and categorize the tasks.

 

Second level: The must-have, should-have and could-have.  Here you start prioritizing by features or epics and let the team drive the actual technical tasks that need to be done to achieve that particular feature.

 

Third level:  Prioritize outcomes.  Here you start helping drive those high-level decisions and work towards driving the collective intelligence from your entire team. Here is where your team starts to they get ownership. 

 

Fourth level: Here is where you are prioritizing outcomes still but you are now teaching your team how you should think about making those decisions.



Transcript:

 

In product management there are two questions that I get beyond anything else.  Let me take that back. Three questions. So the first question I get is from people who don’t currently work in product management.  And that question is “hey, how do I go and become a product manager?” Now I don’t know the answer to that. Like, to be honest, it’s a different path for everyone but I have kicked off some research talking to people who managed to get into product management within their company or outside their company and understanding their journeys.   So if you are one of those people who let’s say indeed last year or two got into product management ideally in a different company than where you were before or in the same company, just please send me a message, I’ll send you a quick one-minute thing to fill out and we’ll get on the phone to talk and I normally talk with these people for 30 minutes if they got their first product management job in the last year or maybe even two years and I am in return, coaching them for thirty minutes on a topic of their choice.  Anything to do with product management or to do with, I don’t know, high performance anything like that, I’ll coach you. So, that’s my give and take and once I have this research you know maybe I’ll have the answers to some of those questions on how do you charter a path towards product management.

 

The second question I get is from people who are product managers or maybe not, which is how do I get into Google as a product manager.  Or any of the thang companies you know the Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google. It is Netflix, is that a thang? I guess that is a thang.  So, that’s that one. Amazing that Microsoft is not on that list, I thought it would be but anyway.

 

The third question I get is, the third most popular question is, “hey Shobhit, how do I prioritize features?”  Right and that’s what this conversation is about, which is how do you prioritize features and what I want to challenge you here is I don’t want to give you like frameworks cause there’s plenty of frameworks for prioritizing features.  There’s the rise framework, just google that or if you Google this guy name Bruce McCarthy, he writes a lot about roadmaps and prioritizations so you can learn all that stuff. But I wanna challenge you and say that there’s four different levels of feature prioritization for product managers and as you climb up these levels, you become more and more effective.  You need to spend less time on this stuff but at the same time your impact, your level of effectiveness, all those things grow up dramatically and you start doing, you start doing more strategic things, you’ve cleared most faster (3:00). So, think, you know really take some time here to reflect on where you are, acknowledge where you are and then start making some effort to keep moving forward.  But If you like some of the ideas and want to talk to me more about it, you can always go to shobhitchugh.com-apply where you can set up time with me to talk through how your job’s doing, what are ways you could improve it, you know there are things that I could do to help solve through one of my courses are a new program that I’m kicking off, I”ll let you know.  Otherwise, I’m happy to also guide you to other places which might be useful to you.

 

So, let’s get going.

 

Level number one, the basic level, is when you prioritize things essentially ticket by ticket. You know, issue by issue.  So, very often when PMs are highly technical and they work with engineering teams very closely, they start breaking down the users’ story into all the engineering tasks and then they work with the engineers to prioritize all those tasks, sequence them and they have this perfect backlog which has all the stories and like all the engineering tasks, completely well laid out, sequenced, prioritized and estimated and ready to go. Right?

 

And if you’re doing that in a way that your team agrees with, you’re doing a good job.  You know you started on the journey of prioritization, awesome. Kudos to you. Keep going but there’s more you can do and you might do that especially during the first few months to years of your career in product management where you are just starting out, where you’re just starting to build that level of trust with this team.  You try to add real accrual to your value, you know these things are really helpful. But I’m here to tell you that there’s another level for you. In fact, there’s three other levels for you.  

 

So, what’s the next thing?  Right! I can run, let me just add a couple more things about this level, as well.  One is that a lot of these prioritizations happen in meetings, you know in spring planning sessions and so you offer prioritization by committee.  You know that’s a skill set, the facilitation skill set, you’re building that. And by the way, that facilitation skill set is so important for product managers as we become apparent leaders.  But ultimately, I’ll set a goal right now, which is that you are trying to make the most of your team’s collective intelligence and not your intelligence.   It’s a simple model that all of us should live by which is your team is smarter than you.  It doesn’t mean that any of those individual people are smarter than you but it does mean that the collective intelligence of your team is so much higher than your intelligence.  And if you keep that as your, things will really start to make a difference.  So that’s the fundamental principle you should keep in mind as you think about product management.



Okay, so we were at level 1.  Issue by issue or ticket by ticket prioritization.  The second level is now you’ll start prioritizing features or epics.  Now you are responsible for the customer’s story. You are responsible for understanding what are the various cases and how does the customer get impacted.  You are also bringing the knowledge of the customer, their contacts, the job that you are trying to do all of that to the team. You’re gonna say “Hey, this is what we need to do.  These are the things that are most important. These are, you know, must haves, should haves, could haves. And you’re letting the team drive the actual breakdown into the engineering tasks and letting them sequence it.  And so you’re still prioritizing what gets delivered as customer value but not what gets done every week. Now, especially for early stage product managers, this is a hard battle or a hard thing to let go. Because they worried about “hey, am I adding enough value?  Or am I, am I just not, like, am I just not adding enough value? What am I doing if the team hadn’t take up all these things? Somebody just post it very like, very likely, just stay in the problem space. Let the team work out the solution. That’s exactly right. 

 

You know I’ve never really given that much to all these different prioritization schemes.  For me, there’s a post I wrote on the cause of delay, I think that’s one of the biggest things you can use to prioritize.  I never really bothered with these different prioritization methods, so, just so you know. But anyway, coming back, yeah, stay in the problem space, know the problem really well and prioritize that and let the team drive the actual technical tasks that need to be done to achieve that particular feature.  Yeah, the must-have, should-have and could-have. In fact that’s how I prioritize my day to day work, as well. I literally use the most low-tech method for my prioritization which is a notebook, your journal and that’s what I use but I have everything on it, these are my P-zeros. Oh, muscow is must-have, should-have, could-have, would-have.  I don’t know what would-have is. But that’s how I do my daily tasks planning, as well. P zeros, P1s and P2s. Must, should, could.

 

Now, oh sorry, coming back to the prioritization piece, okay now you’re prioritizing features.  The third level of prioritization for you is to prioritize outcomes. Right, so this is where you’re saying that, let’s say you manage ecommerce product.  Okay, I’m gonna use it as an example cause it’s easily accessible. Everybody gets it. And let’s say your main outcome is to increase the sales. Let’s say the grid of people visiting  your website for the first time to becoming a customer that increases from 7% to 9%. Right, and there’s another competing metric that you might have, let’s say that you want to minimize the time that the customer spends on the site.  And now what you’re doing is you’re working with stakeholders to get the final answer on which is the most important outcome, which is the second most important, which is the third most important outcome. When you’re prioritizing on the epic or like the issue-by-issue level, sometimes you, sometimes people tend to ignore this high-level decisions.  But now you’re helping drive those high-level decisions and now coming back to the team you say “this is the outcome we need, let’s put our heads together on what are ways in which you, we can improve this thing. Right. And now the team is not just participating in figuring out how, the how, like the how things should be implemented but they’re now starting to look at things from (11:09) perspective.  And coming up with ideas on “Oh maybe we could do this and maybe we can do that”.  And listen, as you become more senior in your career and have a broader scope to manage, that becomes a critical skill of being able to drive this collective intelligence from your entire team.  I mean this is why I lay so much emphasis on running good meetings when I do teaching. It’s because that’s how you drive this collective intelligence and the other thing that happens is that they get ownership.  They, I think the most powerful words in leadership are people support what they create. People support what they create.Which means that if your team came up with those ideas, you know, how much influencing you have to do to get them excited about those ideas, it’s very limited.  It’s like they came up with those ideas and they’re gonna take ownership of it and drive it forward. So that’s the next level of prioritization. You’re prioritizing outcomes and then using the collective intelligence or collaboration with your group and having them design, not necessarily design but make major strikes forward in one of the features or capabilities that you would build.  And now, the other things is that, now that you’re prioritizing outcomes, the team starts to worry about the outcomes other than the features.Right and so, very often as you start to do this, you’ll hear back from them on Oh I had another idea or, you know, they’ll be much more frank Hey I don’t think this is gonna move the needle that much but I spoke with this user and they have this problems and they’ll come up with more ideas.  But notice what’s the other thing that’s happening here. As you are working at this higher level, you actually need to let go of those level prioritizations and you have to let the team handle it. And so two things start to happen when those things become true. Number one, the team starts to feel ownership about making their own decisions. And they, you know they just feel like they can move things bigger, there’s a sense of momentum build up. But the other thing

 that happens here is that you are no longer the bottle neck for every single question, every single, um, every single decision,.The team can rise so many of these.  You know what, I love my job, I also love teaching but I also just love living my life and I don’t want to be on the hook for every single decision cause I’m not going to allow it also.  So I think it does wonders for your life balance. In such, it helps you work on much more strategic things, over time. So that’s the third level of prioritization.

 

So, we’ve covered three right now.  One is you’re prioritizing issue by issue, story by story just like two of these things.  Second is you’re prioritizing user features. Third is you’re prioritizing outcomes. Actually, the second one is feature or use a problem.  Third is outcomes which are often tied to user problems that you can solve.



The fourth thing is actually super interesting.  The fourth thing is you are essentially driving the narratives  and the principles to, so you’re still prioritizing outcomes but you’re driving the overall outcomes, the narratives and the principles by which you make decisions and you’re teaching the team how to think.  Let me repeat that again. You’re teaching your team how to think.  So what does this often look like in actual practice? This is an additional layer on top of outcome prioritization is that you’re now starting to see the kinds of answers that your team comes up with or engineers come up with and you’re now starting to shape their thinking.  You’re gonna, you might start to use words and sentences such as let’s think about it this way, or maybe you’re asking them things such as how do you think about this and you’re gonna go much more worried at this point about how they think and how they come up with decision versus exactly what they work on day-to-day because you’re setting them up for success over the long term.   So, that’s like level four of prioritization. Now, the interesting part here is now when I do this, I realize that my two worlds are coming together. One is the world of I word as a product manager or as a product leader and the other world that I work is a coach and a teacher. . And in some sense, you know, those start to come together, you know teaching, literally teaching or coaching your team on how they should think about this problem and you’re trying to essentially coach correct relatively quickly but at the same time set them up for that long term success.  So that the next time a similar question comes up they’re like “oh, I know how to think about this”. And like literally you “oh yeah, I agree with you, go for it. And that’s empowering for the team. It’s also empowering for you because not only have you built an awesome product but you’re empowered skills in your team, as well. It brings some of those joys on managing and coaching people which a lot of product managers don’t get typically.

 

So, I’ll repeat again the four levels of prioritization.  I want to challenge you and see if you have any questions.  So, first one was literally you’re prioritizing either stories or tasks. Second one is you’re prioritizing outcomes, sorry, you’re prioritizing epics or like user stories.  Third is you’re prioritizing outcomes and let your team drive the user stories. And number four is you’re prioritizing outcomes still but you are now teaching your team how you should think about making those decisions.  And that frees you up and builds a much more cohesive performance to you.

If you liked the blog post, you will love my free course “How to be an outstanding Product Leader without working insane hours.” Go ahead, enroll now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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