#building a product, #MVP
26 May 2021
Julianna Sykutera

MVP guide: The Process of Feature Prioritization

MVP, or “Minimum Viable Product”, is a smaller-scale model of a final product, used for validating the creator’s idea. Building an MVP is an important and necessary step of product development because it helps understand the core value of the product. It’s that crucial insight that lets you know – if your solution actually works, if consumers are willing to really use your product, and perhaps most importantly for you – does your product have what it takes to become successful? Without it, you will probably spend a lot more time and money while still ending up with an underperforming product.

The objective is to make a working prototype as soon as possible (no longer than 4 weeks), which means choosing a limited number of key features for the MVP. Therefore, feature prioritization is the most significant decision you will make in the MVP development process. In this article we will show you what your focus areas should be and how to prioritize product features – the recipe for developing a successful MVP!

How to choose your MVP features?

Before starting MVP development, the aim and goals of your product need to be precisely defined. While you may think that you have it all figured out, detailing it actually takes a lot of work and discussions with development and marketing experts. Once you are clear about the problem your product is solving and who your target audience will be, it’s time to analyze your competitors and what your potential customers like in their products. See what options the competition is offering and what users might feel is missing. Don’t skip your market research! This will already give you a perception of future functionality, and result in a long list of desired features of varying size and complexity. Keep reading to find out how to discern crucial features and assign feature priority.

Product feature prioritization techniques

Wants vs. Needs

You need to be able to distinguish between what the user wants and what the user actually needs. While user experience and feedback is incredibly important, often users themselves will prefer functionalities they find “cool” or somewhat unique, but which in reality aren’t vital for the product at this stage. By all means, keep them on the back burner for when you’re developing your 2.0! However, refrain from implementing too many nonessential features too soon. They will cost you precious time and money or force you to sacrifice needed features. This can actively harm your MVP and take away from its overall purpose of product validation.

Feature Buckets

Organizing features into so-called “feature buckets” is the most common and quickest way of assigning priority to MVP features. Using this method, the features are most commonly divided into 3 groups, sometimes 4 or 5. The most frequently used are:

  • Must have (Metric Movers). These are features that intend to positively impact your main KPIs concerning business growth, engagement, and revenue. These features are essential for achieving business goals and for the overall success of the project.
  • Nice to have (Delights). Innovative features that customers didn’t necessarily ask for but find exciting and delightful. 
  • Not needed (Customer requests). Features actively requested by customers. You may not focus on the whole or even large part of the features on this list, but they need to be considered. 

Don’t get confused as some features may fall into multiple categories, although they would rarely fall into all 3. If you find one of the categories has no features in it, this likely illustrates issues with your innovative capabilities, product performance, or the gathering and interpretation of customer feedback. These issues need to be addressed as they can cause both short-term and long-term problems, and threaten the project success. A balanced approach would result in an MVP with features from all categories. 

MoSCow Matrix (Feature Priority Matrix)

This is another prioritization technique commonly used in agile product development which includes sorting features into categories, in this case 4:

  • Must Have. Features which are the most valuable for building your MVP, and without which the product wouldn’t work.
  • Should Have. Features which are important for the user experience. If resources allow, you should include them, but the project is still viable without them.
  • Could Have. Features that are “nice” to have, but not as important as above categories.
  • Won’t Have. Features that don’t really have an impact on user experience, or which require too much time and resources yet do not yield significant payback.

Feature priority matrix 

The Feature Priority Matrix is a visualisation tool similar to the MoSCow matrix in terms of category allocation, but isn’t based solely on feature value for users. The matrix is divided into 4 quadrants along 2 axis – Effort (Complexity) axis and Impact (Value) axis (which is why this technique also goes by the name of Effort/Impact matrix or Value and Complexity technique).

Effort refers to the time, operational resources, technology, and skills required to implement a feature. Impact refers to the value and positive impact that the feature brings to the customer as well as the business. Another version of this technique also adds Risk/Viability as a third axis. The 4 quadrants in this matrix are:

  • Quick wins. This category contains the must-have, low risk, and high impact features. These are features which will definitely be included in the MVP development process.
  • Maybes. Here we put the low-risk, low effort features that are nice to have but don’t provide much value to the user. They don’t necessarily have to be included in the MVP, but can be saved for future versions of the product.
  • Big bets. This category includes complex and high risk major project features which require a high degree of effort. These features are rarely included in the MVP, but rather added in later versions. 
  • Time sinks. Finally, there are the high effort and risk but low value features that the development team shouldn’t be wasting time on.  

Summary

Aside from the techniques mentioned above, other feature prioritization techniques include the Kano Model, Bubble technique, User Story Mapping, Relative Weighting Prioritization Technique, and others. Different techniques have different approaches and require differing perspectives. Deciding what technique to use and conducting it yourself could be overwhelming, which is where specialized product development companies like Redvike are ready to jump in and assist.

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