We don’t wanna sell you a pack of features and integrations.
Because the problem with product features prioritization is not about features. It’s about collisions, choices, compromises, and conflicts.
That’s not just another typical landing page about a fancy SAAS productivity tool. Here is our story of fighting prioritization chaos. Spend 10 minutes reading it:
Think about it. And if you like it, please sign up.
CEO asks to build this, competitors already have this, your biggest customers want to pay more for this, advisors think you should focus on this, your product team wants to build this, and so on. Ask questions before you say “Yes”: Does this fit the vision? Is it a forward step along the way? Will it matter in 5 years?
"Product Strategy is About Saying No" by Des Traynor from Intercom
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Hiten Shah honestly said that prioritization problems ruined KissMetrics. He would drop “Hiten bombs” on someone in the company. Some new idea, some new direction, some new brilliant thing he came up with. "Good or bad, none of my ideas were based on any kind of framework or filter. I was shooting from the hip. Thinking that I was helping us focus and execute. I was dead wrong." The team was scattered and they lost it all.
"My Billion Dollar Mistake" by Hiten Shah from KissMetrics
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Steli Efti from Close.io recently wrote a post about the importance of over-communication in remote teams. You have to make sure your team stays in touch with each other, way beyond what's necessary to get the job done. Everybody should get not only Who is doing What, but also Why.
Linkedin post by Steli Efti from Close.io
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Carrying out useless tasks is the greatest company’s time stealing.
We dealt with the same problems too. It's challenging to keep everybody on the same page in a remote team, sometimes working from different time zones. Customers demanded features, on the other hand, managers offered ideas, and then also developers with their own product vision. The list of issues was growing rapidly. Unimportant tasks were randomly taken out of the backlog and transferred to the development without any warnings. Product managers kept asking "Why even do this? The priorities have long since changed!"
We tried to discuss all Jira Issues every week. We tracked important things on Google Keep. Added some fancy Jira plug-ins. None of this was helping. It was a mess.
The reason is that we didn't have common objective criteria for assessing the importance of each issue. Everyone of us was pursuing their own interests, and remote working was turning it all into complete chaos. That's when we decided to try the existing prioritization frameworks.
We started from RICE prioritization model.
RICE is an acronym for the four factors for evaluating each product idea: reach, impact, confidence and effort
But it didn't workout for us. Different teams were confused on "I" (stands for Impact). Everybody had their own picture of what is impactful. Should we value an issue for money or reliability impact?
Developers valued code refactoring as crucial for the product. But fixing the help center's article layout is just a waste of time. And vice versa for the sales team.
The biggest problem of RICE — it doesn't help each team member to keep in head what exactly is impactful right now.
Improving prioritization issues is not about a tool or a framework. It's about fixing a broken team's collaboration process. So we asked ourselves about what is important:
To simplify the evaluation process we borrowed a great idea from a weighted scoring model: different relative weights are assigned to different criteria by the organization. For example, time spent on development should have a multiplier of -3 as we prefer to find quick wins.
Each criteria must be assigned a score from 0 to 3:
Now we had to put it all together. Like many others, we started with Google Sheets. Automate.io helped to pull data from Jira. 5 sheets as databases for calculations. The results were great for the first weeks
But in two month our shiny new prioritization system became a giant and slow file with lots of problems.
One of our teammates became a spreadsheet admin! He was constantly fixing the spreadsheet.
At the end of the day the team was annoyed with a dull routine that nobody wanted to waste time anymore.
Next:How Ducalis works
We decided to stop beating the dead horse and build our own tool.
We tried to make the interface as fast as possible for loading and simple. It resembles the usual Spreadsheets, only in Ducalis the formulas don't fall apart, and we don't need to switch between browser tabs. You can assign scores, recall the issues and criteria in a few seconds.
The assessment takes place in one screen where the evaluation criteria and the actual Jira issue description appear — synchronization takes place in real-time. For criteria we've made pop-up descriptions so that we don't need to remember them or switch to a separate document. Calculation formula wasn't crashing. If you change the criteria, the scores don't disappear. The whole team can assign scores simultaneously. Switching between cells works quickly and doesn't freeze.
Now we can evaluate dozens of issues in a few minutes without taking hands off the keyboard.
After evaluation, the issues scores are automatically calculated and listed in the Top Priorities screen. You can see the overall picture of the most important tasks in the project. All necessary details like issue status, sprint, priority and description now on one screen.
After that we started using Dicalis boards for evaluating different projects. Two product development boards and one marketing plan board. The board is the boundary of task evaluation. Who evaluates, what and how.
It appeared that we can apply the same approach in many areas.
The problem of team synchronization has been solved!
After a year of using Ducalis, we came to the conclusion that Google Spreadsheets aren't suitable for evaluation by the whole team, and the only viable solution is to archive them and replace with a more modern tool. We've come a long and painful way. When we presented Ducalis, dozens of companies with the same problem wrote to us. The Google Spreadsheet Issue Evaluation was a common pain that could now be cured.
Choose only issues needed to be evaluated. Jira Filter is a foundation for creating a brand new Ducalis board. Jira filters will drop off unwanted tasks. Save the filter and connect it with Ducalis board.
Invite coworkers you want to import from your Jira account for collaboration on issue evaluation. Ducalis will only add users from one Jira organization (single subdomain).
We have developers and managers. The team is not big but we had a problem of not hearing and not understanding each other. Especially when part of the team was working remotely. We all see the product in our own way so it’s difficult for us to sync. For example, only developers can estimate development time, and this is a criterion with negative weight. And product managers understand the impact on sales and use 7 equal criteria for scoring.
You can assign weight (ratio) and a description (tip) to each criterion.
Feature or task importance has proven to be a variable thing. Those that were important a month ago may no longer be necessary now. That’s why we set up Ducalis to reset the scores every 30 days.
We call it “Re-evaluation”. A reminder about long forgotten issues in the backlog. Should we delete them or we’ve lost something important? It was often the case that something we considered to be crucial became useless after a while. We re-evaluated all issues every month. 30 days is the best revaluation time for us, but in Ducalis it can be reduced or increased. For example, a team may decide to re-evaluate issues every 3 months.
We decided with the team that every Friday at 2 pm we receive a notification in Slack that it’s high time to review the issues, give scores to the new ones and those with expired scores.
We wanted to make these reminders a bit fun so, when the person has no issues for the evaluation, he is labeled as “Molodetz” which means "Well done!", "Attaboy/Attagirl".
When the total score is calculated, we choose the top 20 issues on which we focus in a sprint. You can set your own capacity for the number of top priority issues. They are marked with a star.
We make a group call at the beginning of each sprint and discuss what we’re all going to work on. It’s not a stringent requirement but it does show the team what’s really important for the company at the moment. Sometimes priorities may come as a surprise for someone: “Wow! What’s the task? Why is it so important?”
The evaluation of issues has turned into a game and ceased to be a boring routine. The team not only got involved and started communicating, asking questions about the tasks, like "I don't understand. Explain what's going on here." but also to compete, who will evaluate the issues faster and on time.
Of course, everyone looks at the tasks differently. Some are evaluated thoroughly when the others are not. But it does magic when they understand that most of the tasks in the general summary top are really important.
If something important doesn't make it to the top, we discuss it on the call at the beginning of the sprint.
We launched on March 16, 2020. The number of applications turned out to be ten times greater than we could have imagined - the prioritization problem was a common pain. We received such feedback after the first tests of the product:
“The best tool for backlog grooming”.
“Cool thing! Especially, I like the scoring expiration”.
“As soon as I saw it, I knew we needed it”.
“Fantastic! I have approached this topic from different angles, and it seems like the best solution so far”.
“It took me and my other colleague about two and a half hours in total to evaluate 80 features. That's fast”.
“Ducalis is a ready-made workflow”.
“Helps the whole team to understand where we're heading”.
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