NOTE: The following is a guest post by Tzvika Barenholz, a Product Manager living and working in Israel. If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.
We all know the situation: youve collected a bunch of product requirements, put them into a nice excel sheet or clever table-like GUI front-end; youre all psyched about making the big decisions, prioritizing and leading the product to the proverbial next level. You sit in front of the screen, crack your fingers, stretch a bit and place your hands in the typing position.
First item, feature xyz yes, you say it out loud, youre psyched remember? First column, Importance (or priority, or appeal, or whatever is your favorite alias for customer value)
OK now what *was* the priority of feature xyz?
Let’s see. A couple of big customers have asked about it in a recent expo, so probably high, right? Then again, its one of those things that make the product more complicated, so call it low. Having said that, it would really improve average sale price, which is aligned with the five year plan, so high it must be. But what about breadth? It really would only appeal to a fraction of our customers. Back to low again.
And on, and on.
Exasperated, you note that after 20 minutes youre still on item #1 out of 37. Its looking more and more like a long night of pizza and coke with the developers. The next thing you know, theres a little voice inside your head that whispers: make it a medium!
Of course! How foolish youve been to overlook this possibility before. A medium is right in the middle between high and low. Its the perfect answer for what seems to be neither here nor there, or both here and there. Your right index finger then makes it merry way to the m key.
But STOP youre just a moment away from falling into a trap as old as the hills. Why? Because there is absolutely positively no such thing as a medium, except maybe as a shirt size.
“Medium” is a shirt size, not a useful priority rating
Prioritizing something as medium is just a way chickening out of making a decision. If you dont have enough information to make the call, go get the information, then make the call. If youre piling up different qualities like broad appeal, helps sales, improves margins and technologically strategic, then by all means, add 4 columns, fill them out with highs and lows (or yes or no, for the more advanced practitioners who know how to make an even cleaner cut), and then rebuild the priority column as an index composed of them all.
But whatever you do, dont just cop out. Dont just type medium and move on to the next item, or you will end up building the wrong things for the wrong reasons.