How to prioritize your product roadmap

Bringing innovative products and features to market requires product focus and executional excellence. But when internal stakeholders are requesting one product direction, and customers are demanding an entirely different one, it’s challenging to determine what feature to build next. Product roadmap prioritization is essential for aligning your product vision and resources, ensuring your product and development teams stay focused throughout the product life cycle to ship features that make a difference.

A 2021 survey of product managers found that, on average, product managers already spend nineteen hours each month articulating and prioritizing product requirements and twelve hours planning and communicating their roadmap. It’s worthwhile learning to do these things well, creating a product prioritization process that creates internal buy-in, effectively communicates and guides your product development, and prioritizes building features that generate business value.

This article will discuss the importance of product roadmap prioritization, explaining the factors to consider—from customer feedback to potential risks—when developing new features. We’ll also explore different product prioritization frameworks that will help you decide what to build next. Plus, we’ll share suggestions on the best software tools to build your product roadmap and share it across your company. Armed with techniques and strategies for building a prioritized product roadmap, your startup will ship features quickly, win over customers, and differentiate your product from competitors…

Why you need to prioritize your product roadmap

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Shipping new features, and getting them in the hands of new and existing customers, is a key role for product managers. But doing so without a thoughtful overarching product strategy can mean that your product falls flat. A 20-page Google Doc of feature ideas and requests is one thing. A prioritized product roadmap, that includes the “what”, “why”, and “when” of a feature, is something else entirely.

Building a prioritized product roadmap will allow your startup to create a cohesive product plan where features are complementary, your suite of products works in harmony, and your customers receive a delightful and seamless product experience.

Here are a few reasons why you should prioritize your product roadmap.

  1. Align business strategy and product execution: Prioritizing your product roadmap ensures that what your team is building is closely aligned with the overall strategy of your business. By clearly defining what needs to be done, and in what order, your team can focus on the most impactful product tasks that serve broader business objectives.
  2. Plan resource allocation: As a tech startup with limited resources—people, time, money—a prioritized product roadmap will help you plan ahead and allocate resources more effectively.
  3. Improve stakeholder communication and transparency: A well-prioritized product roadmap with project status, key milestones, and upcoming initiatives doubles as a communication tool for both internal and external stakeholders—executives, team members, investors, and more. This transparency helps build trust and manage expectations. Occasionally, companies share their product roadmaps publicly with users—for example, GitHub has a public roadmap.
  4. Improve decision-making: The process of creating a prioritized product roadmap, rather than simply building as you go, improves your product decision-making. By evaluating factors like quantitative and qualitative data, customer feedback, and market insights—rather than going off hunches—your team can build a better product.
  5. Adapt to market changes: A product roadmap shouldn’t be set in stone. Having a tool for planning upcoming features, allows you to modify as you build, staying responsive to market shifts, capitalizing on new trends (e.g. AI), and considering emerging platform technologies.
  6. Measure progress and accountability: A prioritized product roadmap helps you establish clear goals and objectives—as well as track progress towards them. Adding directly responsible individuals (DRIs) to your roadmap can also make roles and responsibilities clear, while adding accountability.

8 factors to consider for prioritizing your product roadmap

Prioritizing what your team builds next requires considering a wide variety of inputs—such as customer feedback, market research, internal constraints and resources—and synthesizing them into a product roadmap provides direction for your team.

Consider a range of factors to prioritize initiatives that deliver tangible value to your users, create customer value and loyalty, while driving long-term growth.

1. Customer feedback

Listening to prospective and current customers is such a critical part of creating customer-centric products that resonate with your target user. Yet, according to a 2021 survey of product managers, 69% of respondents spent zero hours a month interviewing potential customers, while 39% reported zero hours interviewing current customers.

Actively seeking and analyzing feedback—from both current and churned customers—allows you to identify the most pressing pain points and unmet needs, helping you prioritize features and improvements that directly address those issues.

This step in the product development process will help you avoid launching a product that customers are indifferent to, or worse yet, dislike. Customer feedback and user stories will also help you validate assumptions about your product’s value proposition, ensuring that your development efforts are aligned with user expectations.

Here’s where to seek out customer feedback when developing your product roadmap:

  • Surveys: Circulate an online survey to customers, asking targeted questions about their preferences, pain points, and feature requests.
  • User interviews: Conduct one-on-one interviews with customers to gain in-depth insights into their needs, experiences, and expectations.
  • Focus feedback groups: Gather small groups of customers—in person or online—for guided discussions, exploring topics such as product usage, desired improvements, and potential new features.
  • Alpha and beta testing: Invite customers to test new features or product versions, collecting feedback on usability, performance, and overall satisfaction.
  • Social media monitoring: Use social listening tools like Buffer and SproutSocial to monitor social media platforms and online forums for customer discussions about your product, noting praises, complaints, and feature requests.
  • Customer support tickets: Analyze customer support interactions to identify customer requests, recurring issues, trends, or feature requests.

2. User behavior data

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It’s a mistake to only consider what your customers say; instead, also factor in what they do. User behavior data offers valuable insights into how your customers actually interact with your product and which features drive engagement.

By understanding user behavior, you can identify actionable data, patterns, trends, and bottlenecks that may impact the overall user experience, guiding you towards features and enhancements that should be prioritized.

Here’s where to gather and collect user behavior data:

  • In-app feedback: Implement in-app feedback collection to allow users to submit suggestions or report issues, directly within the product. This real-time feedback can be valuable in uncovering usability issues, validating design decisions, and prioritizing enhancements that streamline the user experience.
  • Usability testing: Observe customers as they interact with your product, noting areas of confusion, frustration, or delight.
  • Application analytics: Web analytics platforms, like Google Analytics, can provide insights into user behavior like pageviews, session duration, and conversion rates. Examine this data to identify popular product features and user journeys to prioritize improvements.
  • Heat map software: Heat map tools, like Hotjar, visually represent user interactions in your product, such as clicks, scrolls, and mouse movements. Analyzing heat maps can reveal areas of high engagement, user frustration, or missed opportunities.

3. Market and consumer research

Having your product stand out from the market means first understanding that market. Conducting market research will give your product team a deeper understanding of consumer expectations and what products to ship in order to win new business. By incorporating market research findings into your prioritization process as a product manager, you can make informed decisions that align with both current and emerging market demands, ensuring your product remains relevant and competitive.

Conducting market and consumer research can help you gain the following insights:

  • Current tech trends and opportunities
  • Competitive landscape of your industry
  • Customer pain points
  • Customer preferences and expectations
  • Key purchase drivers
  • Ideal marketing channels and strategies
  • Potential barriers to adoption

The insights you obtain from research can be used to determine how to prioritize your product roadmap in order to build product features that are embraced by users and drive tangible revenue growth for your startup.

4. Technical feasibility

For product managers, considering technical feasibility and the accumulation of more technical debt is essential when prioritizing a product roadmap. This consideration ensures that your development efforts are realistic—built in a reasonable time frame, with available resources, without negatively impacting your current technology.

Evaluate any technical limitations and assess scalability considerations of proposed features or improvements. For instance, you might find that due to technical debt, building a new feature might require a significant overhaul of your existing tech infrastructure—which, depending on your startup’s situation, may or may not be worthwhile.

Here are a few questions to ask your development team as you weight what to build next:

  • What are the technical requirements and dependencies for implementing this feature?
  • How does this feature align with our current technology stack and architecture?
  • Are there existing technical constraints that may impact the development of this feature?
  • How much time is estimated for the design, development, testing, and deployment of this feature?
  • How will this feature affect the performance, scalability, and maintainability of the overall product?
  • Are there third-party integrations or APIs required for this feature? If so, are they compatible with our current systems?
  • Will this feature require any significant refactoring or changes to existing code or infrastructure?
  • Are there potential security risks or compliance issues associated with the implementation of this feature?

5. Constraints and resources

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If you had unlimited resources and time, a product roadmap prioritization process would be irrelevant—you could build everything you want, all at once. But as a startup, more likely than not, this is not the case. Take time to consider all potential limitations that could limit your ability to scale product development and build key features.

Evaluate the following constraints in building a realistic and achievable product roadmap:

  • Financial: Consider whether your budget and financial resources could impact your ability to develop essential features.
  • Team size and skillset: The number of team members, as well as their level of expertise, may limit the complexity of the features you can build or the speed at which you can develop them.
  • Time: Deadlines and time-to-market pressures may force you to prioritize your highest business value item or features that can be developed quickly.
  • Technical debt: Existing technical limitations, such as a Labyrinth-like code base or outdated technology, may hinder the development of new features or require additional time and resources to address.
  • Regulatory: Legal and compliance requirements may restrict the types of features you can build or the geographic markets you can enter.
  • Third-party dependencies: Integrations with third-party services or APIs may introduce limitations or dependencies that impact your product’s functionality or development timeline.

6. Projected business value and impact

Focus on features that will have the greatest return on investment. Ultimately, your goal in product roadmap prioritization should be to minimize how much effort and resources you use as a product org, while maximizing business impact. Of course, how your product org assesses impact and business value will depend on your high level business objectives, key performance indicators (KPIs), and overall corporate strategy.

Here are metrics to consider when prioritizing your product roadmap:

  • User adoption rate
  • Retention rate
  • Conversion rate
  • Churn rate
  • Revenue generated
  • Time spent using feature
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)

However, remember to think more broadly beyond just high business value. Your product roadmap should also make room for bug fixes, small features, and maintenance over the product’s lifecycle, all of which take time and money. While these likely won’t have as much short-term business value, they have long-term impact—like user experience and product stability—that should not be ignored.

7. Potential risks

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While product managers often look at the potential opportunity of a new feature, it’s also important to assess risk. Evaluate the potential downsides of developing a new feature to minimize potential pitfalls.

Every product feature comes with some level of risk—not being embraced by users, depleting your team’s resources, increasing the complexity of your product, and more. While some level of risk should not deter you from adding a feature to your product roadmap, start the process by assessing that risk.

Here are different forms of risk to consider when prioritizing your product roadmap:

  • Technical risk: Consider whether a new feature may have technical challenges during development—from difficulties scaling to unforeseen challenges with implementation.
  • Market risk: Weigh what customer satisfaction and market response will be for your forthcoming feature and whether it aligns with customer preferences and the competitive landscape of your industry.
  • Resource risk: Evaluate the capacity for your team to develop and support a new feature, considering the risk of limited internal resources and the potential for team burnout.
  • Financial risk: Scrutinize your team budget and estimate development costs to understand whether you run a risk of a negative ROI by adding a feature to your roadmap.
  • Reputation risk: Decide if a product feature might be controversial, upset customers, or degrade user experience, thereby impacting your brand and reputation as a company.

8. Stakeholder input

It’s common for people outside your product org to have opinions about what should be prioritized on the product roadmap. An investor might demand your team build a feature that a key competitor has. Your support and sales team might advocate for an important bug fix that’s impacting customer experience, instead of planning a flashy new release. Your actual customers could be requesting you modify an existing feature to better fit their needs.

All of these opinions from key stakeholders are important to listen and respond to—and often involves business justification. But your role as a product leader involves taking this feedback into consideration and creating a winning product roadmap that weighs their relative importance. This often involves deftly navigating internal politics, while doing your best to serve customer needs.

Consider stakeholder input in your product roadmap prioritization to make more informed decisions that balance competing priorities and ultimately deliver greater value to your users, company, and investors.

Product prioritization frameworks to explore

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Assessing so many factors for prioritizing your product development roadmap can be overwhelming. Which should be weighted higher, technical feasibility or customer feedback? What level of risk is appropriate to take on when building a new product feature? Is a feature that will generate net-new revenue more important than one that will reduce your churn rate?

A product prioritization framework—like MoScoW and RICE—can help you develop a structured thought process to think through these questions and build a product roadmap that fits the needs of your business. Experiment with trying more than one to find the right prioritization framework for your company.


The MoSCoW prioritization framework—which stands for Must-Have, Should-Have, Could-Have, and Won’t-Have—helps teams categorize and prioritize features or tasks based on their importance. The MoSCoW method was originally developed by Dai Clegg in the 1990s as part of the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), a software development framework.

To use the MoSCoW product prioritization framework, follow these steps:

  1. Compile a list of all potential features, bug fixes, and refactoring tasks.
  2. Assess the importance of each item and categorize them as Must-Have, Should-Have, Could-Have, or Won’t-Have.
  3. Prioritize the Must-Have items as they are critical for business success.
  4. Review the Should-Have items and include them if resources and time permit.
  5. Consider the Could-Have items for future releases or your product backlog.
  6. Omit the Won’t-Have items from the current product roadmap.


  • Simple and easy to use
  • Encourages clear communication and consensus among stakeholders
  • Facilitates quick decision-making in fast-paced startup environments


  • Lacks a quantitative approach, which may result in subjective prioritization
  • May not accurately capture the relative importance of different features or tasks

The KANO prioritization framework

The KANO Model prioritization framework focuses on customer satisfaction to help teams prioritize features. It was developed in the 1980s by Dr. Noriaki Kano, a Japanese professor of quality management from Tokyo University.

The model categorizes features into three main groups:

  1. Threshold: These features are expected and necessary.
  2. Performance: These features improve satisfaction and improve on threshold features.
  3. Excitement: These features create customer delight, above and beyond expectation.

Some versions of the KANO model also include categories for Indifferent features, that customers are neutral on, and Reverse features, that cause dissatisfaction.

To use the KANO product prioritization framework, follow these steps:

  1. Create a list of potential features, bug fixes and refactoring tasks.
  2. Design a customer survey to gauge reactions to each feature, assessing both satisfaction if the feature is present and dissatisfaction if absent.
  3. Analyze the survey results and categorize the features as Threshold, Performance, or Excitement.
  4. Prioritize features on your product roadmap by focusing on Threshold features first, Performance features second, and Excitement features last. Also consider the resources required for feature development.


  • Customer-centered approach helps identify features that truly matter to users
  • Encourages innovation and differentiation by identifying Excitement features
  • Helps create products that exceed customer expectations and boost brand loyalty


  • Time-consuming and resource-intensive due to the development and distribution of customer surveys, as well as data analysis
  • May not account for stakeholder input, strategic goals, and other factors unrelated to customers


The RICE prioritization framework is a data-driven framework that helps teams make objective decisions about feature prioritization. The acronym RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort, factors used to score each feature.

To use the RICE product prioritization framework, follow these steps:

  1. Create a list of potential features, bug fixes and refactoring tasks.
  2. For each feature, assign a score for Reach (number of users affected), Impact (effect on users), Confidence (level of certainty in those estimates), and Effort (required people, financial, and tech resources).
  3. Calculate the RICE score for each feature by multiplying Reach, Impact, and Confidence, then dividing by Effort.
  4. Rank the features by their RICE scores, prioritizing those with the highest scores.


  • Quantitative approach facilitates objective decision-making and reduces bias.
  • Considers multiple factors that contribute to a feature’s value, promoting a well-rounded prioritization process.


  • Scoring can be subjective, particularly when assessing Impact and Confidence.
  • May not account for qualitative factors or external market trends.

Opportunity Scoring

The Opportunity Scoring prioritization framework helps teams evaluate and prioritize features based on the potential value they offer to customers. This approach focuses on identifying unmet customer needs or “opportunities” that a product can address.

To use Opportunity Scoring product prioritization framework, follow these steps:

  1. Create a list of potential features, bug fixes and refactoring tasks.
  2. Collect customer feedback or conduct market research to determine an importance score and a satisfaction score for each one.
  3. Calculate the opportunity score for each feature by subtracting the satisfaction level from the importance level.
  4. Rank features and fixes based on their opportunity scores, prioritizing those with the highest scores and demoting those with low scores to your least critical features.


  • Customer-centered approach prioritizes that focuses on customer needs.
  • Helps uncover unmet needs and opportunities for innovation and differentiation.


  • Requires customer feedback and market research, which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
  • May not account for internal constraints, such as technical feasibility or resource availability.
  • Scoring may be subjective.

The best software tools for product roadmap prioritization

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Once you’ve figured out how and what to prioritize, choose the right software tool for where to prioritize your product roadmap. Select a tool that’s user-friendly, easy to use, and integrates with the tools that your engineering team already uses, like GitHub.


Jira is a widely used project management and issue tracking tool designed to help teams plan, track, and manage software development projects. Its features include customizable workflows, backlog management, and advanced reporting capabilities. The tool’s wide-range of integrations and flexibility allows product teams to easily prioritize tasks, track progress, and collaborate on feature development.


Linear is a streamlined project management and issue tracking tool built for modern software development teams. It has a simple and intuitive interface to prioritize features, track progress, and collaborate effectively. Linear offers features like custom views, automated workflows, and integration with popular tools like GitHub, GitLab, Sentry, and more.


Trello is a popular project management tool that uses a card-based (or Kanban) interface to organize tasks and broader projects. Drag and drop cards to prioritize features, add labels for categorization, and track progress with checklists. Similarly, the tool has a library of integrations for collaboration and customization.


Airtable is a cloud-based spreadsheet and database tool that offers product roadmap prioritization capabilities. Create custom tables or boards to manage feature prioritization, track dependencies, and visualize timelines. Airtable has pre-built templates, including ones for product management and integrations with tools like Slack and GitHub.


Aha! is a comprehensive product management software designed to help teams set strategy, prioritize features, and build a visual overview of product roadmaps. The tool has prioritization capabilities to help users create custom scoring frameworks, track dependencies, and visualize timelines. The platform also integrates with a broad range of tools to help teams collaborate and stay aligned on roadmap priorities.


Productboard is a product management tool that centralizes customer feedback, feature prioritization, and roadmap planning. Its intuitive interface helps teams visualize feature prioritization and a customer feedback portal helps teams better understand user needs. Productboard simplifies cross-functional collaboration with integrations like Jira and Slack.

Grow your startup in 2023

Learning how to carry out a product roadmap prioritization process to deliver customer satisfaction is just one of many steps in building a product that garners a paying user base and boosts your company’s success. Check out all of DigitalOcean’s resources for startups and SMBs in The Wave, our startup resource hub, for more product, go-to market strategy, and company-building advice to help your startup thrive.

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