One of the crucial questions that any product manager working on a software product has to be able to answer is:
Or, more accurately, what are we building next?
There are myriad of available frameworks to think through this problem, but one of the simplest that I have found is to have an Easy-to-Difficult and Low-Impact-to-High-Impact matrix.
Something that looks a little bit like this:
And so, we have four possible quadrants:
- Difficult and Low Impact
- Easy and Low Impact
- Easy and High Impact
- Difficult and High Impact
The first is essentially a quadrant that you want to avoid. If you’re doing something difficult (i.e. time-consuming and expensive) and it is not driving a significant business impact, then why the hell are you doing it? This quadrant acts a stupidity check. If you ever find yourself working on a product feature that can slot into this quadrant, stop and think about what you’re doing.
The second, Easy and Low-Impact, is what Friday afternoons are for and what interns and junior team members can work on. It doesn’t drive any significant business impact, but if you do enough work in this quadrant, it can add to the feeling that a product gives users delight.
The third, Easy and High-Impact, should be empty. This might sound strange, but the key message is this: if something is Easy and High-Impact, it should already have been done! If it hasn’t already been done, this should be your top priority, as it is low-hanging fruit that can give you a quick win.
The final quadrant, the Difficult and High-Impact, is where the true differentiating factors of your product come into play. If it is difficult for you and your team, it will likely be difficult for others to accomplish. If you spend enough effort working in this quadrant over long periods, you can build a product with a robust defensive moat of features that cannot easily be copied.
This is what I use at Blue to make decisions on what to build next, and I highly recommend it.
Before I finish, it is worth having a brief discussion on what exactly impact means. There is no right answer, this is something that the people running the organization need to define clearly. However you define impact, it should closely align with the organization’s top priorities, whether that is growing revenues, user retention, or deeper product usage.