Growth PMs Need to Rethink Their Roadmap Prioritization Frameworks

Traditional frameworks don’t accommodate big-bet ideas with many inherent unknowns.

Written by Brooke Carter
Published on Aug. 25, 2021
Growth PMs Need to Rethink Their Roadmap Prioritization Frameworks
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Roadmap prioritization is a foundational skill that every product manager needs to have — it is the main focus of our job after all. Among many tasks and requests, PMs are responsible for allocating resources across various projects to drive the most impact for their particular product or business unit.

For growth PMs, this can be a particularly complicated undertaking. How can you be confident in developing high-impact projects when a big piece of your job is figuring out what would have a high impact?

It’s essential to recognize upfront that, no matter what your focus is, engaging in product work requires lots of quick context shifting. Product managers spend 52 percent of their time on unplanned tasks, and over half report being responsible for a variety of products. At any moment, a PM might be comparing design changes to improve the user experience of a product while juggling a request from the marketing team while building a dashboard.

When there is so much work to be addressed at once, it can sometimes feel easiest to prioritize projects based on individual objectives or time constraints. However, that approach can lead to misaligned priorities with organizational goals, and it may send your team in the wrong strategic direction — ultimately creating even more work to get back on track.

More predictable long-term roadmaps give traditional PMs a longer planning window to help navigate the bottlenecking of priorities. But growth PMs don’t always have this luxury: They are focused on driving business outcomes that require an emphasis on speed and validating hypotheses. And while traditional frameworks help PMs evaluate trade-offs between optimizations and product enhancements, they don’t accommodate big bets with many inherent unknowns.

Given the fast-paced and often ambiguous nature of growth PMs’ work, it is important to rethink how to prioritize a roadmap to account for learnings, which must be evaluated with a strategic lens that considers market attractiveness and macro and micro trends.

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When Frameworks Fail: Accounting for Uncertainty

Frameworks are a standard in every PM’s toolkit. Some of the more familiar ones include RICE and the value-complexity matrix. Some PMs more heavily rely on frameworks to account for all necessary considerations, as a one-size-fits-all solution.

For growth PMs, in particular, it’s important to know the limitations of such frameworks to understand better when and how to leverage them.

Let’s take a closer look at the RICE framework:

  • Reach: the number of users experiencing the feature or product.
  • Impact: the effect you expect to achieve (like a 2 percent increase in upgrades).
  • Certainty: the amount of confidence that you will achieve the desired impact.
  • Effort: the engineering, design, and time required to build and ship the feature or product.

The RICE framework might help a PM compare two experiments to help determine where to allocate the most resources. For instance:

  • Experiment one reaches 50 percent of users, with a 2 percent impact on conversion, and 60 percent certainty, that can be built in one week.
  • Experiment two reaches 20 percent of users, with a 5 percent impact on conversion, and 80 percent certainty, that can be built in two weeks.

There are limitations to applying this method, however. A framework like RICE is best suited for a single product or focusing on one user pain point. It helps sort a list of features that need to be built based on user research or known limitations. Such frameworks can help rank well-defined tasks, but growth PMs must often solve challenges across multiple products with varying levels of ambiguity.

Additionally, some frameworks don’t accommodate the importance of validating early stage ideas. With new ideas, the certainty of success is low because there is no baseline for comparison. Confidence is typically much higher for features or products with product-market fit and a baseline of historical data.

Even the nature of success may vary. Growth PMs lead projects that tend to be circuitous and unpredictable. For example, key results for traditional PMs may focus on features or bug fixes shipped.

But for growth PMs, a central key result is often a learning.

But how do you prioritize the value of a learning? It’s hard to accommodate in a traditional framework because lessons learned are inherently intangible and challenging to measure as a key performance indicator.

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Prioritizing Learnings to Identify Big Wins

Learnings can lead to real value for a company — but they require interpretation and sustained focus.

Growth PMs can use project learnings to define strategic direction and choose where to invest time, energy, and resources as a team and as a company. Sometimes the most important learning you can have is that a new opportunity is smaller or more complicated than expected, and you need to make the difficult decision to pause or stop projects altogether.

While it’s not always easy to define what learnings to prioritize or look for, it can be helpful to apply a combination of macro and micro evaluations, as well as an assessment of market attractiveness.

  • Macro evaluations include analyses of external trends that may impact the outcome of any given experiment. They help filter out ideas that are unlikely to succeed and ensure that strategic implications are understood before starting the work.
  • Micro evaluations look inward to analyze how internal products and processes may impact an experiment. They help ground projects in how existing capabilities and strengths can be advantageous to outcomes.
  • Market attractiveness requires an evaluation of opportunity size, growth rate, and competitive landscape.

Combining several evaluations together can help growth PMs prioritize the value of a learning. For example:

  • Learning one is focused on academic writing. From a macro evaluation, you find that most academic writers have shifted to using laptops and desktops, and it is unlikely a new technology will disrupt this trend in the next five years. Through micro evaluation, you find that, within the company, expertise and existing capabilities are strongly aligned. In terms of marketing attractiveness, the opportunity size is moderate and slowly growing.
  • Learning two is focused on team communication. A macro evaluation suggests that team communication is shifting toward a variety of communication tools and platforms to help bridge the gap in a hybrid working model. A micro evaluation shows that, within the company, the engineering team has previously built integrations with a broad range of software solutions. This is an existing capability, but new skills would need to be acquired. The opportunity size is large and growing, but there is a lot of competition. It is likely not a winner-takes-all market, so there is room to gain market share.

The most powerful thing growth PMs can do is learn how to gain internal buy-in to explore big-bet ideas. If a big bet passes the macro evaluation sense check, aligns with existing strengths, and reaches a key market, then it is likely an idea is worth prioritizing and exploring.

This requires identifying data that underscores the potential impact on a business — and developing insights about what might be achieved if the big bet pays off.

Growth PMs need to learn early that big bets are uncertain, ambitious, and take a long time to show results. But that’s also what’s so exciting about the work. Hopefully what I’ve shared helps you be methodical about exploring your growth projects and prioritizing your roadmap. If you prepare yourself for the long haul and take it one step at a time, you’ll be amazed at how much impact you can create for your company.

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