Product Prioritization: Feature Buckets

Using buckets to plan for future work

Welcome to ‘Product Prioritization’ — our series of tools, tips, and best practices for the skilled Product Manager to determine priorities and get results. Each month, we will highlight one of the dozens of popular methodologies and explain how to use it.

For our first installment, we take a look at Feature Buckets, originally proposed by Adam Nash.

At Left Travel, we use Feature Buckets to ensure our roadmap is balanced between:

  • generating revenue
  • ensuring our users are delighted
  • fitting in longer-term strategic projects.

What are Feature Buckets?

Feature buckets are the classification framework of creating different groups, or ‘buckets’, that product features or ideas fit into. It is beneficial as in the way of roadmapping, and by having several buckets, it allows for a well-rounded and balanced product which satisfies more stakeholders.

The four categories of feature buckets

There are four commonly used categories used to provide balanced software. They are:

  1. Metric Movers
  2. Customer Requests
  3. Customer Delight
  4. Strategic

Metrics Movers

This bucket includes the features needed to move the needle on key metrics that matter to your business around growth, engagement and revenue. This can be anything from ARR, Churn, ARPU, MAU, LTV, ATV, etc.). For example, at Left Travel, we use metrics that focus on the traffic we send over to our partners and the quality of that traffic. For this, we use Qualified Referral Rate (QRR), Revenue Per Qualified Referral (RPQR), and our partner’s Conversion Rate.

If there is alignment on what the key metrics are that your business follows, it helps narrow the scope of this feature bucket.

Customer Requests

The Customer Requests bucket is filled with requests your organization receives from users and is important to carve out your roadmap. While having this bucket doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll address all, or even a large portion, of the requests that come in it, it does help ground the company to identify current pain points that users are having and decide when, how, or even if, you will address them.

Customer Delight

Remember the time you showed a user something, and they LOVED it? Features in this bucket may not be coming from users directly, but they spark joy in the customer when they see it. Here’s the best recipe to craft these features into delicious user treats:

  1. Listen to users and understand their pain points.
  2. Leverage technology to test and try.
  3. Innovate on UX to deliver and delight.

Strategic

Data projects and new markets or opportunities are types of projects that can be hard to fit into the three previous buckets but are still important. That is why there is the ‘Strategic’ bucket for features that help keep the software looking forward and past some minutiae. Use this bucket to think big and be aligned with the business’s values and goals.

Balancing Buckets

Having not enough buckets

Having too few, or too many, buckets can cause problems.

If you have too few buckets, you may be putting all your eggs in one or two baskets. For example, if you only worked on features that fit into the Metric Movers and Customer Requests buckets, it is easy for your roadmap to lose sight of the bigger picture. If this happens, your software may become bloated with customer requests. This often leads to making segments of your customers happy for the short term while making the software more complex for the rest of your users. If you don’t have work filling up each of the four buckets, you’re missing important feedback opportunities from either internal or external stakeholders; or simply put, there’s a blind spot in your software.

How to find your Feature Bucket blind spots

  1. Brainstorm what features fit into the empty bucket(s).
  2. Imagine a competitor. How would their product stack up against yours? Focus on that.
  3. Take the list of features you’re not building and run them by your stakeholders (users, developers, dev ops, support, executives, sales, marketing, etc.,). What is their reaction?

Having Too Many Buckets

Simplicity is important when you need to be constantly communicating the roadmap to stakeholders. With too many buckets, it can get confusing. If you have lots of feature buckets, it’s time to think long and hard about why the extra buckets exist. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Was it created to get a stakeholder’s work on the roadmap?
  • Could the buckets be rolled up into fewer ones?
  • Are the buckets too granular?

An important part of a roadmap is to be able to effectively communicate what’s happening now and what will be happening soon. If you have 8 buckets, it’s hard to have your team understand and support all of them. Best practices show that people can hold between 3 to 5 buckets effectively.

Ok… where does prioritization come in?

The feature bucket technique is aimed at exposing and categorizing ideas or product features into groupings. When I started at Left Travel, I found that the customer request and customer delight categories were under serviced. By ensuring that we keep our focus on those areas, we’ve been able to further close the gap between our competition’s user experience. Using feature buckets, it should help to:

  1. expose which buckets have too many or too few projects — helps to identify blind spots
  2. identify which features or ideas don’t fit into your roadmap and can be removed
  3. enable a meaningful conversation about the capacity assignment for each bucket and your team.

NOTE: This technique is not helpful to determine which feature is more valuable to do first.

Roadmap Example

Below is an example roadmap which visually resembles buckets (rows) and their status (columns). This can be easily changed to show dates in the rows if that’s the type of roadmap your team prefers.

Brent