Product Prioritization: Speed Boat

Product Prioritization - Speed Boat

Identify what’s slowing your product down

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 sixth installment, we take a look at a group activity called ‘Speed Boat’.

Venting can be therapeutic, and it and also be incredibly insightful for your product team. There’s valuable information you can take away from understanding what users or your teams hate in your product. The problem can be that complaints can in fast and furious and might not seem actionable.

It’s really easy to focus on the trees instead of the forest and fix a lot of ‘one-off’ things for each complaint.

Early in my career, and in the early stages of a SaaS startup, if an influential user would complain, we’d rally the troops to delight them with a quick fix. Being a young company, we valued individual client satisfaction at the cost of scalability and sustainability.

It wasn’t until later that I came to realize that the opportunity cost of delighting one client could sacrifice the happiness of many clients, especially when the customizations for clients meant that the product became bloated and slowed future development.

As I matured as a product manager, I was able to see complaints in perspective with the ecosystem of our product and industry. One great way to achieve this is with a prioritization technique called Speed Boat (I wish I used this back in 2008/2009).

What is Speed Boat and how does it work?

Get a group together in a room with a whiteboard. You can use a video call, but make sure you have a digital whiteboard that the group can interact with.

  • Sketch a speed boat, one that looks like it should go really fast. Feel free to do this before the meeting.
  • With the group, draw an anchor. Let the group know that the boat has the potential to be setting world speed records but the anchor is slowing it down.
  • Explain that the anchor is a representation of a feature that is keeping your product/platform from moving faster and being better (it could be a process or service depending on your company).

Now it’s time for the group’s participation. Have the group draw anchors and label them with the features they feel are slowing the product down and keeping it from being great.

*Bonus points if you want to have them use size to visualize how big of a problem the feature is to them. The bigger the anchor the more the feature is slowing the product down.

If people don’t like to draw, you can have post-it notes ready for them.

Why I like this exercise.

I’ve found this activity can be relaxing, therapeutic, helps with team bonding, and a visual representation of the product. Doing an activity like this also seems to take the aggressiveness/anger out of complaints.

What you’ll find is that most users, no matter how many complaints they have, still want to see the product improve and your role is to tap into that.

A few tips to ensure the meeting works well and the group stays focused:

  1. Don’t let one user command all the attention. If this starts to happen, call out other group members to participate.
  2. Set ground rules so the group knows it’s a brainstorming session and all anchors are welcome. Details can be sorted out later.
  3. You can change what the boat represents depending on what you’d like to get out of your session. It may represent a product line, a website, a project, etc.

Thanks to Folding Burritos for creating the Periodic Table of Product Prioritization Techniques.