Managing feature prioritization is a well understood & well-documented challenge for a PM. But as a PM, you are responsible for much more than prioritizing features; you are responsible for a team that is aligned, focused, learning & delivering continuously. Given each of these are rabbit holes of their own, how do you find the right balance? On a given day, how do you ensure you are focusing on the right problem?

In the early days of GO-JEK, I found myself lost & juggling multiple of these priorities that all felt equally critical. I constantly felt guilty that I am prioritizing the wrong things. I needed something that will solve this problem for me, easily & consistently. Over a period I came up with a checklist that worked for me & my team; I call it the "Meta Checklist".

I used the Meta Checklist my attention every time I felt lost. Going over this framework every 15 days became an exercise in reflection for me. Over the period I wrote this framework it down & encouraged my team to use it themselves. The result was a team that kept me honest & asked the tough questions.

I hope you also find this framework a useful starting point.

The Meta Checklist

  1. Is the team aligned? Does everyone in the team believe in the metrics tree we are attacking right now?
    • Metrics is how we understand the product space. We use it for prioritization as well as compromises. If the team does not believe in these metrics & their relationship with each other, the team is not on the same page.
    • At this point, we either have an unmotivated team which is just doing what they are told OR we have a motivated but misaligned team, which is trying to pull the project in different directions. Both are unacceptable.
    • If such alignment doesn't exist, our Highest ROI Activity is to redefine metrics in a way that has the whole team's buy-in.
    • It's also important to have a pragmatic team that understands the reality of insufficient information. The team is expected to Disagree & Commit in such situations.
  2. Is the team focused? Is the team working on the biggest bottlenecks identified as per the metrics tree?
    • With clear metrics, we get a clear understanding of bottlenecks. Team's mindshare & timeshare must be focused on these bottlenecks, to get the highest ROI. Working on other metrics do not really help us achieve our objectives faster.
    • Many times the team will find itself focusing on the non-bottleneck metrics. This can happen due to external pressure or shiny object syndrome or simply because our understanding of the domain has evolved since the last prioritization.
    • If we do find ourselves doing so, reprioritizing pods to focus on the most important metrics is the Highest ROI Activity.
  3. Are we effective in our delivery? Are all pods methodical in their execution? Are they following the best practices required for tight execution?
    • Be it feature prioritization, code quality, user research OR system uptime; putting thoughts, decisions & plans on paper is the single most effective way of clarifying as well as communicating them. If we are not doing it pragmatically; we can be sure we have Inefficient Execution.
    • Splitting large work in smaller chunks that gets to production frequently is critical to mitigating any type of risk early. If we are not doing it pragmatically; we can be sure there is Wastage in Development.
    • Having moderately frequent planning meetings & retrospectives is critical to learn from our mistakes. If we are not doing it pragmatically; we can be sure that we are Repeating the Same Mistakes again & again.
  4. Are we efficient in our learning? Are all pods iterating through a healthy rhythm of low-cost learning, productizing & scaling?
    • Effective product delivery is faster delivery in the right direction. Unfortunately, in product development, our understanding of the market/customer is never complete & thus our understanding of right direction is never final. Effectively; we have to take continuous learning as a first-class problem.
    • If we are constantly able to maintain the rhythm of low-cost learning, productizing & scaling; we can be sure that we are course correcting as efficiently as possible.
    • If we are NOT in that rhythm, unless we have an exceptionally good reason to stop learning, it's better to slow down delivery and focus on getting that rhythm back.
  5. Are all the external stakeholders aligned with the metrics & roadmap of the team?
    • Other stakeholders & their metrics need to be aligned with this team’s metrics. If not, there will be friction & wastage at some point in the future. The farther down the road we align, higher the existing wastage & more difficult to change people's mind.
    • This includes other teams like sales, marketing, ops, etc. & also individuals like CEO or COO who are not executing directly, but aligning rest of the organization & external stakeholders.
    • If such alignment doesn’t exist, it is critical that it gets fixed ASAP.

Closing Thoughts

  • As a PM, prioritizing features is just a tiny part of your overall responsibilities
  • Having a framework to prioritization what to focus on helps you think about your product holistically
  • Having a shared prioritization framework will enable your team to think of the bigger picture constantly
  • Use the above checklist only as your starting point; you should absolutely change it as you & your team sees fit.

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