Priority Levels: How to Set Them as a Product Manager

Priority Levels: How to Set Them as a Product Manager

Let’s face it: in the wild world of product management, figuring out what to do first can feel like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. Enter the realm of ‘priority levels.’ 

It sounds straightforward, but oh boy, it’s as clear as mud.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. What’s a screaming-red ‘high’ priority in one team could be a chilled-out ‘medium’ in another. And it’s not just about slapping labels on tasks; it’s about understanding the why behind the what.

In this article, we will get into the nuances of priority levels and explore how they can help product managers in the ever-challenging task of prioritization.

What are Priority Levels?

Priority levels are essentially a ranking system used to categorize tasks or features based on their importance and urgency. 

They are the unsung hero of the PM world. 

This is where you play the ultimate game of ‘Important vs. Urgent,’ and yes, sometimes it is as fun as it sounds.

In the real world of product management, where chaos is the norm and your to-do list is longer than a CVS receipt, creating priority levels is your sanity check. 

You’ve got your high priorities – the tasks that are practically on fire, screaming for attention. Then there are the medium ones, important but not enough to lose sleep over. And finally, the low priorities, which are essentially your backlog’s permanent residents, always invited to the party but never the center of attention.

Some teams stick with this simple distinction, while some get more creative using numerical scales or something more advanced like the MoSCoW method. 

Bottom line: priority levels in product management are less about rigid rules and more about guiding principles. They’re the roadmap in the journey of product development, helping you focus on what’s truly critical and avoid veering off into the scenic route of ‘Nice-to-Haves.’

Why Use Priority Levels? 

In the whirlwind of product management, setting priority levels isn’t just a good idea; it’s your lifeline. Without them, you’re basically playing “Whack-a-Mole” with tasks – frantic, ineffective, and kind of sad to watch.

Priority levels are your strategic shield against the onslaught of tasks that hit your desk every day. 

Think of them as your productivity filter. 

They help you sift through the mountain of “do this now” requests and pick out the actual gems that deserve your team’s full, undiluted attention.

If you neglect priority levels you will end up with a team that’s busy but not productive, burning the midnight oil on tasks that are about as crucial to your product’s success as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

For those who breathe and live product management, getting priority levels right is non-negotiable. It’s not about playing favorites with tasks; it’s about being brutally honest with what’s going to move the needle for your product. 

And let’s face it, being able to cut through the fluff and focus on what really matters is what separates the pros from the amateurs in this game.

Types of Priority Levels

In the realm of product management, priority levels can be categorized in various ways to effectively manage and organize tasks. 

While the basic structure often includes low, medium, and high priorities, some models introduce additional levels for greater nuance. Here’s a breakdown of these categories:

Low Priority

Low-priority tasks are important but not urgent. 

These are the tasks that linger at the bottom of your to-do list, often overshadowed by more pressing issues. They’re like that gym membership you keep forgetting to cancel. Important, sure, but not screaming for your attention. 

These typically are tasks like long-term improvements, minor bug fixes, or features that are nice to have but not essential. 

Things like sprucing up the UI or fixing that one typo on the FAQ page nobody reads. They’re your rainy-day projects, the ones you pick up when the high-stakes stuff is under control.

Medium Priority

Medium-priority tasks are more important and impactful than low-priority ones. 

These tasks don’t set off sirens, but neglect them at your peril. They’re the reliable workhorses that keep the show running, like ensuring your app plays nice with the latest OS update. 

They are not quite headline-worthy, but let’s face it, without them, you’re setting up for a sequel where everything goes sideways.

They are typically tasks that are important to complete in order for the next phase of your project to be successful. 

High Priority

High-priority tasks are the five-alarm fires. These are the tasks that need immediate attention. 

We’re talking about the kind of issues that, if left unattended, can turn your user base into an angry mob. Think app-crashing bugs or a major feature that your biggest client has been bugging you about. 

High-priority tasks take precedence over others due to their urgency and significance.

Urgent Priority

Some models also include an ‘urgent’ category, which is a step above high priority. 

This is basically high priority with its hair on fire. These tasks are like a ticking time bomb under your chair. 

They’re the unforeseen crises that pop up unexpectedly, like a major security flaw that could put your users’ data at risk. If high-priority tasks are kitchen fires, urgent tasks are the entire building ablaze.

Strategic Priority

Lastly, we have the strategic priorities. 

These aren’t your run-of-the-mill tasks but the ones that define the future trajectory of your product. 

They might not scream for immediate attention, but they’re what separates visionary products from the pack. Think of introducing groundbreaking features that’ll put you leagues ahead of your competition. 

In the grand scheme, these tasks are your secret weapons for long-term success.

8 Ways to Set Priorities in Product Management

Now that we understand more about what makes each priority level, it’s time to get our boots on the ground. 

It’s time to turn all of this theory into action and learn the best ways to effectively set your priorities. 

Here are some actionable tips to refine your prioritization skills: 

  1. Understand Your Product Vision and Goals: Start with a crystal-clear vision of where you want your product to go. It’s like having a roadmap for a cross-country trip. You wouldn’t start driving without knowing your destination, would you? Every task, big or small, should be a step towards this destination.
  2. Gather Comprehensive Input: Talk to your team. The stakeholders, folks from marketing, sales, and yes, even customer support. Everyone’s got a piece of the puzzle. The more angles you see, the better your shot at nailing those priorities.
  3. Regularly Review and Adjust: Prioritizing isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it deal. You need to constantly adjust based on new info, customer feedback, and market shifts. The goal is to stay relevant and flexible to adapt to the changing environment.
  4. Balance Customer Needs with Business Objectives: It’s not just about what users want; it’s also about what’s feasible and aligns with your business goals. Striking this balance is key to successful prioritization.
  5. Use Data to Inform Decisions: Embrace the power of data. Let analytics, market trends, and user feedback guide your decision-making process. Numbers don’t have hidden agendas.
  6. Consider Resource Availability: You must be realistic about your team’s bandwidth. Overloading them with all high-priority tasks is like trying to run a marathon sprinting the entire way. Not going to end well.
  7. Acknowledge and Manage Risks: Always have your risk goggles on. Keep your nose turned towards the potential pitfalls for each task. Weighing the risks against the potential rewards can provide valuable insights into what should take precedence.
  8. Communicate Clearly with Your Team: Once you’ve lined up your ducks, make sure everyone knows why they’re lined up that way. Clear communication ensures that your team is not just following orders, but marching together towards a common goal.

Remember, setting priorities in product management is like being the conductor of an orchestra. You’ve got different sections playing different tunes, and it’s your job to make sure they all come together to create a symphony, not a cacophony.

The PM’s Hot Take

Prioritizing in product management can sometimes feel like trying to solve a puzzle where the pieces keep changing shapes. But that’s where the thrill lies. The key isn’t just in finding the right tasks to focus on, but also in being bold enough to say no to a hundred other good ideas. It’s about making those tough calls and sometimes even defying popular opinion to stay true to your product’s vision. Remember, every task you say ‘yes’ to means a ‘no’ to something else. It’s this relentless commitment to prioritization that separates great product managers from the good ones. It’s less about following a set formula and more about making strategic choices that align with your unique product roadmap.

Conclusion

As you know, navigating the world of product management is a journey filled with tough decisions and constant adjustments. And to be successful, you need to learn how to quickly make the hard choices without losing your sanity.

Prioritizing properly isn’t just about shuffling tasks; it’s about strategic mastery. It’s knowing when to cut through the clutter and having the nerve to sideline ideas that don’t make the cut.

For those who want to dive into the deep end of product management without needing a life jacket, check out Fibery.

Here, you’ll find resources that are less about holding your hand and more about sharpening your decision-making swords. With Fibery, you’re not just ticking boxes; you’re crafting a product strategy that’s as sharp as it is savvy. 

Let’s make your product not just survive, but thrive.

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