The Best Feature Prioritization Frameworks For Startups

Nov 17, 2021Whitney Rudeseal Peet

In the fast-paced world of startups, the product always seems to play catch up.

With an ever-growing backlog, pressure from stakeholders, and strong opinions from all sides, there’s a high risk the product will lose momentum and derail.

That’s where product managers face the ultimate challenge: Establishing a feature prioritization method that balances the urgent priorities of today with an effective growth strategy for tomorrow.

We’ll cover three valuable strategies for feature prioritization that allow any team to collaborate and stay on course. Use these insights to avoid miscommunication, overwhelm, and frustration.

Your team, investors, and customers will thank you.

Feature Prioritization: The key to a stronger growth trajectory and better funding

If your startup hasn’t implemented a data-backed methodology for prioritizing features, you’re not alone.

In fact, the 2020 Product Management report revealed that “most product managers 'don’t know' or ‘don’t have’ a process for planning and prioritizing initiatives.”

Unfortunately, failing to define a process has far-reaching effects and leads to frustration within the startup and product users alike. The 2020 report notes that the same product managers who didn’t use a feature prioritization process were also the most stressed and least satisfied with their jobs.

Shifting into a formal process, however, requires some thought into what exactly you want to accomplish—and how your unique team works.

The Top 3 Feature Prioritization Frameworks

Google will give you long lists of prioritization frameworks, but we’ve narrowed it down to the top 3:

  1. MoSCoW Method
  2. Story Mapping
  3. Rice Scoring

The methods covered below offer plenty of flexibility and cross-compatibility—with an option for every kind of startup environment.

MoSCoW Method

With the MoSCoW method, your backlog is sorted into four categories:

  1. Must-have
  2. Should-have
  3. Could-have
  4. Wish

The theory behind these categories is your team can easily balance specific features to be included with each release. The actual labeling should be done during an open conversation with the entire team, including founders, developers, and marketing.

Who it works for: MoSCoW is a great method for teams that prefer to collaborate through verbal discussions. Each team member has the freedom to bring a unique perspective to the table.

The method also works well if you’re looking for a way to involve stakeholders. This method allows them to be included in discussions covering the full context behind each issue.

Learn more about the MoSCoW method →

Story Mapping

Story mapping is a user-focused feature prioritization framework.

Story mapping requires you to make an outline of the user’s interaction with your product and evaluate which features should be prioritized based on the benefit it provides the user.

A common way to phrase each prioritized feature is through the user story format:

“As a [type of user], I want to [action] so that [benefit].”

Who it works for: Startups that are serious about establishing a user-focused product may gravitate towards story mapping. By examining each step of the journey, your team can determine which issues have the biggest impact on establishing an engaging product experience.

If you’re working with a UX designer to create or improve your product, they'll likely use a variation of story mapping to create an efficient and effective prioritization plan.

RICE Scoring

The RICE method is a slightly more complex framework that prioritizes your backlog based on a distinct formula. “RICE” is an acronym that stands for the four included elements: Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort.

Here's how the RICE Scoring Prioritization Framework breaks down:

  • Reach: The number of customers affected by the new feature or improvement
  • Impact: Measured on a scale from 1-5; can be quantitative data (ex: number of new conversions) or qualitative data (ex: moderate satisfaction factor)
  • Confidence: Measured in a percentage (75% = high; 25% = low) referring to the level of confidence you have that the other metrics are accurate
  • Effort: Calculating your team’s resources and capabilities and assigning a number based on your conclusion

Once you’ve gone through your feature list and recorded the RICE, you’ll use a simple formula to automatically prioritize your backlog.

Who it works for: Startups with an extensive backlog can use this method to stay focused and reduce overwhelm. If communication and debate (which the previous two frameworks rely on) don’t play to your team’s strengths, you might use the RICE scoring system to keep your priorities grounded in data instead of opinions.

How to Choose the Best Prioritization Framework For Your Startup

Now for the tough part… how do you choose the right one?

Each team, product, and startup is different, so how do you pick the right framework for your own organization? A simple option might be comparing your team’s strengths with the prioritization framework options we’ve just covered.

For example: Teams that thrive on verbal collaboration would probably prefer to use the MoSCoW method. Adversely, more introverted teams, or those that struggle to give everyone an equal voice, may not do well with MoSCoW.

An alternative option could be implementing a framework that offers your team a healthy challenge.

For example: If your product has (historically) lacked user-friendliness, you could embrace the Story Mapping model to pivot and start designing a product that refocuses on user benefits.


You might find that a mixture of methods works best. Quarterly and product strategy meetings with stakeholders could use the MoSCoW framework to define overarching priorities, while the development team applies the RICE scoring system on those priorities to determine what needs to be accomplished in each sprint.

Whichever method you start with, you may need to tweak your process as time goes on, your product matures, or the team changes—and that’s okay.

The most important step in choosing the best prioritization framework is to get started. We hope this article has given you the insight and confidence necessary to implement these productive and effective prioritization strategies.

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    Whitney Rudeseal Peet
    Whitney is a story- and customer-centered writer, marketer, and strategist, with a little marketing project manager mixed in.

    Whitney Rudeseal Peet

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