How to Keep Your Product Enhancement List to 12-ish Items

John Mansour
5 min readMay 4, 2024

--

When it comes to managing your product enhancement list, there’s one thing you know for sure. The list is going to grow a lot faster than you can deliver the enhancements.

Managing the product enhancement list is one of the most frustrating parts of your product manager job. There are so many perspectives and so many ways to justify the priority of any one feature over others. You never feel like you’re ahead of the curve.

In too many cases, the squeakiest wheel that gets the oil. Not exactly strategic or value driven. As product managers, you know this but sometimes you have to roll with it anyway, further adding to your frustration.

The Ultimate Outcomes of the Product Manager Role

Product managers have responsibilities that go wide and deep, but let’s net it out to what you ultimately get paid for, because the easiest way to manage your product enhancement list goes straight to the heart of it.

When it’s all said and done, product managers are responsible for two outcomes.

  1. Deliver products that make users quantifiably better at their job in ways that have strategic value to their organization.
  2. Take those product and features to market in ways that return financial and strategic value to your own organization.

Nine times out of ten, if you accomplish #1, #2 will take care of itself. If you’re on board, read on.

Let’s hone in on #1 and how to manage product enhancements to more easily accomplish the goal of making users quantifiably better at their job.

If You’re Going to Make Users Better at Their Job…

This might seem very rudimentary, but if you’re going to make users better at their job, you have to know what they do and why they do it before making any product decisions, big or small.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say your product targets recruiters in the HR department. The first thing you’ll want to do is define the ultimate goal of the recruiter role. It might go something like this.

To maintain a pipeline of highly qualified candidates (that align to the mission and culture of the organization) in order to minimize the time to fill open positions with top talent.

The operational parts of this goal are the size and quality of the applicant pipeline and the average time it takes to fill open positions. Both can be easily measured. The strategic impact of this operational goal is top-performing, long-term employees that make your company better at its business.

The next step is to define the main job tasks of a recruiter. This is the tricky part. You have to define user job tasks as if your product didn’t exist. This eliminates any product bias in how you see your users. In other words, you don’t want to see your users through the lens of what your product does, you want to see them through the lens of their job description.

For example:

  • Find sources for applicants.
  • Write job descriptions.
  • Post jobs.
  • Review applications & resumes.
  • Evaluate applicants.
  • Schedule interviews.
  • Conduct interviews.
  • Make offers.
  • Etc.

You get the picture! Now you’ve laid out the key job tasks of the recruiter role and what they ultimately strive for in terms of their goals. These two components are your foundation for managing enhancements the simple way, with quantifiable value inherently built into the process.

As a side note, each of the job tasks listed above has one or more associated workflows. Those become important during the product design phase, but that level of detail is not necessary for this exercise.

Managing Your Product Enhancement List the Simple Way

Step 1: Categorize Each Enhancement by Job Task

As you receive each enhancement request, place it under the job task that it will be improved most by that feature.

Congratulations! You’ve cracked the code!

In the example above, you now have eight job tasks to manage, not 100 enhancement requests and counting. It gets better.

Step 2: Prioritize Job Tasks First, Then Features

This is where prioritization gets really easy! Let’s keep going with the recruiter example above.

Depending on the dynamics of the job market, recruiters spend more time on certain job tasks than others, or there may be new best practices around some of their job tasks that make it easier for them to accomplish their ultimate goal.

Your job as product manager is to now determine which job tasks recruiters most need to improve and why (based on the market dynamics), then determine how well your product currently supports those job tasks.

Let’s say one of the top priorities for recruiters is to find new sources for applicants that better align with the needs and the culture of their organization, and one of the biggest obstacles to finding those new sources is something your product doesn’t currently address very well.

Any enhancements that eliminate obstacles to finding new applicant sources have high value to your users and can easily be quantified.

Let’s recap what you’ve just done.

  • You defined the ultimate goal of the recruiter role and then listed out their key job tasks.
  • You determined which of those job tasks is most important for them to improve in pecking order given the market dynamics they’re dealing with.
  • You overlayed your product to the recruiter’s job and determined which of those tasks need the most improvement to support their ultimate goal.
  • Now we get to features. Features that make the recruiter measurably better at those high-priority job tasks fall into the appropriate pecking order when it comes to prioritization because they’re tied directly to a specific user outcome and its associated obstacles.

Back to the #1 goal of the product manager role — make users measurably better at their job in ways that have strategic value to their organization. You just did it!

Prioritize the jobs first and your feature priorities will be intuitively obvious.

In the example above, your enhancement list will never be bigger than 8 job tasks. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

In reference to the title of this article, the 12-ish “items” on your enhancement list are jobs tasks, not feature requests. In my experience, the key job tasks associated with any job role is +/-12. If your list is much more than that, you may be getting too granular.

The moral of the story is this. Gain a clear understanding of how the job performance of your users is measured. Then all you have to do on an ongoing basis is determine which of those job tasks has the biggest impact on their overall job performance.

Product enhancement priorities follow suit, and they’re easily quantified!

Click here if you want to experience the easiest way to learn product management with our unique hands-on product management courses that are personalized to your products and markets. Be sure to check out our Product Management Framework that simplifies everything by making customer outcomes the starting point for building, marketing, selling and delivering strategic customer value.

Subscribe to The Product Vibe Monthly to get these best-practice publications sent directly to your inbox.

--

--

John Mansour

Eliminate inconsistencies in how customer value is defined with personalized hands-on training courses for B2B/B2B2C product management & product marketing.