1 “I need this done tomorrow.”
• “We committed to an end of day deliverable, is that possible?”
• “This is business critical, so it needs to be delivered ASAP.”

For most in product management roles today, hearing these types of comments from your stakeholders is likely a daily occurrence. As a product manager with almost 15 years of experience, it is a common challenge for most: striking the right balance between what will drive business value, stakeholder satisfaction and enterprise profitability. The root cause driving these comments within organizations today is something many struggle with - prioritization. Though we generally try to focus on delivering what generates the highest business value, the reality of what eventually gets worked on is a complex web of stakeholder influence, executive intervention, and sound business case with a high level of return on investment. Through my experience at Dine Brands I understand how important it is to lead and prioritize within a complex cross functional and multi-brand environment and everyone within the team and across the organization plays a role in the success of getting this right.

For product managers, there is a myriad of frameworks that can be used to prioritize: RICE, SWAG, value vs. effort, or any combination of these or other frameworks, you name it. Assuming you manage products in a for-profit organization, the more practical approach is to prioritize product features across three simple dimensions: 1) revenue potential, 2) cost reduction, or 3) improvements to the guest/user experience. Each industry is different. For example, based on my experience in the restaurant space I’ve found prioritization can be complex given our asset-light, highly franchised business model. Managing a broad portfolio of tech solutions across numerous stakeholders and multiple brand concepts is certainly not easy. At Dine – IHOP and Applebee’s –are truly unique in their business needs and strategies for executing their business and evolving their tech stacks. Any company who operates and supports a multi-brand, multi-concept business model understands these dynamics and likely leverages a very similar prioritization framework, such as we do, that is based on the following guiding principles, that are:

1) everything we do has to be simple to understand for all those involved
2) and, stakeholders must feel included, engaged and have a voice in the process.

“Though we generally try to focus on delivering what generates the highest business value, the reality of what eventually gets worked on is a complex web of stakeholder influence, executive intervention, and sound business case with a high level of return on investment”

It’s this simple approach that has proven successful in prioritizing a multitude of new product rollouts and features for my team. The benefits have also proven to be significant in ensuring cross functional alignment, and driving the organization forward by introducing some foundational new tech products and features. In summary, there are three key learnings that are applicable to any organization challenged with product prioritization in the tech space:

1. Build relationships: getting buy in for your roadmap can be challenging, if not impossible, if you don’t have the right advocates and supporters bought in. Understanding your stakeholders early on and quickly building those relationships is a great way to get early advocacy. I have found often those individuals whom tend to be more challenging than others, reframing the business challenge to make it relevant to them or simply taking the extra time to walk them through what your plan is can be impactful. Sometimes the “softer” responsibilities of what product managers should do (e.g. build relationships, be open/collaborative, etc.) you quickly realize are things you have to do.

2. Be transparent on how you prioritize (and remind): I have often found that stakeholders who are not involved in the prioritization process or simply don’t understand it, are often the most resistant to change. Setting a clear approach and managing expectations early will obviously help connect the dots with any outliers on the team, and if you are an agile product manager, continuing to mention the iterative nature of what you do is important. Nothing is set in stone. Prioritize first, and if business needs change, simply come back and revisit. If needed, start the process again.

3. Own the process (practice extreme ownership): this takes real leadership, during the good and the bad times of a project. Providing clear and accountable leadership creates trust and confidence among all those involved. It’s important to remind your stakeholders that product owns the complexities of prioritization, and we take responsibility for any mishaps along the way. I have found most reasonable stakeholders who fully understand this, tend to be more supportive when difficult tradeoffs have to be made.

Building relationships, providing transparency and establishing yourself as the leader and project owner will set the tone for your team and the success of a product. Be practical, transparent, and structured in how you prioritize new product features and the overall work for your team. When people feel involved and included in the journey, it makes those moments when tough decisions need to be made more palatable.