How to prioritise product development at a startup?

A lot many founders we get to work with, get overwhelmed with the shear amount of tasks that is there in the product backlog. Having a prioritising framework is the key to be able to make sound decisions here. Maslow’s approach to identifying human needs can help us understand our goals when prioritising your product development sprints. Interface design is design for humans. What if we translated Maslow’s model of human needs into the needs of our users?

Maslow’s model

In the 1950s and ’60s, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow discovered something that we all knew but had yet to put into words: No matter our age, gender, race, or station in life, we all have basic needs that must be met.

Maslow stressed that

  1. The physiological needs at the base of this hierarchy must be met first. The need to breathe, eat, sleep, and answer the call of nature trump all other needs in our life.
  2. From there, we need a sense of safety. We can’t be happy if we fear bodily harm, loss of family, property, or a job.
  3. Next, we need a sense of belonging. We need to feel loved and intimately connected to other humans. This helps us get to the next level: a sense of self, respect for others, and the confidence we need to excel in life.
  4. At the top of Maslow’s pyramid is a broad, but important category—self-actualization. Once all other needs are met, we look for being creative, to solve problems, and to follow a moral code that serves others.

Product Prioritisation Framework

Maslow’s approach to identifying human needs can help us decide the priority when designing and developing products. You need to solve for the basic needs first. It might map to something like this.

  1. An interface must be functional first. If the user can’t complete a task, they certainly won’t spend much time with an application. Apple Mail was once the center of universe for many people, but poor search quality made it impossible to be productive. After years of mastering quick keys, people abandoned it for a mail client that satisfied their basic needs.
  2. The interface must be reliable. Google Hangouts has been eclipsed by competitors because it’s just not reliable. Calls drop, image quality is poor; after a couple of bad experiences, it can no longer be trusted for important conversations.
  3. An interface must be usable. It should be relatively easy to learn to perform basic tasks quickly, without a lot of re-learning. Ever tried to use Salesforce to perform a basic task? If you have, we can bet a five-spot that expletives tripped across your tongue a time or two. You’re not alone. Though the design team has made significant strides in improving the product, it’s hard to make something as complex as Salesforce usable by mere mortals.
  4. Finally. An interface must be pleasurable. Whether it’s an offbeat moment that puts a smile on your face or a thoughtful opt-in dialog that inspires your trust, an interface that connects on an emotional level while helping you complete a critical task is powerful. That would be an experience you’d recommend to a friend; that would be an idea worth spreading.

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