RICE is (probably) harming your product.

If you are (or aspire to be) a Product Manager, chances are you heard about the RICE framework. It’s often the number one item on the list if you Google term “Product Management framework”, and you probably have been asked or asked about it during a job interview. For most part, for a good reason.

The RICE framework has been one of the most popular tools among product managers that helps simplify and systematise prioritizing product features and development tasks. Developed by Intercom in 2017, RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort.

And while it is an effective method, too often it is understood as a one-size-fits-all solution and therefore applied without proper consideration if indeed this is the right way to evaluate product’s priorities.

Building roadmaps and prioritising items is by no means an easy task. The appeal of a framework, where tasks value is quantified and order calculated, is therefore undeniable. Not least because it reduces the strain on Product Managers by providing a tangible metric of task’s importance. Yet, that convenience comes at a price.

With that being said, let’s explore the limitations of the RICE framework and make a case for why you should consider alternative frameworks and prioritization methodologies.

1. The One-Size-Fits-All Approach

One of the main limitations of the RICE framework is its one-size-fits-all approach. While it may work well for certain products or industries, it may not be suitable for every situation or product life cycle stage. The RICE model assumes that every product team shares the same priorities and values. However, in reality, different teams have different goals, user personas, and business contexts that should be considered when prioritizing product features.

2. The Subjectivity of Impact and Confidence

The RICE framework’s impact and confidence parameters can be highly subjective, leading to inconsistencies in scoring and prioritization. It is challenging for product managers to accurately assess the impact of a new feature on their users or the potential return on investment for the business. Similarly, determining the confidence level in a project’s success is often influenced by personal biases, stakeholder opinions, and market conditions. This subjectivity can lead to skewed prioritization decisions that might lead to resource waste and harm the efforst to reach the organization’s goals.

4. Overemphasis on Quantitative Metrics

RICE heavily relies on quantitative metrics to rank projects and features, potentially leading product managers to overlook critical qualitative factors. While quantitative data is essential for decision-making, it should not be the sole factor driving product prioritization. Factors such as customer feedback, strategic alignment, and market trends should also play a significant role in determining which features and projects to prioritize. One should also not overlook the issue of quality of the data used to calculate the metrics such as reach, which in my experience is too often more like an estimate, than a reliable number.

5. Ignoring Dependencies and Synergies

The RICE framework does not account for dependencies and synergies between features and projects. In a complex product ecosystem, the implementation of one feature can significantly impact the development and success of another.

As Product managers, we are expected to consider the interdependencies between features and projects to ensure a more holistic approach to prioritization, which at best RICE fails to provide, worse yet, might straight up obscure.
Do you agree that RICE obscures interdependencies between features?x

6. Failing to Address Technical Debt and Maintenance

The RICE framework often overlooks the importance of addressing technical debt and ongoing maintenance tasks. By focusing on new features and projects, product managers may neglect the need to invest in refactoring, bug fixes, and system improvements that are essential for the long-term health and success of a product. This can lead to a deteriorating user experience, increased development time, and higher costs in the long run.

Most of the organisations I’ve worked with came up with a quick fix for this, by dedicating 20% of resources available each sprint to “Bug fixing” etc. In hindsight, it only muddied the waters, rarely was sufficient and lead to situations where same product had two lists of priorities, one maintained by the Product team, the other by the QAs.
Do you agree that RICE obscures interdependencies between features?x

Alternatives to the RICE Framework

Now that we’ve identified the limitations of the RICE framework, let’s explore some alternative prioritization methodologies that product managers can consider:

MoSCoW Method

The MoSCoW method is an acronym for Must-have, Should-have, Could-have, and Won’t-have. This simple method will help you categorize your features based on their criticality, so that all the essential tasks can receive the highest priority.

Kano Model

The Kano Model is a theory of product development that classifies features into three categories: basic, performance, and delighters. This model helps product managers identify features that will deliver the most significant impact on customer satisfaction and prioritize them accordingly.

Cost of Delay

The Cost of Delay (CoD) framework prioritizes features based on the potential cost or lost revenue associated with not implementing them. By quantifying the financial impact of delaying a feature, product managers can make more informed decisions about which features to prioritize.

Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)

WSJF is a method that combines the potential value of a feature with its development effort, allowing product managers to prioritize features that deliver the most significant value with the least amount of effort. This can lead to a more efficient allocation of development resources.

Value vs. Effort Matrix

The Value vs. Effort Matrix is a simple visualization tool that helps product managers plot features based on their potential value and required effort. By organizing features into four quadrants (high value/low effort, high value/high effort, low value/low effort, and low value/high effort), you can quickly identify and prioritize high-impact, low-effort features.

Custom Frameworks (Yes you can!)

Many product managers seem to fear this, but given that every company has unique goals, constraints, and contexts, it may be beneficial to develop your own, customized prioritization framework that reflects your specific needs! You can do this by combining elements from existing frameworks or creating a new framework that accounts for your organization’s unique factors.

Final thoughts

The RICE framework is a great tool and has served product managers well in the past. However, before deciding to use it in your next project, I strongly suggest that you acknowledge its limitations and explore alternative methodologies that might be much better for your product and your organisation. By embracing more flexible, adaptable, and context-specific prioritization methods, you can make more informed decisions that align with your organization’s goals, ultimately leading to more successful products and higher customer satisfaction.

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