Use “Buy a Feature” to Prioritize Work that Really Matters

Buy A Feature comes from the Innovation Games collection and is designed to help teams prioritize truly valuable work. Often, priorities come from what stakeholders and users say they want. There is always more demand than time or budget, and Buy A Feature stands out as the best tool to determine what to focus on.

Set Up for Buy a Feature

The game requires a constraint (usually time or cost), a set of features (each with its own time or cost), and a way to vote.

  • Constraint – with software, this could be remaining sprints, points worth of work determined by your velocity, or budget remaining. Whatever you choose, there should be an agreed-upon limit before starting the activity. The discussion should not be about the constraint but rather about what will fit into the constraint.
  • Features – identify the work up for discussion. Put together an estimate for each feature with the team and a summary of what that estimate represents when completed. Make sure your value on the feature matches the constraint. For example, if your constraint is budget, the value of the feature is a price.
  • Voting – give each participant their own amount to spend. For example, if the constraint is budget, give each person money to spend. Create a space for them to see the features they can buy and “put them in their cart.”

How to Play Buy a Feature

Before you start, introduce the activity and the features. Ensure everyone is on the same page about what they get with each feature.

  • Each participant takes a few minutes to go shopping. Independent thinking is so valuable here and makes for a great discussion later.
  • Share out each person’s choice. Dig into the “why” behind the selections. Is it to generate revenue right away? To pilot with a subset of users? This is the real value of this game: articulating a story about what we’re building, and why. Give ample time for discussion here.
  • Align as a group on the set of features that make the cut. As with any scope discussion, this could change with more information. But, when this game is done, the team should have consensus and direction.

Example Buy a Feature Activity

Our team wanted to determine which features to focus on for the last five sprints of a project. We gave each sprint a value of five stars, meaning 25 stars to spend. We assigned each feature one or more stars to represent the time and effort it would take to build. It was tricky to decide what to “buy” and what to leave, but the team landed on a clear set of features and some great questions about how we could think creatively about what we really needed to deliver.

Buy a Feature is a great game any time during a software project. Try it with end users during a research phase to influence what to build. Mid-project, the game will define priorities for the next milestone. And, near the end of a project, it will clarify what work you’ll accomplish with the last few sprints.

Happy innovating!


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