Prioritisation frameworks: RICE, ICE, PIE and more

What is a prioritisation framework?

A prioritisation framework is used by product teams, growth teams and marketing teams to prioritise work and projects.

These frameworks take into consideration a number of factors in order to generate a score, which can be used to evaluate the priority with which different tasks should be undertaken.

In economics, one of the most important concepts is ‘opportunity cost’ – the idea that once you spend your money on something, you can’t spend it again on something else.

Malcolm Turnbull

Why use a prioritisation framework?

There’s never a shortage of marketing ideas – from your team, your manager, colleagues, partners, even friends and family will tell you what you should be doing, and they all think their idea is good. However, in reality:

  1. The vast majority of marketing ideas lead to no measurable improvement in business results, or value to the customer
  2. No one, no matter how senior or experienced, can predict which ideas will work and which won’t – there are just too many unknowns.
  3. Most companies use weak opinions and archaic decision-making processes to place bets on a handful of unproven ideas, leading to enormous amount of waste

As a result, growth teams are adopting more advanced methods in order to determine what to work on next. Fast growing companies use a prioritisation framework to surface the ideas and activities, from the tens or hundreds of marketing ideas and initiatives the team has submitted, that are likely to have the biggest impact on the teams objectives and KPIs.

What is the highest impact area that we can focus on right now given our limited set of resources?

A prioritisation process helps ensure teams are more intentional and intelligent about their efforts, and make the best use of the resources available to them. Evaluating marketing activities using a common scoring language ensures subjectivity is removed from the prioritisation process. The end result is an unambiguous, prioritised todo list for your marketing or growth team.

The goal is to find the 10% of ideas that will drive 90% of growth.

It doesn’t matter if the idea has come from a designer, an engineer, the CEO or the office cleaner, all ideas must be prioritised and acted on correctly. The process forces the team to think about the ideas ahead of time, and removes gut feelings and emotion from the process.

Implementing a prioritisation framework also ensures team members have greater autonomy over their work, for example, it may be that a team can choose what to work on as long as the activity is towards the top of the prioritised list.

The Prioritisation Matrix

Hunter Walk, the well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist, famously explained the 4 different kinds of work using a simple 2 x 2 graph:

https://www.intercom.com/blog/first-rule-prioritization-no-snacking/

These four kinds of work can be categorised and thought of as follows:

Work CategoryDescription
High impact, high effortThis reflects your key strategic items, the big wins you’re aiming to achieve.
High impact, low effortThis is what people often describe as “low hanging fruit”, it is everyone’s favourite area to work in. For newly formed growth teams there is often plenty to do here however as your team matures this category of work starts to diminish.
High effort, low impactMost people are smart enough to avoid the low effort, low impact work.
Low effort, low impactThis area of work is like a magnet, it is easy to get pulled into but it dramatically reduces your chances of success. Hunter refers to work done here as “snacking”.

Here is why low-effort, low impact work is such an easy trap to fall into:

This work is easy to justify because “it only took 30 minutes”. And when it achieves nothing useful, it’s easy to excuse because it “took us so little time”. However, this is not strategy – this is flapping. Do this enough times and you’ll grow a low impact team that doesn’t achieve anything.

The default position for a smart team without a clear plan is to snack.

https://www.intercom.com/blog/first-rule-prioritization-no-snacking/

The solution to getting pulled into low-effort, low impact work is to implement a rigorous prioritisation process that forces the whole team to focus only on high impact work that is likely to produce results.

10X over 10%

Think about 10X improvements, not 10% improvements.

Perfecting content, fixing typos, updating social media, updating the website design. There is always something that can be done, there are always little things to tweak.

Separate the real impact opportunities from the little tweaks.

There is lots that we “could do”, what is it that we “should do”.

Scoring ideas with a prioritisation framework

Scoring is a quantitative approach carried out by the whole team in order to continually identify the most promising growth opportunities. It enables the team to use data to rank ideas against one another and determine which opportunities to pursue first.

It is important not to get too bogged down in scoring process, it is used for relative prioritisation only and forms a guide as to what to work on next. Scores do not need to be perfect and coming up with accurate predictions just comes with gathering more learnings and data over time.

What are the key scoring frameworks?

Opportunity evaluation is an important skill for any high impact growth team that will improve over time. Working on the right projects instead of the wrong ones has a huge impact on team results.

A number of frameworks existing for evaluating opportunities and prioritising your marketing resources. The most popular are shown below.

1. The ICE framework

The ICE framework is often regarded as the original scoring mechanism for growth marketing teams.

FactorDescription
ImpactHow impactful do I expect this test to be?
ConfidenceHow sure am I that this test will prove my hypothesis?
EaseHow easily can I get launch this test?

Final score is calculated by: Impact * Confidence * Ease

2. The PIE prioritisation framework

Chris Goward’s PIE framework was originally designed specifically for A/B tests though can equally apply to other marketing opportunities.

FactorDescription
PotentialHow big of an uplift do we estimate that the change will bring?
ImportanceHow much traffic does the page get and are you investing a lot to get those visitors?
EaseHow simple is it to implement the fix?

3. The BRASS method

Originally developed by David Arnoux, co-founder at Growth Tribe, the BRASS Method was originally designed to answer the question “What should we try to drive users to our website?” 

FactorDescription
BlinkThe ‘Blink Score’ is your intuitive score, or gut feeling.
RelevanceRelvance focuses on product/channel fit. How relevant is this user acquisition technique to your target audience and to your product?
AvailabilityFocused on ease and cost. How easy is it to set up this channel? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Do we have the necessary human and technical resources?
ScalabilityHow scalable is this channel? If it turns out to be extremely effective, how easy will it be to scale it up?
ScoreThe overall score after multiplying the individual scores together. 

4. The RICE Score

Used by the team at Intercom the RICE prioritisation framework adds an additional ‘Reach’ factor.

FactorDescription
ReachHow many people will this affect within a given period?
ImpactHow much will this project increase conversion rate when a customer encounters it (Massive = 3x, High = 2x, Medium = 1x, Low = 0.5x, Minimal = 0.25x)
ConfidenceThe level of confidence for your estimates. 100% is “high confidence”, 80% is “medium”, 50% is “low”, or total moonshot.
EffortThe total amount of time a project will require to make live (design, development, product etc)

Final score is calculated by: (Reach * Impact * Confidence) / Effort.

5. The HIPE Prioritisation Framework

Originally designed by Jeff Chang at Pinterest as a scoring methodology that is more objective than subjective.

FactorDescription
HypothesisWhy will this idea have a significant impact on metrics? What is the opportunity size?
InvestmentHow much time and effort will we have to invest in this project? How long will it take?
“It is better to work on 10 1-day projects with an expected value of 1K than 1 10-day project with an expected value of 5K .”
PrecedenceIs there a precedent for this working in the past? Has this worked before, either for your company or another?
ExperienceIs this change a good user experience?

Some teams additionally include an ‘Urgency” factor to allow for situations where this is an urgent business need, where other experiments have a dependency, or if there is a target directly inline with it.

Using a prioritisation framework effectively

Teams prioritise ideas against 3 criteria which result in an overall score, the 3 criteria are:

  1. Impact
  2. Confidence
  3. Resource or Effort

In a perfect world you focus only on those things that have high probability of success, high impact, and low resources required. 

Growth = fx (Impact, Probability Of Success, Resources Required)

1. Impact

Predicted impact is the degree to which the idea will improve the metric that is being focused on.

When predicting impact assume that the variant/experiment is already at 100%. What would your KPIs would look like if that were true? Make an educated guess by using benchmarks and clues from past experiments where appropriate.

How much of an impact will this idea have if it’s successful? How many people will it reach?

The 3 options to choose from are:

  • High Impact
  • Medium Impact
  • Low Impact

Remember, if the idea is to make changes to specific website pages, do those pages receive a significant percentage of your website traffic? A brilliant conversion rate optimisation improvement will have limited impact on pages that only receive a small amount of traffic.

2. Confidence

Confidence (aka probability of success) is how likely the idea is to produce the expected result.

  • Is there a precedent for this working in the past?
  • Do you think the idea has a high chance of succeeding?

Where possible this rating should be based on empirical data, such as some data analysis, user research, a review of industry benchmarks, a case study, or data gathered from a previous experiment.

The 3 options to choose from are:

  • High Confidence (aka Probable, 80%)
  • Medium Confidence (aka Possible, 50%)
  • Low Confidence (aka Long Shot, 20%)

High confidence is normally reserved for ideas that are an iteration of a previously successful idea. Early growth teams don’t have any previous experiment results to look at, so have to see what works in the industry, but over time you should rely mainly on your own past experiment results as the variance with industry benchmarks is usually very large.

Low confidence is where your team are exploring unknown areas, perhaps a marketing channel, tool or platform that hasn’t been used before.

For more in-depth confidence analysis Itamar Gilad designed a more in-depth tool below.

Calculating Confidence, by Itamar Gilad

3. Resource / Effort

Resource is an estimate of the time and/or resource required to implement the idea. It provides a reality check on overly ambitious ideas, and helps to identify the “low hanging fruit” tests to run.

Consider if the idea can be executed in a couple of hours in-house or is this something that will take a week of 3rd party development time. In addition to technical implementation, team members should also take into account organisational or political barriers that may affect implementation of ideas.

Growth is all about making smart time investments. It is better to work on 10 1-day projects with an expected value of 1K <metric> than 1 10-day project with an expected value of 5K <metric>. One reason why growth is tough is that if your experiment fails, all that hard work gets undone and you are back to the previous state, plus some learnings.

Jeff Chang, Growth Technical Lead, Pinterest

Resource required is typically categorised as:

  • Month
  • Week
  • Day
  • Half day
  • One hour

Note: It is advisable for newer growth marketing teams to avoid resource-intensive activities where possible and instead prioritise the number of ideas being tested in order to establish a cadence and rhythm to the new growth process.

Next Up: Testing

The next step in the growth process is testing, where the experiment document is created and the test is run.

Having a record of everything your team is working on and, eventually, what was learned helps fuel future ideas and ensures the entire team continues to learn and build their expertise.

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