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RICE Prioritization Framework: How Product Managers Can Organize Their Work

The RICE model is a prioritization framework designed to help product managers determine which products, features, and other initiatives to put on their roadmaps by scoring these items according to four factors. The RICE model of task prioritization truly helps with planning a roadmap and a product strategy.
The RICE prioritization system will assist in taking into account every feature or idea, every task or project, and combine all of these factors consistently. Today there are many popular prioritization techniques at a PM's disposal, from the playful to the most complex, qualitative and quantitative. Let us look at a simple but useful technique – the RICE framework.

What Is a RICE Scoring Model?

In developing a program or application, a team generally has many ongoing tasks at once. If you look from afar, they are all critical, and each must be completed by the release date. However, everyone who works in this field knows that this is not the case — there are always a few unresolved tasks that still need to be completed urgently before the deadline.
So, which of these to focus on? If you have several critical and urgent tasks in your plan, how do you know which one to work on first? This essential question of prioritization is at the root of all product management. The cost of choosing the wrong one can be high.
The RICE model is a simple framework invented by Intercom. It is quite a handy method of prioritizing product ideas and features. The four letters represent four factors that a PM can use to prioritize and evaluate product features:
  • Reach
  • Impact
  • Confidence
  • Effort
To calculate a RICE score, you need to combine these factors. After receiving an assessment based on this model, the project manager will understand which tasks are a higher priority and which are less critical, enabling them to plan the entire team's work competently.

How Does the RICE Model Work & How do you Calculate a RICE Score?

Priorities are determined using the formula: (Reach x Impact x Confidence) / Effort. The resulting score shows the "total impact over time" – and this is exactly what you would like to maximize.
After obtaining the final results, sort the ideas in question in descending order. Look carefully at the scores. Do they seem high or low? If some projects feel that way, revisit the factors and review the data. For more transparency in the ranking of projects, you can use a simple table. Let's take a closer look at what each indicator means and what it represents.
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Reach

Reach is measured by the number of people or events over a given period. This factor is designed to estimate how many people each feature or project will affect over the specified timeframe and how many users will see those changes. It's essential to emphasize accurate metrics rather than using obscure numbers.

Impact

Impact shows how much a feature contributes to the product. Value is understood differently in each product. For example, features can be given a high value if they improve trial-to-pay conversion or attract new users. Also, features can be judged on whether they help retain current users, add value to a product and set it apart from the competition.
Impact is hard to measure accurately. It is not a truly objective assessment, but it's better than preconceived ideas. Consider the impact on each individual client or user. Typically, product managers choose values from a multiple-choice scale:
  • 3 – massive influence;
  • 2 – high influence;
  • 1 – medium influence;
  • 0.5 – low influence;
  • 0.25 – minimal influence.

Confidence

If you feel a feature could have a major impact, but you have no data to prove it, the confidence parameter allows you to control this. Confidence is measured as a percentage. 100% — high confidence, 80% — medium confidence, and 50% — low confidence. This is the standard scale used in most products. Anything below 50% is considered an illusion, which in reality would not produce the expected results.

Effort

Labor costs and effort are estimated as the number of work hours, weeks, or months, depending on the scale. Remember that the sign of effective work is the implementation of quality ideas with minimal time and resources. In RICE prioritization, this indicator is measured in months. It is difficult to determine the time costs with a high degree of accuracy, but the approximate values can be calculated.

How to Use RICE Scores Effectively

RICE prioritization results are not a hard and fast rule. Often you have to implement low-priority projects first due to specific circumstances. For example, a high-priority idea depends on a low-priority hypothesis.
Any product has a long list of features that would be nice to implement in your project. It is unlikely that you can implement them all. Everything depends either on time or money. In this situation, the need to prioritize the features comes to the forefront, where you have to sift out and select only the most important.
You should always be guided by your specific product or team's needs in using the results of the RICE evaluation method. What is your priority right now? What should you pay attention to before making a release? What, if taken away, would negatively affect the product? These simple questions will help you interpret the RICE scores meaningfully.

Why Do Product Managers Like to Use the RICE Score for Prioritization?

Starting any project involves a planning phase, where we try to highlight the features that will most improve our performance. It's easy to waste precious time on developing features that no one wants. This problem is especially true for startups, where time and budget are very limited. For a project manager, prioritizing is not just a useful skill — it's the foundation of success in the profession.
At first glance, it seems like prioritizing tasks is a cakewalk that takes about 15 minutes. But even during this process, difficulties arise. Prioritization drags on for several hours, and then you have to argue with the team about why one task should be done sooner than another.
Even if one manages to overcome all temptations and identify the correct actions, the problems don't end. After all, you have to prioritize the resulting list, and that requires comparing many factors. All this is necessary to:
  • focus on the main tasks;
  • ensure the transparency of work;
  • motivate the team.
The main advantage of the RICE model over other prioritization methods is speed. Several projects can be evaluated, and their significance determined within a few hours. Also, when reasoning with the team, the product manager will not operate with abstract assumptions and hypotheses but with hard numbers and facts, which will make it easier to achieve the desired prioritization of tasks.

Summary

RICE facilitates the evaluation of projects as it allows you to break them down into simple metrics and calculate a numeric score, which will represent project priority. It also allows you to refrain from analyzing the same features repeatedly and to focus more on positive outcomes for the business. However, bear in mind that this is not an ironclad rule. Sometimes, it may seem more logical to first work through a lower priority task due to different circumstances.
Here is a brief algorithm for prioritization, which, with simultaneous use of the RICE method, will help any PM:
  • Find the top three key metrics for a particular service;
  • Gather hypotheses for pumping these metrics: from backlog or outside of it;
  • If the market is new — use qualitative methods: ask potential users what they are currently using;
  • Do a quick assessment and discard weak features;
  • Do a detailed evaluation of the remaining tasks.
The RICE model will help you make choices that are more informed and defend those choices to others.
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