Project Management

RICE Prioritization Framework: Making Big Ideas Measurable

Nick Saraev ·

Nick Saraev is a writer and entrepreneur who pivoted from a path in medicine to forge a series of successful digital media businesses. He's been featured in Popular Mechanics, Apple News, & Bloomberg, and is an Amazon Kindle best-seller.

RICE prioritization

Managing tasks can usually feel a bit too much, like juggling too many balls at once. And if you’re struggling to keep up, you’re not alone, with over 16.5 million project managers around the world facing the same challenges as yours.

You’ll need some effective backlog management to keep projects on track and make sure that no task falls through the cracks. But while it’s great that everyone on the team is pumped, making the big decisions about which ideas to prioritize is definitely overwhelming.

The RICE prioritization method is here to help. RICE is among the most popular prioritization frameworks available to help leaders decide what ideas and tasks to focus on one step at a time.

RICE method
RICE method on Teamhood

Can’t Make Clear Decisions? Have some RICE.

Project failures are most often the result of a lack of clear goals – which is the biggest reason for all breakdowns. Having a structured approach makes decisions more justified because of specific criteria that are based on the chosen framework.

One of the most ideal frameworks for project prioritization is the RICE method. This prioritization framework was developed by Sean McBride, a fellow product manager, to help simplify decision-making and address some common issues like bias.

McBride and his team noticed that people usually prioritize their personal favorite projects rather than the ones that actually make an impact. They also noticed that the other prioritization framework models don’t consider subjective factors like their confidence in a task.

By scoring tasks for prioritization, product managers can focus on work that delivers the most value with the least uncertainty.

RICE meeting
Image: Pexels

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Effectiveness of RICE as a Prioritization Framework

The RICE prioritization framework works really well when everyone, having different ideas, ultimately agrees on the ultimate goals. RICE excels here because it provides a structured method to assess and compare potential projects objectively. This framework is widely used across the board.

Essentially, RICE prioritization is effective at maximizing what’s called the ratio of time vs. quality of decision. This refers to the balance between the amount of time that’s spent making a decision and the quality of that decision. A lower ratio means that high-quality decisions can be made in a shorter amount of time, while a higher ratio might imply that you’ll need more time to reach that high-quality decision.

With this analysis, you can align your tasks based on your goals and make sure that the top priorities get taken care of first. This is what RICE aims to accomplish.

Four Factors of the RICE Prioritization Method

RICE is based on these four key factors: Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. Here’s a detailed rundown as to what each component does.

RICE score
RICE formula

Reach

The first factor in the RICE framework for prioritization is a project’s Reach. This estimates the number of people or events your project will affect within a specific timeframe.

Measuring your project’s Reach avoids the possibility of personal bias because you’re provided with real measurements from actual product metrics. This can be measured in different ways, like in customers per quarter or monthly transactions.

Impact

Does a certain project have more oomph than the others? In the RICE model, Impact is the expected outcome of a project when it’s aligned closely with your ultimate goals. Estimate how much a project will move the needle towards achieving these objectives.

As a baseline, Sean McBride provided a basic multiple-choice scale to assign values along the lines of something like this: 

  • 3 = “massive impact”
  • 2 = “medium impact”
  • 1 = “minimal impact” 

So if the new feature you plan on adding has been evaluated as just a “1,” maybe you should consider something else.

Confidence

Your high-performing team is bursting with awesome ideas, and of course, everyone’s determined to set them into motion right away. But before diving in headfirst, it’s really important to ask: Do you have the necessary data to support your plans?

Only 2.5% of businesses, and we’re talking worldwide, get to achieve 100% project success within their deadlines. There’s such a thing as overambition – let’s be more realistic with the help of measuring Confidence.

Confidence in the RICE model is being honest about your estimates. To measure this, tiers of varying percentages are often used instead of having too many digits of 1-100. For example:

  • 100% = high confidence (has the metrics to back up your Reach, Impact, and Effort)
  • 80% = medium confidence (has the metrics to support two of the three RICE factors)
  • 50% = low confidence (doesn’t have enough metrics to support two of the three RICE factors)

We can say that anything below 50% is considered as a “moonshot,” which means that there’s still a lot of uncertainty and you will need to reconsider your priorities.

Effort

The denominator in the RICE prioritization method is the Effort score, which takes into account the project’s costs. Think of RICE as a cost-benefit analysis, where the other three factors—reach, impact, and confidence—are all potential benefits, while Effort is what’s invested.

Measuring Effort involves estimating everything that’s needed to complete the initiative over a certain period of time. This is usually measured in “person-months.” 

To make it simple, estimates are rounded to whole numbers (or 0.5 for tasks taking less than a month). If the project requires several weeks of planning and a lot of design time, it means that two engineers will spend two months on it. You can estimate the Effort score as 2 x 2 = 4 person-months. The lower the score, the better the project is. 

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How to Calculate a RICE Score

Once you have your results, you can calculate the RICE score using the following formula:

RICE Score = Reach × Impact × Confidence​ / Effort

So, for example, if you have a project with the following estimates:

  • Reach: 1,000 users per month
  • Impact: 3 “massive impact” based on a scale of 1-3
  • Confidence: 80%
  • Effort: 2 person-months

Using the RICE formula, we can calculate that:

RICE Score = 1,000 × 3 × 0.8 / 2

The RICE score for the project is ​1,200.

RICE method
RICE method

You can then compare this RICE score with the other projects in your pipeline, so you can decide which ones to prioritize based on their potential value.

An example of how the RICE method can be applied is here at Teamhood. We apply RICE to our Scrumban, a hybrid methodology that, while not directly applicable to all Scrum practices, still uses the Kanban system for workflow. 

Defining clear sprint goals can make sure that each cycle is focused on reaching higher business goals. When selecting tasks from the RICE-scored backlog, these goals can serve as an additional prioritization tool.

Applications for the RICE Prioritization Framework

RICE is applicable across departments and industries so the very best ideas get prioritized. Here are just a few examples.

RICE is applicable across departments and industries so the very best ideas get prioritized. Here are just a few examples.

Product Management

A product manager is looking for features or improvements to focus on next, and everyone on the team agrees – suggesting ideas on how to make it happen. To avoid leaning on personal favorites, RICE evaluates these ideas objectively to know which features will deliver the most value to their users while still aligning with their overall goals.

Marketing Campaigns

There are a lot of promotional activities on the table, and it’s hard to decide what to do first. A marketing lead uses the RICE method to evaluate the Reach of each campaign, find the Impact on conversion rates, gauge the Confidence based on previous data, and evaluate the Effort to find out how many people should work on what and for how long. This helps in selecting campaigns that are most likely to deliver the best returns on investment.

IT Project Management

RICE helps IT managers know which tasks to prioritize first, especially when all the tasks seem necessary to do – technology upgrades, software updates, and other improvements to the user experience. With the RICE method, IT departments can better manage their workload and improve project success rates, without the dreaded burnout.

The common point here is that RICE helps organizations across the board optimize their work and achieve their goals more effectively.

Limitations of RICE Prioritization

While beneficial, just like any other prioritization framework, RICE has its limitations.

RICE isn’t a product strategy.

Remember that the RICE method works best for prioritization but lacks the depth that a true product strategy can do. A product strategy covers everything you need for each project, guiding the direction of all tasks within it. RICE doesn’t aim to do that, only serving as a tool in the broader context of your plan.

RICE can’t completely replace sprint planning.

Similarly, RICE just can’t replace the value that sprint planning offers for agile workflows. Sprint planning is very detailed and sets realistic expectations of goals based on the team’s capacity and current workload. 

RICE helps prioritize what should go into the sprint, but the actual planning process is where you should align the specifics of your execution. Basically, the framework helps set your priorities but doesn’t address the detailed planning needed for successful sprints.

RICE isn’t a miracle fix.

While RICE helps you identify the most promising projects, flexibility is still key for effective project management. There are lots of external factors and unforeseen challenges that can influence the order your tasks should be tackled. And just like other prioritization frameworks, use RICE to guide your decisions but be ready to adapt and adjust to the changing situation and other things to consider.

Best Practices When Using RICE as a Prioritization Framework

RICE practices
Image: Unsplash

Using any prioritization framework takes time to incorporate into your work culture, so have these best practices on hand to make sure you get the best possible outcomes.

  • Focus on having clear criteria for each RICE model component for consistency when evaluating projects across the board.
  • Base your estimates on real data and metrics rather than just relying on intuition.
  • Be flexible by regularly reviewing and updating your RICE scores as new information becomes available.
  • Divide your team into smaller groups and encourage team members to use the RICE model as well – so they can decide on the value of their workload as consistently as possible.
  • Learn to avoid prioritizing projects that have high resource demands but don’t have a major impact on your business success.

Take advantage of the RICE framework effectively, but be sure to keep an open mind. Use the RICE model only as a guide and not as your be-all and end-all. Some methods just work better for certain projects than others, and that’s okay. 

What are the Alternatives to RICE Prioritization? 

You can’t go wrong with the RICE prioritization method. But it’s only one of the many other popular prioritization frameworks out there, each with its own way to make project management easier.

  • MoSCoW Method: Categorizes your project requirements into four priority levels: “Must have,” “Should have,” “Could have,” and “Won’t have.”
  • Kano Model: Classifies based on customer satisfaction, identified through “Basic,” “Performance,” and “Excitement,” and avoiding features categorized as “Indifferent” and “Dissatisfaction.”
  • Eisenhower Matrix: Also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, this tool categorizes tasks into “Do First,” “Schedule,” “Delegate,” and “Don’t Do” to measure a project’s importance.
  • Value vs. Complexity: This matrix assesses features based on their value to the customer versus the complexity of implementation. With this, teams get to prioritize a project that offers the most value with the least amount of effort needed to complete it.
  • Weighted Scoring Model: Offers a structured approach to decision-making by assigning weights to various criteria based on their importance and then scoring each option based on those criteria.

Each of these frameworks has its own unique advantages and can be adapted to fit different project requirements and team dynamics. The goal is to ultimately avoid being behind schedule with project management, so choose the method that works best for you and your team.

Manage Your Project Prioritization: The Smart Way 

Make your big ideas measurable with the help of the RICE prioritization framework. This systematic approach lets teams focus their efforts on projects with the highest potential value and also helps promote transparency and across the organization.

Welcome innovation the right way with RICE, alongside the more than seven out of ten high-performance teams that use project management software to boost their processes.

Consider Teamhood, your go-to Kanban-powered project management platform tailored to simplify work management. Combining Teamhood with frameworks like RICE can let you streamline your processes at a much faster pace, all in one place.

You’re just a click away from even greater success – it’s time to make it happen!

Start Prioritizing Your Projects

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Get Started

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