In this article, we’ll define the RICE model and what it stands for. We’ll also explain how RICE scores work, plus the benefits and challenges of using this framework. Keep reading to discover how to strategically apply this method to project management.
What is the RICE model?
RICE stands for reach, impact, confidence, and effort. The RICE framework is a project prioritization method used for quantifying the potential value of features, project ideas, and initiatives. It’s a great tool for facilitating Agile teamwork.
How do RICE scores work?
RICE is a score that measures the effort needed to get an item to its goal. It helps us identify which items are most important and which ones are least important.
This metric shows the number of people who would be affected by a feature or service in a given time period. It could be a reduction in churn or a spike in transactions.
A feature's impact is measured by how much it contributes to the overall success of your product. It can also be used to determine how much of a boost it will provide to your conversion rate. This is often used for product management but can also be applied to projects involving user-facing parts or experiences.
There are many ways to measure the impact of a feature. Some key questions to consider include: will it improve conversion rates, or will it make the experience more streamlined?
This metric is used to measure the confidence that you have in the estimations that you made for a project. It asks how confident you are in the data to back up those estimations. Rated on a scale, this metric involves both internal and external validation to score properly.
This is the amount of work it takes for a team to build a feature or complete a project. It can be a long-term project or a simple requirement that only needs a few people. Your exact definition of effort may vary. But most product and project managers use metrics such as time and budget.
RICE model example
RICE is calculated using this formula: (Reach x Impact x Confidence) / Effort
It’s up to you to create your own scoring system within each part of the formula. But reach is usually a whole number within a time frame, impact is a number on a tiered scale you define, and confidence can be a percentage on your own custom scale, with 100% being the most confident. Effort is almost always quantified as time, but it can be defined as any resource type, such as labor.
For example, let’s say the school lunch team is deciding if they should make more peanut butter or tuna fish sandwiches for the upcoming field trip. Using the RICE model, we’ll calculate the scores of both sandwich types to determine which should be prioritized.
There are 100 students going on the one-day trip, so we’ll use one day as our time frame. Of those 100, 80 have signed up for school lunch. Therefore, peanut butter’s reach is 80, and tuna fish’s reach is also 80.
Our tiered scale will be small and define student interest based on what we know about leftover sandwiches from the last trip.
- 1 = lots of leftovers from last trip
- 2 = some leftovers from last trip
- 3 = few to no leftovers from last trip
There were few to no peanut butter sandwiches leftover from the last trip, but half of all tuna sandwiches were left untouched.
From this, we can now see that peanut butter’s impact is 3, while tuna fish’s impact is 2.
We’ll define how confident we are that students will want to eat the sandwiches on a scale of:
- 0% = extremely unconfident
- 50% = somewhat confident
- 100% = they love the stuff
We know in this particular example that there are no nut allergies in this group, but there are some vegetarians. Therefore, pulling from the data on leftover sandwiches, we can ascertain that peanut butter’s confidence is 100%, while tuna fish’s confidence is 50%.
Peanut butter sandwiches can be prepared by simply spreading it onto bread, while tuna fish requires opening cans, mixing mayonnaise with spices, and then spreading it. Our effort scale will be defined as:
- Peanut butter’s effort = 3 minutes per sandwich
- Tuna fish’s effort = 6 minutes per sandwich
- Peanut Butter’s RICE Score = (80x3x100%)/3 = 80
- Tuna Fish’s RICE Score = (80x2x50%)/6 = 13
From this analysis, we know that peanut butter sandwiches have scored higher, so their production should be prioritized for the upcoming school trip to maximize the efficiency of supply ordering and division of labor.
The benefits of RICE prioritization
In a nutshell, RICE helps you make better-informed decisions in Agile project management. The scoring system helps identify when to make the most advantageous trade-offs and minimize potential biases.
It also helps empower teams to take the next steps with minimal supervision since task prioritization is made simple when using this tool. And even when you’ve got a project underway, RICE makes it easy to organize all of your incoming work requests without disrupting active work.
RICE scoring asks users to defend their choices when measuring their work and resource usage against defined priorities.
Challenges of using the RICE framework
Due to the complexity of RICE, product managers often have to consider multiple metrics across multiple features to create the best possible outcome. This is time-consuming, and much of the decision-making is at the manager’s discretion, which may defeat the purpose of the method in the first place.
Another challenge is the potential lack of information. Data isn't always available for every product, and for most physical products, these metrics are often hard to measure.
And last but not least is implementation. After putting in all the effort to create your RICE framework, you still need to get your team on board. If they aren’t frequently referring to the metrics or don’t fully understand what it means for their work on a practical day-to-day level, then the framework creation was a waste of resources.
How to use RICE in project management
Most project managers have at least some understanding of how to prioritize tasks. They may also have preconceived notions about how to do this.
But due to the complexity of project management, it can be difficult to make informed decisions without a system for some of the most complicated factors. Some of these factors include team capabilities, personal biases, and the impact on companies or stakeholders.
That’s where RICE scoring and frameworks come into project management. Rice scoring allows project managers the opportunity to make data-driven decisions with objective considerations that are related to the goals and the experiences of their customers.
While a good project management system can help minimize this subjectivity by allowing people to easily prioritize tasks even when everything seems important, RICE frameworks also contextualize these choices.
How to use RICE in product management
A scoring system for product prioritization is not new. But finding one that works seamlessly across different ideas can be a challenge.
Using the RICE scoring system outlined above, product managers can create a score for their many competing priorities. Once those are calculated, managers can draft a roadmap based on the order of product prioritization.
This framework communicates which initiatives are most valuable to teams while providing a clear way forward no matter how complex your product to-do list has become.
Combining RICE scoring and framework with a product management solution that allows you to carry out your new plan is crucial. Abilities such as performing critical path analysis that prevents conflicting resource usage or expectations and updating tasks with customized statuses so that teams can stay true to their RICE analysis results can make or break your prioritization efforts.
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