With so many fabulous project ideas you cannot wait to dabble in — how do you decide which ones must take priority?
Product managers know how challenging product roadmap prioritization can be. So, to make the process less daunting, they use prioritization models, such as the RICE framework, to assess potential idea value and importance.
Read on to find out how to calculate the RICE score for your project ideas and get access to a reference example and a free RICE framework template.
Table of Contents
What is the RICE framework?
The RICE framework is a prioritization method for assessing the potential value and priority of ideas and initiatives.
Listed as one of the top roadmapping tools and techniques by the members of the Forbes Technology Council, the framework was originally developed to help product managers evaluate competing ideas in their product roadmaps.
The framework is also known as the RICE prioritization method, framework, process, or model, the RICE scoring model, the RICE scoring system, and the RICE analysis.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
The RICE framework belongs to the realm of project prioritization and is one of the many frameworks you can use. Check out our guide to project prioritization to learn why it’s important and how to do it properly:
What does the acronym RICE stand for?
The acronym RICE stands for the 4 factors used to assess idea priority:
- Confidence, and
We’ll explain these factors in more detail a bit further below.
What is the formula for the RICE scoring model?
The formula for the RICE model is as follows:
Reach x Impact x Confidence / Effort = RICE score
How does the RICE prioritization framework work?
To do the RICE analysis, you must evaluate your ideas or initiatives according to the 4 above-mentioned factors and use the formula to calculate the RICE score.
Once you have the RICE scores for all your ideas, you can analyze them and arrange them according to priority.
Here’s how that can be done in a project management tool like Plaky:
Every organization is free to come up with its own scoring criteria for the following 4 factors.
To make it easier to explain the framework, we’ll stick with the original scoring system suggested by Sean McBride, the co-developer of the framework.
RICE factor #1: Reach
Reach is an estimate of how many people will be affected by an idea in a specific time frame.
This component plays into the idea of purposeful product management, in that it helps identify initiatives that resolve customer problems, concerns, or needs, and thus, have a wider reach.
To calculate this factor, you must first decide the context of the “reach” and the time period you want to consider.
For example, let’s say that Reach refers to the number of people who’ll use a feature in the next month. This new feature will be delivered to 6,000 monthly active users, but you estimate it’ll be used by 40% of them.
Therefore, your Reach score is 40% x 6,000 = 2,400 people.
The higher the Reach, the better the potential impact of your project, so rely on real metrics rather than guesstimates. You can also use market research, customer surveys, and user analytics to ensure the data is as accurate as possible.
RICE factor #2: Impact
Impact shows you how much the project will affect a specific goal, such as better customer experience or some other business objective.
For instance, if you’re looking to sell a new product feature to as many customers as possible, the feature that boosts the conversion rate should be prioritized.
On the other hand, if your goal as a company is to increase customer delight, then you’ll prioritize features that improve customer satisfaction.
Since it’s difficult to measure, the RICE framework prescribes a simple scoring system for determining an idea’s impact:
- Massive impact — 3,
- High impact — 2,
- Medium impact — 1,
- Low impact — 0.5, and
- Minimal impact — 0.25.
RICE factor #3: Confidence
Confidence shows how sure you are about your estimates.
This score mainly serves to curb your enthusiasm regarding projects that seem great but their Reach, Impact, or Effort scores aren’t exactly backed by reliable data.
Essentially, if you’ve had to rely on your gut feeling or anecdotal evidence to determine some of the other factors, the Confidence score should reassure you and give you more control over the prioritization process.
Think of the Confidence component as a safeguard. It’s your chance to weed out accidental bias and projects with doubtful chances of success.
In RICE analysis, Confidence is expressed as a percentage. Once again, you can rely on a simple scale here to determine how confident you are about a project idea:
- High confidence — 100%,
- Medium confidence — 80%, and
- Low confidence — 50%.
Anything below 50% is considered a total shot in the dark by McBride.
RICE factor #4: Effort
Effort indicates the amount of time the project needs to be completed.
To calculate the Effort score, consider the number of people you’d need for the project and how much time they’d take to complete it.
Most often, Effort is expressed as person-months, referring to the work 1 team member can do in a month’s time. However, you can also express it as person-hours, person-weeks, person-Sprints, etc.
For example, an idea might require a 5-person team working full-time to complete it in a month, so the Effort score would be 5 person-months.
On the other hand, you may have 2 people working on the project for 3 months. In that case, the Effort score is 2 x 3 = 6 person-months.
These estimates are sort of rough, so it’s best to use whole numbers here. Still, if a task would take only half a month or less, use 0.5.
Effort is the only “negative” factor in the framework, so it’s used as a denominator in the RICE equation.
And the higher the Effort score, the worse the project’s RICE score since you’d have to work harder and longer to complete the project.
An example of a calculated RICE score
Let’s look at a practical example to better illustrate how you can apply the RICE equation to your own project ideas.
Imagine you’re part of a team that has developed and continuously works on a social movie cataloging app.
The app currently has 8,000 active users, and you’re looking to prioritize the product roadmap for Q1 of the upcoming year.
To properly use the RICE framework for your roadmap, you need to:
- Define your project ideas,
- Score your ideas,
- Calculate the RICE scores, and
- Analyze the results.
Let’s go through each step in more detail.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
Not sure how to plan your product roadmap? Use Plaky’s free product roadmap template to keep your team aligned around the same goals and effectively track project performance:
Step #1: Define the project ideas
Your movie cataloging app has been doing well so far, but users have given you some feedback on the community forum and are asking for the following features or changes:
- Custom update statuses — right now, users can only choose from 2 different statuses (Watched and Want to Watch). This feature would let them customize their statuses and potentially increase their engagement.
- Improved search and filter options — currently, the app offers a rudimentary search option by actor, director, or movie title. Users want more options, such as genre, length, and publishing date filters.
- Reports — app users have also expressed their interest in seeing their movie statistics, e.g., how many movies they’ve watched in a month, their most-watched genres, and similar.
Step #2: Score your ideas
Before scoring your ideas, you should determine the context of each RICE factor and what it means. Here’s how we’ll measure the components in this example:
- Reach — number of users the feature or change will impact in Q1.
- Impact — the estimated impact the feature or change will have on each user, ranging from 0.25 (minimal impact) to 3 (massive impact).
- Confidence — the level of confidence you have in each project idea, ranging from low (50%) and medium (80%) to high confidence (100%).
- Effort — the amount of time your teammates need to complete a project, expressed in person-months.
After going through the data and getting input from other project stakeholders, here’s how you’ve scored these 3 project ideas:
|Custom update statuses||1,500 active users||2||100%||5|
|Improved search and filter options||3,500 active users||1||80%||10|
|Reports||3,000 active users||3||80%||20|
Now, let’s see the RICE scores for each of these ideas.
Step #3: Calculate the RICE scores
Using the RICE equation mentioned earlier, you can now calculate the RICE scores of your project ideas:
|Custom update statuses||1,500 active users||2||100%||5||600|
|Improved search and filter options||3,500 active users||1||80%||10||280|
|Reports||3,000 active users||3||80%||20||360|
So what do these results say?
Step #4: Analyze the RICE scores
Once you have your RICE scores, you can clearly see which ideas you might want to prioritize and why.
For instance, the idea you should focus on first is adding custom update statuses, as it requires less effort than the other 2 projects, has a high Impact score, and you’re 100% confident in it.
The other 2 ideas have the same Confidence factor of 80%, but their Effort and Impact scores are drastically different.
Their Reach scores are similar, but the reports project has a much higher Impact score than the search and filters project. Because of that, its RICE score is higher — even though it would require more effort to complete than improving the app’s search and filter options.
Instead of making a separate RICE matrix each time you want to prioritize your project ideas, you can list them all in a project management tool such as Plaky.
Here’s how this example can be displayed in Plaky:
Thanks to Plaky’s sorting options, you can also sort your project ideas according to their RICE scores to instantly recognize which projects to prioritize:
Free RICE framework template you can use
One of the easiest ways to use RICE is to set up a spreadsheet where you can automatically calculate the RICE score.
If you want to apply the RICE scoring model to your projects, here’s a free RICE matrix template you can download and customize to your needs.
The template already contains the RICE formula, so all you have to do is fill out the matrix using your own project ideas and data. The RICE scores will be automatically calculated.
FAQs about the RICE method
Now that you know how to use RICE, let’s go over some of the most common questions asked about this scoring system.
A brief history of the RICE model
The RICE prioritization framework was co-developed by Sean McBride while he was working as a product manager at Intercom, a business messaging software company.
Along with other PMs, Sean developed a scoring system for prioritization in product management that fit the context of the company’s needs at the time.
The goal of the RICE scoring system is to discourage PMs from focusing on pet, clever, and new ideas, and instead work on:
- Projects with an extensive reach,
- Projects with a direct influence on their goals, and
- Projects they’re already confident about and believe in.
What are the benefits of the RICE framework?
The main benefits of the RICE prioritization framework are:
- Data-driven evaluation — RICE encourages you to rely on data and evidence to make decisions, thus reducing biases and prioritizing objectively impactful ideas and initiatives.
- More effective time and resource allocation — RICE prevents you from pursuing low-impact initiatives that only waste time and resources and instead encourages you to invest them in more advantageous projects.
- Higher level of customer centricity — RICE puts more attention on customer reach and impact, favoring projects that benefit the customers and meet their wants and needs.
- Transparent prioritization — the RICE score clearly shows team members which ideas are worth pursuing and why, thus building trust and aligning the team around a common goal.
- Versatility — RICE can be adapted to fit many different contexts, industries, and businesses.
What are the drawbacks of the RICE framework?
The main drawbacks of the RICE scoring model are:
- Potential inaccuracy and inconsistency — RICE calculations can be inaccurate or inconsistent if you’re working with old data or are just guesstimating because there’s no accurate data to rely on.
- Complexity — RICE can be difficult to implement due to the amount of data and analysis necessary to complete each project, especially if the projects are complex.
- Subjectivity — though RICE encourages objectivity, certain factors, such as Impact and Reach, can succumb to subjectivity unless a number of stakeholders are involved in the estimation process.
- Disregarding tech debt — since RICE prioritizes projects based on their user reach and impact, it may make the team overlook improvements that don’t have an immediate impact on the customers but could benefit the product development process in the long run.
- Project interdependencies — certain projects must be prioritized due to their interdependencies, so their RICE scores may not be the only prioritizing factors the project team has to use.
What are the best practices for using the RICE model?
Some best practices for using the RICE framework for prioritization include:
- Defining the scoring criteria beforehand and using them consistently,
- Focusing on a single goal rather than multiple objectives when calculating the RICE scores,
- Taking into account resource and time dependencies between different project ideas when evaluating Effort,
- Getting objective feedback by involving stakeholders in the process,
- Involving the team in the decision-making process, especially when 2 or more projects have similar RICE scores,
- Regularly updating the scores (and consequently, the priority of your ideas) whenever new data is available,
- Using both quantitative and qualitative analysis for precision, and
- Leaving some margin for error, as estimates are almost never 100% accurate.
According to Karol Kłaczyński, Scrum Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Head of Product at Brand24, objectivity should be the focus here:
“To me, the key to successfully using the RICE framework is to be as objective as possible when scoring each component — Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort. It’s crucial to involve cross-functional teams in the scoring process to get diverse perspectives. This ensures that you’re not just looking at things from a product-centric viewpoint but also considering marketing, sales, and customer success angles.”
Remember, though, that tradeoffs are always a possibility.
While using RICE, you may have to work out of order whenever the situation calls for it — or when you need a quick win.
That said, constantly ignoring the results will get you nowhere. As Jan Schiller, Partner and Chief Project Officer at Berkshire Consulting LLC, puts it:
“RICE (Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort) is best used when the organization will live by the results. Organizations will invest time and money into prioritizing effectively; a return on that investment is only realized if the organization will perform in alignment with the priorities — an expectation is more powerful than prioritization.”
What are some alternatives to the RICE prioritization method?
Some widely used alternatives to the RICE scoring framework include:
- The Eisenhower Matrix — a prioritization tool that organizes initiatives by urgency and importance, categorizing them into 4 quadrants: Do, Decide, Delegate, and Eliminate.
- ICE method — a framework similar to RICE that prioritizes projects based on their numerical value while considering 3 factors: Impact, Confidence, and Ease.
- Kano Model — a scoring model that assesses initiatives by comparing how likely they are to satisfy customers against the costs of their implementation.
- MoSCoW analysis — a prioritization method that organizes ideas into 4 categories: must-have, should-have, could-have, and won’t-have.
- Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) — a tool that prioritizes initiatives with the highest economic impact and the shortest completion period.
- Value vs effort matrix — a prioritization technique that weighs initiatives by considering their potential value and how much effort it would take to complete them.
- Opportunity scoring — a prioritization method that considers ideas customers believe are important but currently disappointing.
- Weighted scoring — a numerical scoring model that objectively prioritizes ideas or actions based on a set of criteria and their assigned weight values.
All of these methods come with certain pros and cons, so there’s no telling which one is truly the best.
When discussing RICE alternatives, one of our experts, Jan Schiller, explained which prioritization frameworks work the best for her:
“In general, I favor prioritization frameworks that do not include ease or effort (at least, not initially) because the organization may then prioritize the easiest and/or smallest efforts before the most important and valuable efforts. An organization’s capacity to perform the project should also be taken into consideration; hopefully, the organization considered their capacity before launching a project.”
What is the difference between RICE and WSJF?
The main difference between RICE and WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First) is that RICE focuses more on impact, while WSJF emphasizes economic value.
The WSJF prioritization method sequences tasks, projects, ideas, and similar based on maximum economic benefit. Thus, it uses different parameters than RICE, such as:
- Cost of delay (CoD) — the money you lose by delaying the completion of a job, and
- Job duration or size (JST) — estimated time needed to complete a job or the job’s size if you don’t know how long the job will take.
The WSJF formula is straightforward — CoD/JST. However, the method is more complex to apply than RICE as CoD is a sum of 3 different estimates:
- Business or user value,
- Time criticality, and
- Risk reduction and/or opportunity enablement.
What is the difference between the ICE and RICE frameworks?
The main difference between the RICE prioritization process and the ICE scoring model is that RICE takes Reach and Effort into account, while ICE forgoes Reach and considers Ease instead of Effort.
Both methods serve to prioritize ideas. However, the formula for the ICE method — Impact x Confidence x Ease — is easier to calculate, making it less time-consuming to implement.
That said, since Reach is not considered, the ICE framework doesn’t accurately show how valuable your project ideas are. ICE scoring is less data-driven and more prone to subjectivity than RICE, given that its 3 factors can easily be only guesstimates.
Conclusion: Use the RICE framework for more realistic idea prioritization
Though it comes with certain caveats, the RICE framework supports better decision-making and enables project teams to confidently prioritize ideas based on both data and their own insights.
As long as you strive to use real data as much as possible when estimating the 4 RICE factors, the framework should enable more accurate idea prioritization, and consequently, better focus on initiatives that truly make a difference for your business.
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