Everyone loves thinking about new product features, especially when they are innovative, fun, and can have a big impact on your business.
Feature ideas are everywhere. Employees, partners, customers, advisors, and investors all have ideas about what to build to make your new product a success. But it's easy to go overboard with ideas for new features, to the point your backlog looks like an overzealous child's Christmas list.
How do you ensure you're building what your customers need? How do you prioritize which features to build, while still staying within your budget and timeline?
As a product manager, I deal with this challenge everyday. It was really hard for our clients and our team to look through a list of 100 features and figure out which 10 or 20 features would have the biggest impact.
So we devised a simple, but powerful, strategy to get organized and avoid the dreaded feature bloat!
Step 1: Get Organized!
The first step is to find a centralized place for you and your team to store new ideas. Where are you storing all your ideas for features? Are they buried in email conversations? Written on scraps of paper littering your desk? Shaved into the side of your dog? Hey, I don't know your processes; I'm not here to judge.
It's important to have all feature ideas stored in one place where the entire team can add, react to, and edit ideas. Our team uses asana for this. By creating a section titled "Feature Ideas", we automatically have a space to store whatever bits of genius our team or clients brainstorm up. Keeping your future feature ideas close to your current tasks and backlog makes it very easy to move them into the backlog once they are validated and approved (more on that in the coming steps).
Step 2: Get Validated!
You may think you absolutely KNOW that a certain feature is what all your customers will need and that there is no way someone will use your product without it. But if you are not getting constant customer and market feedback on your ideas, you are throwing away money and wasting resources. Mindtheproduct.com has a great article on validating.
Step 3: Get Plotting!
The best way to prioritize feature builds is to find their need to effort ratio. Finding this ratio allows you to build smart, focusing on features with the largest impact while filtering out ideas where value does not outweigh effort. I created this nifty little spreadsheet to help you do just that.
1. Under the "Needs" tab, list all the features, along with their user stories, you are considering adding to your product. Then, have your teammates and/or advisory customers fill out a column giving the features a score from 1 to 5, 1 being ‘feature not needed’ and 5 being an ‘extreme need’.
2. Have the person that will actually complete the work add a score for effort in the "Effort" tab. (You can edit the key to fit your own needs).
3. Once all features have been given a score, take a look at your chart! Any items that fall within the green shaded area are worth building. Start at the top left corner (high need, low effort), then move across to the top right (high need, high effort) and then down to the bottom left. Never do tasks in the bottom right (high effort, low need). Use the shaded green area as a guide - it is not worth doing the items outside the shaded area as the effort outweighs the need.
Step 4: Get That Feature Out There!
It’s time to start building now that you have a clear path of what to build and when. With this strategy, you will be delivering features to your customers that they actually need, and starting with low effort items means you can implement them fast. This will keep your customers not only engaged, but also feeling like their feedback is important, which builds a strong sense of trust and loyalty.