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How to know what and when to build features for your product

karthikk profile image Karthik Kamalakannan ・8 min read

It’s a typical enigma for product managers to identify user needs, analyze, and know what exactly to be built next in the product. It is one of the core responsibilities of a product manager to ensure features are usable and practicable and know the features that will achieve utility after the release.

Gathering feature requests from your users can help you build the right feature for your product. This is the place where you can get an idea of what new features can be added to the roadmap and what features would work for the end-users when released.

Pro tip: Read about analyzing feature requests effectively using a feature request tool →

Ultimately, when you’ve organized all the feature requests, you will be able to identify the user needs. As soon as you know what features to build, you need to start prioritizing the features based on the feature requests submitted by your users. This phase of product development is what many call “Feature Prioritization”.

Why feature prioritization matters

When you are a product manager, trying to prioritize hundreds of features that your users, your teams, and your potential customers have submitted, it could be one of the most daunting tasks in your career. In this article, I will try to explain in detail how can you do feature prioritization and launch effectively with the following points:

  1. Who is a power user and who isn’t for your product?
  2. How to define your goals for product releases?
  3. How to categorize what features users would need?
  4. How to know what features you should spend your engineering effort on?
  5. What is affinity grouping and how it helps you?
  6. How to identify the complexity of the feature before planning for a production release?
  7. What are the prominent tools that help for prioritizing?
  8. How to communicate clearly about the context of a feature request with the team?
  9. What is product road mapping?
  10. When and how to plan the product launch?
  11. How release notes can be effectively used?

Who is a power user of your product

Most of the products serve several types of users based on their needs and goals. You can’t group all of them under a single category of using or buying your product. But you can decide your target user, which means, the group of users who plays a crucial role in the success of your product.

Target them and give preference for their feature requests, prepare a roadmap for analyzing if this feature is really worth building! It will be a wise decision to start feature prioritization and to target your potential users. This doesn’t mean you should only work for their needs, just try to fit as many features as possible into your roadmap.

How to define your goal for the release?

Before you start prioritizing the features it is important to define your goal on what you build, if you’re unsure of this, then there is a possibility of your production release expectation falling down. So, try to answer these questions before you start building the feature:

  • What is the most important feature request for your product that really moves the needle of the company, right now?
  • How about supporting existing customers?
  • Acquiring new customers?
  • Improving UX/UI version of the product?
  • Update the platform performance?
  • Is this a quarter release?
  • Promote customer experience/ relationship?
  • Improve team support?

There should be a straight forward goal for any product release, ensure you are not missing the opportunity of driving traffic to your product and your development team's time is not wasted. your answer to all of the above-mentioned questions helps you to identify the goal of the feature release before you start.

The advantage of defining your goal is that your team can achieve a specific measurable development rather than working aimlessly and unsure about what they’re building and delivering.

How to categorize what features your users would need?

  • Collect the most repeated feature requests by the users and sort your feature idea based on it, keep this as a routine for every quarter production release. You might get tired of spending more time checking with the feature requests. To avoid this, I would suggest you prefer the correct feature request tool that can help you in organizing the feature requests and easy to find the frequently asked feature.
  • This works even when you have no idea on what to build for your next quarter release, you can easily take lead from the feature requests list and start building the right ones.
  • By prioritizing what to build based on feature requests, it will help you to realize how quickly users are getting up to speed in your tool and get inspired. Their inspiration naturally builds the better opportunity of inviting others from their network to try your product.

How to know what features you should spend your engineering effort on?

Even after, when you are ready with the feature of what to build next, don’t hurry on taking it directly to your development team. Unless you are sure about the purpose and goal for the release. It is hard to decide about how to build the feature UI and write the whole new production code. It is highly time-consuming. So, it is better to consolidate with the customer first who needed that particular feature to be built before taking them to the development team.

Be clear in these questions before you begin working with the engineering team:

  • What is the need for this feature to them?
  • Will building this feature destroy the earlier version?
  • Does this feature help other users?
  • Do you understand the exact purpose of the customer needs?
  • Will this feature build give a solution for what they need?
  • How does this feature improve the uniqueness of the product?

Come up with definite answers!

What is affinity grouping and how it helps in prioritizing?

Affinity grouping is an activity in which a Product Manager sits down with their team to prioritize the features they are about to build for their users. Usually, the process starts by looking at their feature request tool.

Always, take the features discussion to the UI/UX designer first! It is important for you and your designers to deeply understand user needs correctly to build the right feature requests. The term customer experience has never been this important. If you miss here then it’s hard to regain customers back, so be the best at planning for customer experience. Trying to produce testing specific solution ideas to give a better user experience to do this creating a prototype model of the feature roadmap is the best endeavor and check how it is feasible before the single line of code is written.

If you find it helpful then brainstorm the feature roadmap with the entire team and plan for the release. It is a crucial role of a project manager to interact and clear the context of the launch to the entire team.

How to identify the complexity of the feature before planning for a production release?

Before understanding the problem, you’re solving, estimate the feature complexity of what you decided to release with the team. You need to undergo a product discovery to know the solution. Product discovery deals with making project decisions with the entire team, key stakeholders like marketing, sales, and support. Sync-up with the team and know what are the difficulties/roadblocks they’re facing while building the feature and at the same time how they can manage the time on developing a particular feature.

So, it will be easy for you to lead the product release and to understand every nook and corner of the launch. Sometimes instead of building an overly complex feature, it’s better to build a simpler feature with higher value based on the user needs. Figure it out accordingly.

Some of the prominent prioritization methods; you should know:

There are a lot of prioritization frameworks that help you in deciding what to build next and how effectively you can build it. Here, I would like to give you a glimpse of the most prominent ones. You can learn about them in detail by exploring Google.

RICE Scoring model

The RICE scoring model is a prioritization framework designed by Intercom messaging software to help product managers determine features, and other initiatives to put on their roadmaps by scoring these items according to four factors: reach, impact, confidence, and effort.

Kano model

Kano proposes a standardized questionnaire to measure participants' opinions in an implicit way. The participants, therefore, need to answer the questions for each product feature. Using Kano model product managers can identify the potential features and prioritize based on the product or feature that provides customers.

How to communicate clearly about the context of a feature request with the team?

As a Product Manager, you’re responsible for explaining the context clearly to the team. I know it’s pretty intimidating to run around a lot of meetings with the team but it’s crucial. The tech team should know what they are building and why is it necessary? Every feature and fixes should be explained to all the team members.

Don’t forget to ensure whether the team is knowledgeable of the feature objective, KPI (metrics of the feature build), constraints, requirements, and other criteria of success. Have a keen conversation about all these mentioned. This is the only way that makes the feature build successful.

What is Product Road-mapping?

Let us have a quick and simple look at it. The product roadmap serves as an elevated level of visual summary that maps out the steps of your plan to achieve the product goals. This type typically used to communicate about what, why, and where the product stands today. The product road map is shared with the stakeholders to converse about the steps, decisions taken for the build, and plan for how to execute the strategy includes business goals, product areas, priorities, etc.

The goal of a product roadmap is to

  • Explain the strategy followed for the build
  • Guide document for executing the strategy
  • Scenario and roadblock planning
  • Clear-cut communication with the stakeholders and customers.

When and how to plan the launch?

To reduce the risk, always try to release features in phases.

I am fairly sure, now, you will have an idea of how to prioritize the feature release. After this, the next stage would be planning for the launch. This phase is another challenging task for you to launch the feature at the correct time.

We can’t say all the releases will give the result as you expected. Fortunately, some features release will give the best results naturally but this happens only for the specific feature, which is in demand. Other times, you need to analyze the user's needs and launch the correct feature. This means it is crucial to undergo research on the product discovery for every quarterly and based on it you should plan for the next build.

When you build functionality with many features before they tested on users, it will put you in a burden on risk without knowing what would result in the launch. This state is going to be a very scariest state to pass through! So, never risk releasing many features at a time. Instead, try launching the simple features that can be easy to fix if something goes wrong. This method is known as the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) strategy.

Release notes

Release notes basically serve as a communication line with the customers and power users. You can use this as an engagement channel where the customers are excited about what’s coming next.

Release notes are a great way to set the right expectations and let users know that their feedback is brewing up with meaningful changes. You can gain a chance to retain your frustrated customers who left your product because of the dark bug fixes and are not very happy on their trial.

Pro tip: Read about the release notes models to figure out which style is best for you

Conclusion

It’s quite hard to make decisions on what to build and How to build, sometimes it can be coerced. But what else is going to be the reward of your dedication, when your product brings the solution for the user's needs and evolves successfully. Ultimately, it brings revenue and development for your company!

I hope these tips will help you to kick start your next product release, build what your users love!


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