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Monday, March 18, 2013

Developing a list of features for current and future versions of the product - Part 7

This is a series of posts on how to resource a collection of features for the current and future versions of the product, develop these features, and then prioritize these features such that a list of such features can be laid before the team. Once a list of features has been generated, reviewed, necessary details added and dependencies evaluated, they form the basis for the future development of the product. However, it is critical to ensure that the feature list is formed after an extensive evaluation of all possible sources. This series of posts has been concentrating on how to obtain features from different sources, with the previous post (Developing a list of features for current and future versions - Part 6) focusing on getting a list of features and feature modifications / additions from the team members. Team members are very close to the product and can provide a lot of incremental improvements, and with their study of competitors, can also suggest features that it would be useful for the product to add. This post will look at another source from which features can be suggested (and keep in mind that even though some of them may sound odd, generating even a couple of features based on a new source can be very useful).
In a previous post, I had suggested using surveys and also collecting information based on customers usage of various features in the software. This post takes a more specific instrument to collect features; basically a contest that asks customers and others to suggest the most useful features that a product can have. This is a new avenue that has shot into higher profile in the past couple of years, and I have seen it adding a few more features to the existing list of features for a product, overcoming the skeptical nature of the team and the product manager. It is a bit hard to ensure that the team management and the product manager are exploring new avenues for generating a list of features; normally they would already have a list of features from previous such exercises, and after looking at some competitors, they would feel that they already have a good list of features and don't really see the need for looking at fresh sources of generating features (which would help in refreshing and re-prioritizing the existing list that they already have).
In the recent past, I have seen some organizations and products trying to use crowd-sourcing (god, I hate using buzz-words) as a way to generate a list of features for the product; and when you add a prize at the end, it can turn out well. So, the simple way to go about this would be:
1. Prepare a timeline for how long do you want this exercise to continue, when would start informing people and when you would end the process of collecting the list of features
2. Define whether there are any selected categories in which you want features (this can be helpful when there are certain areas of the product that you feel that you are weak in)
3. Define the level to which you want people to prepare the features that they are submitting - something like a top level definition, or a more detailed description in which they define the entry points into the feature, the processing in the feature, and the exit points from the feature
4. Define the prizes that top contributors will get, and also define whether you need to get more information from these contributors during the time period that the feature development work is happening; also define more aspects about whether there is the need to have agreements such as a Non Disclosure Agreement in the same time period.
There will be many more details during the planning of such an exercise, but these are the top level details that you should be looking at while starting an exercise to obtain features from people.
Once you get such a program running, there is a good chance that you get atleast a couple of features concepts that have not been thought through from other sources and which can be useful for your product. And in the end, if you have decided that you will take one or more such features in your product, be sure to advertise the feature and also get the contributor (if he or she has been happy with the interaction with your team) to be part of your coming out exercise of the product.

Read more about generating a list of features in the next post (Developing a list of features for current and future versions - Part 8)

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