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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Developing a list of features for current and future versions of the product - Part 8

This is a series of posts that detail the need for a product team to generate a list of features that can then be applied to the current and to the future versions of the product. It can be said in a majority of cases that a weak feature set leads to the failure of a product; as a result, it is required that the feature team and product management spend as much time as possible to ensure that all possible sources of feature requests have been looked at to determine a possible list of features for the product (for current and future versions of the product). In the previous post (Developing a list of current and future versions of the product - Part 7), I went into details of how to generate a reward based method of getting feature requests from customers and others. I will add more details of more sources for getting features and adding these to the overall feature list for prioritization and development.
We have already looked at many sources for the product. Some of those sources are people who are pretty familiar with the product and hence may have already run out of ideas (these are typically people such as the product managers, the team and a number of traditional customers). What is required is the provisioning of fresh people to look at the product and generate ideas for features based on somebody looks at things fresh. Well, where do you get such fresh people from ?
Every release there are new customers who are introduced to the product, and some of them will be of the form that they will have an opinion. You need to mine such people for getting information on where they feel some features of the product need improvement, where their work flows are not being met, and equally importantly, which are the features that would be great in the product, and are not present (these may or may not be present in the feature set that competitors have).
There are many ways to get information from customers, and we have talked about some of those ways in previous posts. Another way is to set out a survey which attempts to reach out to new customers, and asks them about which features they need help on, and other questions that will help in generating data related to which features need improvements, and which are the new features that need to be present in the product.
Another set of sources is in terms of vendors. In today's model of software development, there are many teams that will be using external vendors (in addition to the core development and testing teams) for a variety of needs; some companies have totally hived off their testing processes to external vendors, other use them for converting the software to different languages, and preparing help / documentation about the product. A number of these will be people at the vendor's end who have not worked with the product before, and they can provide some fresh ideas about what worked with them, and what did not work. Doing this on a regular basis, when they are getting some training on the product, and also when they are involved with actual work is important. The problem is, if the development team is working with these vendors, they tend to dismiss feature ideas or workflow queries from these vendors, instead of evaluating them to see whether these queries could actually work out to be feature improvements or new features.

In the next series of posts, I will talk about how to organize these features, and put them in a form that they are useful (Developing a list of features for current and future versions of the product - Part 9 - TBD)

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