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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Developing a list of features for current and future versions of the product - Part 2

This is a series of posts on the process of developing a list of features for the current and next version of your product. Without such a list of features, without having done the best effort to ensure that the list of features is perfect and suitable, the product will not be a success. It is the rare product that can be successful despite not having the best of research for the list of features; in fact, in most cases, a product may not be successful despite having made the best effort to ensure that the list of features has been well researched and prioritized. In the previous post (Developing the list of features for a product - Part 1), we covered how to generate a list of features, some of the sources of such a list of features, and the stakeholders for the same.
In the current post, I will focus on getting features ideas and refinements from one of the key stakeholders of the project, namely the customers. The customers of your product are one of the principal stakeholders, and it is their comfort with the product that determines whether a product is successful or a failure (actually even when a product is liked by customers, it can be a failure, but that is a different story (the success factor may not be enough to cover the costs of the product, or the desired success factors for the product)).
How do you get feedback from the customers ? Getting feedback from the customers is one of the first steps in deriving a list of features that are required by your customers. Here are a few of the methods:
- Incorporate a feature in the product that allows your customers to provide their inputs. This can be like a sort of survey mechanism, cloaked in some appealing language that appeals to the vanity of the customers (so that they do not get irritated by such queries - putting in language like 'we build this product based on inputs from our customers, and your inputs are essential for developing a great product'). If you are able to showcase later that some of the features were built on the advise of customers or even more so, if some features were built while having customers as consultants, it overall gets you a list of features that are desired by customers (I know a team that did this on a regular basis, and got a number of customers who would be part of this effort and would also upgrade their product versions due to their commitment to the product). However, for an effort like this to work, it is essential that you do this in a serious way. When the survey is being prepared, to get a list of concerns that people have or to get the features that they need in the product, you need to ensure that the queries are made with all seriousness. Preparing such queries is not an easy matter. Questions that seem obvious to people involved with the project can seem very apparent, but you need to get outside people involved. For people who are not so intimately involved with the product, such questions can turn out to be confusing or not well constructed. Hence, if you want such queries with customers to be useful, and also to have a connection with your customers, make sure that an expert team is chosen to prepare the list of questions, and only after due consideration are such surveys floated to customers. A further note of caution - floating such surveys to customers should not be done in rapid succession, there should be an adequate time gap between such surveys.

Read more about the feature gathering and refinement process in the next series - Part 3.

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