The best way to a great product is to focus on what really matters

The main ideas that should be applied when working on a new project, or making decisions about your product.

“printed sticky notes glued on board” by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

As a UX Designer Jr. I’ve learned that through the design process, besides all the research, validation, and understanding of user needs, designers are expected to comprehend the objectives of the process, collaborate with team members, and guide the product development through testing and iterations; this can be the meeting points between UX design and Product Management.

When building a new product or defining which is the following step to take in an existing one we always come up with a lot of ideas, but it is important to discern which are really important to make sure our team uses all its efforts on the most valuable features at every moment of the process.

Trying to learn more about the prioritization process I got to read “Intercom on Product Management” book, which explains the main lessons they’ve learned through their process of designing and managing new products.

So here i’ll mention the main ideas I consider should be applied when working on a new project, or making decisions about your product:

1. Evaluate the product:

If your product already exists and your team is planning the next step, you need to evaluate its features and decide what you should do with them by analyzing how many people actually use each feature and how often.

This is called a “Feature audit”, it will help you map all the features you want to develop or improve, and find the core value of your product and what it is actually being used for, helping you focus on the features that really matter.

A way of carrying it out is through analytics, there are several apps that can be used to it, but it can also be done manually considering user interviews or testings.

Example of a Feature Audit configuration

For those features with low adoption you have 4 options:

  • Increase adoption rate, by getting more people to use it.
  • Increase the frequency, by getting people to use it more.
  • Deliberately improve it, for those who already use it.
  • Kill it, admit the defeat.

When the product doesn’t exist, I consider the feature audit can be used to evaluate the importance of a necessity or requirement according to the frequency of usage by the users.

2. Improve the features

Kaizen is a philosophy about making continuous improvements, without generating drastic changes. With this in mind you can improve existing features before consider adding new ones, and continuously improve your product.

So if you decided to gave a feature a second chance you have 3 options.

  • Deliberate improvements to make the product better.
  • Frequency improvements for consumers to use it.
  • Adoption improvements for those who do not use the feature.

You can make Deliberate improvements when you know WHY the customers use certain features, you know that all customers use and like the feature, and you are looking to make it better for them by adding value to it. Since making these changes implies improving well-adopted features it generates a high risk, so it’s very important to get it right.

Frequency improvements are used when you want a feature to be used more often because you think it will be beneficial for users. A way of getting these “endorsement” is through the hook pattern defined by Nir Eyal.

“Hook Canvas”
  1. Trigger, is the reason why the user goes to the product, there can be internal or external triggers. For example emails and notifications.
  2. Action, “what is the simplest behavior to get a reward?”, a search, scroll…
  3. Reward, after the action the user gets something, like seeing the content of a site.
  4. Investment, action that is the ‘seed’ for more triggers, for example when the user subscribe.

You may use Adoption improvements to ease the usage or resolve issues that keep customers from using certain features you consider important.

A good way of defining the reason behind the low adoption of a feature is to constantly ask “why?”; “why no one uses ‘x’ feature?, why no one sees the value?, why is the UI confusing? why are there so many bugs?”… and go on wondering why to every answer until you get to the root cause of the real problem.

Outline of the “5 whys “ process.

3. Decide which features to build?

I’ve been talking about making a product better by improving its existing features, now I’ll talk about what to keep in mind when introducing new features to a product.

Typically, new features are the only improvements that outsiders (i.e. non-customers) will ever hear about.

You need to consider the benefits adding a new feature will bring to your product, prioritize the necessities, and give a thought on how to introduce them.

Where do we suck? Where does it matter? The focus should be on the disappointing but important features to customers, so you’ll not end up working on features no one cares. A method proposed to determine what should be taken into consideration is to learn about where the opportunity lies?, by rating how important is a task and the current level of satisfaction.

Opportunity algorithm by Anthony Ullwick

One of the perks of using this formula is that features that you normally wouldn’t notice, stand out.

Regularly, the biggest opportunities lie in areas the product manager regards as being “complete”, “bug free”, “good enough” etc. Put simply: a minor improvement on an important task is almost always a larger opportunity than a big improvement on an ancillary one.

What should the features accomplish before adding them to a product?

Here is a list of the main question I consider important to ask when building a new feature:

  • Does it fit the vision?, What do you know about the problem that no one else does? and How should it be solved?
  • Will it still matter in 5 years?, Will it still deliver value?
  • Will everyone benefit from it? A lot of people want it, but, HOW MANY people really want it? For me this is one of the most important, remember to look at the big picture and not pay attention only to what you heard first.

Look at the big picture
  • Will it improve, complement or innovate on the existing workflow? will your client satisfaction increase? does it increase the performance and works in more cases? Will you get new clients?
  • Will it generate a new and meaningful engagement?, when you add a metric to track an area of the product, you should also analyze 
    other areas that are susceptible to being impacted by said change.
  • Can we do it well?, to build a feature correctly, you have to deeply understand the job it does.
  • Will the reward be greater than the effort? You should keep in mind the effort that takes designing and developing and the reward it will generate and the value it will give to the user. Those features that represent less effort and higher value/reward are the ones to consider first.
    a. How useful is a feature vs how hard is it to do it? — For the user
    b. High valued and low (development) effort?**

The cost-benefit analysis of features
User value vs dev effort

Some examples of “Quick wins” could be: 
– rewrite the app copy to make it more personal, funny, precise or useful. 
– add keyboard shortcuts to let power users be more productive on the main
– remember the last active project and bring the user back there when they
 next login. 
– provide extra information and links to actions in email notifications.

How to release features progressively?

At Intercom, they add features following a series of steps using “Feature flags”, which is a technique that allows to progressively expose and validate new features and receive feedback, before making it public. Said method has 5 steps:

  1. Team testing: Prevents too many people reporting the same issues. But it also allows a release before each step is perfect.
  2. Company testing: Without any deep explanation, the product is released to the company, so they can test it and report any confusion they might have.
  3. Restricted beta: is a public release to a select group of trusted users. At this point you’re not looking for feedback, but for reactions.

As Jake Knapp wrote “Reactions are hard to fake. Feedback is hard to give”

And you are looking for:

  • Discoverability, are people finding this feature?
  • Engagement, are people using this feature?
  • Adoption, is it being used as part of a workflow?
  • Use Cases, how is it being used?
  • Barriers, Who isn’t using it? why? what’s preventing them?

4. Full roll out: features are available to all users. Is important to show the users what they can do.

5. Message schedule for the feature: encourage people to use the feature. Focus on growing the usage of your product, instead of the growth of the product.

How to increase customer engagement?

1. Make a strong first impression
Make the features discoverable, show your users how they work and motivate them to get started. A way of making this good impression could be by communicating with the users, letting them know how to get help, with tutorials, welcome messages

2. Gradually expose the depth of your product. 
Not all features are useful at first, and showing them from time to time by scheduling messages/notifications to show them when using the product is a good way of promoting.

3. Announce features and improvements in-app.
Similar to previous, users are only interested on features when using the tool.

4. Show the users what they CAN DO, and not what you did, or what it does. 
The message impact and user interest in the features increases when you show them what they can do or achieve now.

Author: Rebeca Pravia

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