The innate drive for execution that lives within Product Managers can lead them to an automatic response to deliver upon feature requests. It is critical, however, to resist that temptation and take a step back to understand the broader context and implications behind the request. This will help to keep resources focused on solving the actual problems and drive impact as a result.

Product Managers are uniquely positioned to play a central role in communications across functions. As a result, they are inundated with feature requests from both internal and external stakeholders. Here’s a hypothetical scenario: you receive feedback from your customer-facing teams voicing that a certain segment of customers would like to make a significant change to the product. It’s easy to just add this item to our product backlogs and plan for the requirements, design, build, and launch to satisfy the request. Before you divert valuable attention and time from your teams to work on it, work through the below strategic questions to avoid potentially unnecessary churn, and help prioritize product features. It’s what is necessary to be considered a great product manager.

Why does the product lack this feature?

Was it something intentional? Due to some sort of tech debt? Something that is not in our sweet spot? What’s the current state of the problem?

Take a moment to understand the product change that has been requested. What are the ripple effects of this proposed change across the entire product? Your product likely has a long history since its inception that predates your management. To fill in the gaps in your knowledge, reach out to subject matter experts of the affected product components to investigate why the product was designed to function as it does in the current state. It’s possible, for example, that what your requesters are seeing as a lack of functionality is actually a behavior that is fully intended by Engineering. If that’s the case then you will want to make sure you include those teams in your stakeholder communications early on to avoid having to persuade them after weeks of development.

Alternatively, this feature request may have come up many times in the past. However, it could not be delivered upon for any number of reasons. By unearthing historical attempts at solving this problem you will be able to take advantage of lessons learned and become aware of potential roadblocks. Consider any recommendations or efforts made in the past to overcome the challenges. Conduct your own research to identify others. These insights will be invaluable in anticipating potential issues and proactively working through them. For example, you may realize that this feature does not align with your product’s core capabilities. Therefore, you should also consider third-party solutions instead of trying to prioritize product features in your roadmap.

Watch the Smartsheet Chief Advisor to the CPO discuss prioritizing product features and how to make product decisions.

When trying to prioritize product features, ask what would this feature achieve?

Reflect upon a future state wherein this feature is deployed to production. What are the outputs and outcomes that you would expect as a result? For a reporting product, the feature might fundamentally change how transactions are handled and metrics are calculated. These outputs will lead to different outcomes for users as they use the revised data you provide to make business decisions. Do these new outcomes align with the company and product vision? Having these difficult conversations in the early stages and documenting them can save you from future surprises and delays.

This line of thinking should also spur ideas for quantitative metrics that can be used to measure the feature’s impact. For example, the percentage of transactions affected, expected deltas in metric calculations). Use these measurements to establish baselines and hypothesize upon the impacts were this feature to launch. What targets would you like to achieve with these metrics and what steps can you take to help achieve them? Make sure that you don’t lose sight of these or else you may be leading resources to an impactless launch.

How does the feature impact customers?

Although this feature request may have been voiced by one segment of customers, you will want to consider impacts on other customer segments as well. Look for opportunities to interview customers from different segments. Ask high level, open-ended questions to understand their current workflow and pain points. How are customers working around these pain points today? What would this feature help your customers achieve? What other general product feedback do they have?

This exercise will help you to empathize with your users and hear about their experiences and aspirations first hand. Armed with this qualitative data, you can apply a critical lens to the feature being requested. How, if at all, will it help your users to achieve their goals? Are there other features that should also be considered? How does this feature’s priority stack against other customer pain points that need to be addressed?

Are there other overlooked customer problems?

After conducting the internal and external research described above, you will have a stronger vantage point that will enable you to see the larger context. In the reporting example, this feature’s substantial impact on metric calculations may overlook other customer or product needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should reject the feature and move on. Rather, think through how the future product can help customers achieve their full set of problems. Then work to prioritize product features.

Is there an additional process step that either customers or your customer-facing teams should incorporate to help solve the broader set of problems? Could another product solution or feature be offered to customers to fill any gaps? As you consider adding feature ideas resulting from this exploration into your roadmap, make sure to ask yourself the strategic questions outlined in this post in order to take a more holistic approach. 

About the Speaker
Bharat Manglani
White Ops Product Manager

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