Product features walk the line between boon and burden, between adding value for your customers and draining resources from your team. The key is to find the right mix of product features that will drive success for your users and throughout your company.

What is a product feature?

Essentially a feature is a capability, a thing your product can do. Yet the way features are marketed to customers is a bit different from how they’re defined within product teams. Most customers don’t see the granularity of features within a product. When I look at a product, I see little features everywhere. 

1. Big Label features: These are overarching features that are marketed as services or solutions. For example, at ProdPad we have Roadmapping, Idea Management, and Customer Feedback & Discovery. These are the things you see in the main navigation menu, “the tabs at the top” so to speak.

2. Small Function features: Within those larger solutions, there are so many different things you can do — small functionalities that you can use or not use — to make the tool work for you in the right way. These are also features.

Why the right mix of features is important

Your product’s capabilities can cut both ways. Features can provide more value (e.g. usability), and they can also cause more friction if you have too many.

In fact, the word “feature” has gotten a bad reputation in the last few years. There’s advice to avoid being “feature driven” or becoming a “feature factory,” which implies you’re building functions just for the sake of it.

On the one hand, this is valid. Teams finally understand that “build, build, build” doesn’t work as a proper product strategy!

But on the other hand, people do buy products ultimately because they have the right features that solve their problem. The product’s benefit is only realized because the collection and balance of features is just right. If the mix is wrong, then the user won’t see that benefit. Instead, the tool is overwhelming, underwhelming, or just confusing.

How to identify the right product features

Perhaps the most important part of finding the right product features is to eliminate the wrong ones. This sounds obvious, but it’s worth remembering.

More often than not, your job as a product manager is to invalidate ideas. After all, most potential features are not the right thing to add to your product!

If you want to improve metrics, you can usually get a lot further by improving the positioning of the existing features. This could be new marketing and copywriting or new design. It could require a little investment in user education or customer success.

If all that doesn’t work, then focus on adding new stuff to the development pipeline. That’s where the product roadmap comes in.

Your roadmap should only include the features you believe are necessary, based on your strategy and overall objectives. Of course, identifying those things requires two elements of good product management: 

We’ve written a ton about product roadmap management elsewhere on the blog, hence all the links!

For now, I’d like to focus on other unsung processes in the feature identification game: backlog grooming, prototyping & user testing, and measuring success.

Backlog grooming

As PMs we know there are usually many different ways to solve a problem—and the solution might come from a mix of ideas. Well, backlog grooming is a chance to review all the ideas in search for the best possible solutions.

Look in your backlog to evaluate everything that could potentially address the need or “problem area” of the product. In the evaluation phase, you can group different backlog items together to gauge what a combo solution might look like. Then you can prototype and test.

(You’ll also identify overlapping ideas or straight-up unfeasible ideas. And as I mentioned above, clearing those out is just as important!)

Prototyping and user testing

Start simple and add in functions as you go. If something crucial is missing from your product, it’ll become clear quickly. The user’s conclusion will be, “This isn’t solving my problem.” Then you can pinpoint why not and move forward with scoping that new element.

If you start testing with too many features in your product (or too many small functionalities within a new feature), that backfires. Users will overlook the majority to focus on the bits most important to them. Users won’t tell you that they don’t need the rest. So there’s a whole swathe of features you don’t hear any negative feedback about. You keep them in, and your product ends up bloated with functionality that no one actually wanted. And you’ll waste resources on maintaining it!

Word to the wise: Beware of adding too many configurations. As soon as you make something configurable, such as a toggle that allows dark mode, you have a test case for both ON and OFF. The more configurations you have, the more things you need to test to make sure it’s all operating correctly. Make sure it’s really worth it!

How to measure the success of a new feature

Identifying the right product features does not end with a product launch or roll-out! You learn that a feature was the right choice (and built correctly) only if you measure how it’s used.

Many teams build and ship without a plan to measure performance afterward. This is such a lost opportunity! When you confirm the success of a new feature, you validate how the functionality was built from a development perspective, as well as your whole process for identifying that feature in the first place.

1. Define what success looks like before you build it. 

This is the most important step! What does “it’s working” look like? For example, identify how many people you think should use the feature. This doesn’t need to be super scientific. You could just name a reasonable number that’s based on user feedback or app data that you already have.

The point is to establish a baseline of expectations before you begin! We also call this success criteria.

2. Create the space to measure success.

Next, you should define a few things around that success criteria to make sure you actually use it! Answering these three questions will establish more clarity, accountability, and process for measuring the feature’s success:

  • What are you measuring?
  • Who is going to measure it?
  • How often? One week, three months?

How you choose to measure product success, then record and communicate it, is ultimately up to your team! As long as you learn and iterate, you’ll likely stay on track toward identifying the right features and building the best possible product for your customers.

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