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Try Not To Be A Slave To Feature Requests

January 12, 2016

4 minute read

As I was combing through Quora the other day, I came across an interesting question on feature requests:

“What tools can I use to keep track of feature requests?”

That question got me thinking about the implications of product managers tracking feature requests as if they were a growing to-do list. Here’s how I responded on Quora:

“Don’t consider them feature requests, consider them customer feedback. Customer feedback can be good or bad – but regardless, it is still useful to understand your target, along with their frustrations, limitations, wants, needs, and ways to improve your product.

You can then use this feedback to better prioritize your backlog. This backlog will include ideas from your team, customers, management, and stakeholders. Of course, you can do much more than just sort by what we call “customer desire” – you can add impact and effort, sort by roadmap, product, tags, and much more – allowing you to prioritize your roadmap and keep focus on your product vision.”

Feature requests often come from a genuinely helpful place, but what are they really? It’s just someone telling you they’d like for you to change something that isn’t working for them. You don’t have to legitimize each and every one. The request is valuable as feedback, but you don’t have to bump it up to the front of the line because it came in as a feature request. 

Customer Feedback

What happens if you simply consider a feature request as customer feedback? I can think of at least a couple of things:

  • Empower yourself to choose what gets built – Hey product managers, this is where I want you to get up, raise your arms, and scream ‘yaaaaas!!!’ because this power is exactly what you need to do a better job as a product manager.
  • Investigate why they suggested it in the first place – You can take the time to dig into the underlying reasons that a customer sent in a request, and look into whether other users have sent in similar feedback. You can then prioritize feedback as it comes in without over-promising, under-delivering or upsetting anyone.
  • Keep the feedback flowing – I never said the customer wouldn’t be able to still influence what you do. When customers realize that you consider all their feedback to help you decide what’s next for your product, you’ll get more of it.  

As a wise woman once told me, “You are not your market.

Use this opportunity to understand your audience, learn from them, and make actionable changes that improve both your product and keep your clients happy. (And by “wise woman” I am really referring to our CEO Janna Bastow.)  

So what should you do with customer feedback?

So what do you do with your feedback once it comes in?

  1. Tag each item that comes in so later you can filter
  2. Sort through them to see how many popular an idea is
  3. Determine how much effort it would require and how it might affect the product’s popularity.

Once you’ve weighed these factors against one another, you can start prioritizing all this feedback. If there’s a particular piece of feedback that’s just so good you decide you absolutely must consider it in your backlog, upgrade it to an idea. 

From here, you can start developing it into an actionable task. 

Contact the customer(s) that sent that feedback through and find out what led them to leave that feedback, and what their circumstances were, so you can build the business case for the idea with real customer data. (Customers love it when you contact them about their feedback, by the way.) 

Then start spec’ing it out. Convert it into something you could possibly work on and start discussing it with your team. What do they think? What do they want to see reflected in the business case? How much effort do they think it will require? 

Once you’ve completed the spec, add it to your roadmap

Final thoughts: Don’t put feature requests on a pedestal

By starting from your pool of customer feedback, you actually end up giving more power and consideration to your customers.

You listen, understand, investigate, and deliver on feedback they gave you – and then you actually follow up on it. There’s nothing as satisfying for a user than when they feel like they’ve had a positive impact on what you do. 

Your customers will feel like you are actually listening to them and that their feedback really is a part of how you improve your product. 

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2 thoughts on "Try Not To Be A Slave To Feature Requests"

  1. I have seen many a times, people ignore certain feedback on the ground that its just one single customer.. and they may miss a biggest market opportunity. Feedback from customers are really valuable, if we know how to dissect the core customer needs from the feedback.

    1. Hey Shailesh, thanks for chipping in!

      It’s not a case of ignoring feedback, per se. It’s about maintaining a balanced view of what can and should be built, with feedback being just one important facet of that. Anyone who gives any feedback at all is a valued customer (we love hearing about what works and what doesn’t!) and I believe that all feedback should be gathered and sorted so it’s easy to make sense of it and to refer back to it when needed. Oftentimes, feedback is blindingly obvious, and we hear it from a bunch of people at once: This is the stuff that we make sure we fix up as soon as possible! Other times, feedback is based on the workflow of just one customer, and so isn’t as relevant to others. Sometimes we’ll get feedback for something that’s just too tricky, or that goes against what others have asked for, or that we’re not sure how we’d solve it. In those cases, I like to have an honest conversation with the customer about what they’re looking to acheive and how they’d see it done. We’re lucky that our customers are all product people themselves, and so are good at seeing different sides to the problem and working through potential solutions.

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