6 Steps To Creating Your Ideal Product Feature Set

Creating an Ideal Product Feature Set

1 Create a Budget

Creating a budget doesn’t have to be a hugely complicated thing. To a degree, you should already know how much money you have access to, which will need to be divided between marketing, operations and development.

In this context, we are dealing strictly with the development budget.

2 List Features

We’ve seen it many many times in the past. People come to us with and extensive, ever increasing, list of features for their big idea, believing that they know exactly what their users want. We build the product. Clients then often find out that their users ignore a large percentage of those “must have” features that ate up a significant portion of their development budget, and are now dead in the water.

When it comes to a new product, you have to start somewhere. So go ahead and make the list of features for the product that is in your head. The trick here it is to condition yourself to avoid the idea that you know exactly what features your users want. You need to understand that your feature set is merely a hypothesis that needs to be proven. We’ll get to that a little bit.

Once you are done with your feature set, it should be a relatively simple exercise to create your user stories.

3 Create a Storyboard

Based on the user stories collected above, we should now be able to wire frame out all of our views and connect them in a meaningful fashion in the story board. We don’t need to go crazy with graphic design here. We just need enough user interface to get the point across for the users

4 Do Client Interviews

The point of a focus group is to guide a group of people who represent your demographic through different scenarios and the use of your product. You are allowing them to interact with it in a somewhat meaningful way and will then collect their opinions through the use of structured surveys. The results of these surveys should be invaluable in compiling the final feature set.

5 Get Estimates

You should now have the resulting final feature set based on your focus group results. Based on this list, you are now ready to get some estimates. What you need is an estimate per feature, so that after you have prioritized them you’ll be able to make the determination as to which ones are developed based on the highest level priorities that fit within your budget.

6 Compile Your Final Feature Set

This venn diagram provides a fairly accurate view of the resulting decision. It’s the intersection of what you think the customer wants, what the customer actually wants and what you can afford to build based on the estimates you gather.

Featureset Venn Diagram

How to Define an MVP Feature Set

How to Define an MVP Feature Set Using the Pareto Principle

When selecting which features to include in your Lean Startup-based product’s first release, it’s important to make sure that each feature’s impact is measurable against your business goals. This article defines a process to produces and define a list of features with the highest impact on your goals and the least impact on your budget.

What is an MVP?

In the Lean Startup world, MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. Conceptually, this represents that the product is constructed with only the most required features to get into production and start soliciting customer feedback.

Why build an MVP?

The key word is feedback. You could spend your entire budget on a huge product based on a grand, yet untested vision only to find out that a large percentage of the features you thought were so necessary go completely unused. Approaching the release as an MVP allows you to make many small bets instead of one large one; the MVP is your first small bet which you will then follow with subsequent iterations – each of which is based on measurements and feedback.

What is a KPI?

The first step is to define your Key Performance Indicators – or KPI’s; these are the metrics used to measure your product’s ongoing success rates. Money in the bank is always a good sign, but initially the metrics may lean more towards indicators of adoption and use.

Some sample metrics may include:

  • The number of new user signups over the last 30 days
  • Number of repeat logins over the last 30 days
  • Average session time over the last 30 days
  • Number of minutes spent using a particular area of the product in the last 30 days
  • The number of shares on social media over the last 30 days

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, states that, within a given system, you will typically find that 80% of the results are a direct consequence of 20% of the efforts.

For example:

  • 80% of your production comes from only 20% of your staff
  • 80% of your products usage is across only 20% of its features
  • 80% of your profit comes from only 20% of your customers
  • 80% of a city’s traffic is on only 20% of its roads

The bottom line is that focusing on only the top 20% of a prioritized list allows you to mitigate the law of diminishing returns.

How do you define an MVP feature set?

To get started, create a spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Feature (Feature is the name of the specific software feature.)
  • Cost (Cost is the total estimated cost to implement that feature.)
  • KPI (KPI is the name of the primary Key Performance Indicator affected by this feature.)
  • KP Factor (KP Factor is a discretionary value between 1 and 100 indicating how much this feature is perceived to contribute towards its primary Key Performance Indicator.)
  • Value (Value is a formula =(KP Factor/Cost)*100)

The entire process hinges on the output of the Value formula. What the formula tries to do is come up with a number that shows how much bang-for-the-buck a feature delivers based on its cost and ability to drive KPI.

Determining the KP Factor takes some interpretation. For example, let’s say you have a feature called “Social network sharing” and one of your KPI’s is the number of social network shares: this could presumably have a KP Factor of 100. A feature like “User account creation/login” affecting the “new signups” KPI may be 100 also, while something like “Dropbox integration” may not perceivably affect a KPI at all.

To build the feature set, go to your spreadsheet and list all the desired features for your product, their estimated cost, KPI and estimated KP Factor (the Value should calculate automatically). When your spreadsheet is complete, sort by the Value column. Eliminate any line items close to the top that are outside of the initial budget; then eliminate all but the top 20% of the features. What is left is a good representation of your MVP feature set.

Although this technique may not be perfect due to the discretionary nature of the KP Factor and the impact of budgetary constraints, it should prove to be a useful tool in helping to define a Minimum Viable Product that is capable of driving your business towards its primary goals.

Why your business needs Google+ and how to get started

Many people still think Google+ is the underdog of social networks – the one network that isn’t quite worth investing the time and effort to create and maintain a presence on. However, recent reports have Google+ slated to have tremendous growth in the coming year. How? Google has been actively growing the network beyond the existing volume of Google service users (gmail, google drive, etc), Google+ recently integrated with YouTube – providing more potential users, and another great reason to give the social network greater consideration. Beyond the service improvements, the existing advantages of Google+ go far beyond mere social networking; being active in the social network can also lead to improvements in your website’s search engine ranking.

I know…I know you are screaming inside your head right now, “please not another social network to manage!”, and I completely understand. I, too, feel that it is difficult to integrate another social media network into your marketing strategy when you are already utilizing so many others. However, I truly do believe that Google+ is worth the time and effort – after all, improving website search engine ranking is priceless.

Here are just some of the ways you can prepare your business or personal website to take advantage of Google+

Share your content on Google+

This may seem like the most obvious thing, but it’s the simplest way to get started in any social network. Connecting and sharing via many alternative social networks doesn’t mean that you should forsake Google+. If you do, you will be missing out on a tremendous opportunity to optimize your content for Google’s search engine and to improve your overall page ranking. For example, if you share your website’s content on Google+, Google has been show to index that content at a higher priority.

When posting your content to Google+, it’s also important to consider the content’s keywords. Specifically, Google+ makes the first sentence of Google+ posts a part of what is called the title tag. The title tag is a piece of code in the structure of a website that has a much higher weight when it comes to search engine ranking. Keep this in mind when posting content to ensure you are using the keywords important to you – this is just one simple way to take advantage of Google search engine optimization when utilizing Google+.

Connect your website to Google+

I get it – you’re like thinking, “Wait, what? If I’m already sharing to Google+ how do I connect to it – and what does that even mean?” 

Well, if you connect your website to your Google+ page, your search information is improved in Google’s search results. Search results will show profile pictures and Google+ business page information where appropriate. Adding this information to search results has huge benefits: it improves your business or individual credibility and personalizes your search results, making them stand out from the crowd of others who are not taking advantage of Google+. Essentially, it’s an automatic step up on the non-Google+ using competition.

The connecting process involves adding some code to your website and linking to your website from Google+. Keep in mind that, for Google to actually add your information to search results, you need to reach a certain ranking.

Listening with Google+

If your content is on Google+, you can monitor who is saying what about you and/or your business. Beyond keeping a general ear out, you can also easily set up alerts to notify you when anyone is saying anything about you and/or your business.

As a business owner, you know that it is critical for you to be aware of any feedback, positive or negative. In fact, addressing negative feedback can often lead to positive results. Negative feedback unfortunately is often more recognized and showing that you are aware – and that you care about your customers – really can make a difference.

Controlling the content you create on Google+

Google+ allows you to create content quite easily and also allows you to edit it afterwards. While Twitter, Facebook, and the like offer limited content editing, Google+ allows you to edit just about everything; this makes it easy to go back and update existing content with additional information when needed.

Google+ is another tool

The key component of any marketing on the Web is to connect and to provide the content that will help you to earn new connections and maintain an interesting dialogue with your existing connections. Google+ offers all the tools needed to accomplish these goals, and if your inclination is to stay away from Google+, a little research will make you understand quickly that you can leverage the tool effectively to, not only connect with your audience, but to increase your search ranking, and exposure.

If you haven’t yet made Google+ a part of your social media marketing strategy, it is time to seriously consider doing so. Google+ will can help you to build credibility, position yourself as a subject matter expert, and strengthen your professional reputation.

Responsive Web Design simplified and 3 reasons why your site should support it

Responsive Web Design: You may have heard the term in passing, or have come across it while looking into updating your website – but what is it, exactly?

Responsive Web Design, often abbreviated RWB, is a method of designing and coding Web content in a way that allows it to automatically configure its layout to provide the best experience possible based on the type of device it is being viewed on.

Think of your website like a unique restaurant that requires its patrons to use keys to enter; in order to enter the restaurant, you must have a functioning key – but if you don’t have the right key, you can’t gain access. By limiting the number of keys that work, the restaurant has limited its potential customers and revenue.

By slightly changing its design scenario to use a lock that responds to all keys, the restaurant can keep its unique novelty approach, while also opening its services to all potential clientele; they use whatever key they have accessible to them.

Responsive Web Design is like the master lock that makes all keys work – it “unlocks” a website to all mobile devices. In short, it is a way of designing a website so that visitors can easily read it, regardless of the device they are using to access the internet.

How do we Make a Site Responsive?

We won’t go into too much detail; however, the basic premise begins with us making the layout of the pages conform to a fluid grid – this grid bases the size of each content container on a percentage of the view size. By using a fluid grid, the site then adapts to allow the content to flow around each other based on the width of the browser – rather than on a static grid size. Think of this grid as a belt that can adapt to various screens.

Another core technology we use involves Cascading Stylesheets (the latest of this technology is often called CSS3), which allow the browser to load different layouts, or even completely different designs, based on the type of media the page is currently being rendered on. We can even specify a print stylesheet to alter your website for those printing a Web page. This means that the sizes, positions, and colors of elements on a Web page – and, more importantly, their visibility can be changed based on criteria we decide.

The site you are on now is responsive; you can test it out by resizing the browser from full screen to very small. As you resize your browser, the website will adapt – you will likely see a couple of different “jumps” in which the screen adjusts its layout to the perceived target medium.

During the “jumps,” certain aspects of the page may disappear as the content area shrinks and you will most likely see how, as the rows in the grid system start to shorten, the blocks of content flow around one another; they make the content longer to account for the lack of width.

These are just a few of the things we do to adapt a website design to make it responsive. Often the changes go deeper – more to come on that as we explain why your site should support this technology.

A Deeper Look Into What Makes a Site Responsive

In our above analogy, the restaurant owners essentially made their restaurant unaccessible to you; by making their restaurant flexible, they expanded accessibility for all; this flexibility and adaptability is the heart of Responsive Web Design. Accessibility entails quite a bit more than simply ensuring your content is readable, though – let’s take a deeper look.

1. Not just mobile friendly; universally device friendly

The internet isn’t just about designing for a computer screen or even just for mobile anymore (the hot must-have of yesterday); today’s world finds a multitude of different types of devices (iPads, Android tablets, e-readers, xbox, etc.) with different screen sizes, Web browsers, and hardware visiting your website.

Remember a website is the window into your business – and to best set yourself up for success, you need to make sure that your customers have a good view no matter what device they are using to visit your site. The solution to being device friendly is a Responsive Web Design that adapts based on the browser, screen size, and even based on the hardware itself.

2. If you are a business selling goods or services, a Responsive Design opens your company to a large market.

Not only are people using a mobile device to visit websites, but many are buying from the same device. A recent Google study found that 67% of customers were more likely to buy if the website they visited was mobile friendly.

Mobile friendly doesn’t just mean that the content scales to the screen size, but that the right content is easily accessible to the user. This navigability and smart coding is where Responsive Web Design comes in…

With standard design, Web designers used to design an entirely different website for mobile devices – but, thankfully, gone are the days of requiring a separate site for mobile – and having to potentially deal with duplicate content and strange back end configurations. Now, with RWD, your website can maintain the same content adapting it across desktop, tablet, mobile, and other form factors – without duplication or formatting issues. It’s a huge time and money saver – not to mention sanity saver.

3. Improved performance.

Web and mobile users are fickle; if loading the site via cellular service, there is a likelihood that the site will take some time to load – and the longer it takes to load, the less likely that visitor is to actually make it to your site (they’ll go back and look elsewhere).

Your website may have image sliders that showcase your products or some other visual effect that requires large amounts of content to be downloaded and then loaded into the browser. This all takes time, and can often use a good chunk of a device’s hardware.

Responsive Web Design improves the image load time, minimizing the load time for your full site, improving your site’s performance as a whole and enhancing your visitor’s experience.

How I Came to Love Iteration During Product Development

You have developed the perfect product development plan. You have drawn the numbers, looked at every possible flaw, examined the audience. Yet, things go awry; your perfect plan goes unnoticed by the intended audience or, worse yet, there is a glitch in the actual product itself.

It happens to the even the best at some point – and it will happen to you. Count on it.

Help! The Sky is Falling!

Even some of the biggest, most well-known companies have their share of flops and internal or customer-led resistance – and without them, they may not have risen to the top or maintained their tenure – for in every moment of reluctance and in every flop, there is a lesson to be learned.

For example, consider Apple’s iPod – a device common place today. But in 2001, this technology which boasted the abilty to store 1,000 songs digitally – a feat unheard of at the time – was met with some resistance.

Or how about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a game changer for the commercial airline industry? Once promising huge savings in fuel and maintenance costs, this dreamboat became a bit of a nightmare for the company after huge delays and a series of unfortunate mishaps.

Of course it feels different when it happens to you – and when you first feel it happening, it may seem like the pending apocalypse of your success. However, dealing with challenges in your product’s development is often a matter of poise and perspective.

What would the consumer music industry be today had Apple not pushed past the initial criticism in 2001? There are countless stories out there of product development flops and champions… take it upon yourself to learn from others’ experiences and mistakes to glean hard-won lessons without paying the price, but also to put your own situation into perspective and gain a boost in confidence. Though many of those companies may have had to adjust Version 1.0 of their product, they did push through to successfully get their product to the marketplace.

Product Development is an Iterative Process

If, despite your product’s shortcomings, the market wants to invest their hard earned dollars into your innovative product, you are on the right track. The lesson is that you have to push past the initial sting of negative feedback to get to the end zone, for you will get there if and only IF you are willing to move the ball down the field every day as you adjust your game plan. Sometimes it is a First and 10, sometimes it is a 1/2 yard run, sometimes your plane catches on fire…but move the ball because at the end lies a touchdown.

Steven R. Covey famously coined, “BEGIN with the END in Mind.” Though this is true throughout many facets of our lives, I can’t think of a more perfect way to summarize product development. It isn’t about the failures along the way and it isn’t about the countless hours invested – while these are all important pieces along the way and you shouldn’t forget them, don’t tie your ego to an anchor that can pull you down with the ship. Make a plan to appreciate the real world feedback and to adjust the course as needed – negative feedback is just as important as positive feedback. This is your road to success.

The quickest way to failure in product development is to fear criticism and to let it cripple you. Though that product may be your “baby,” almost all ideas have room for improvement and enhancement. Feedback – positive or negative – is essential to making each product the best it can be. Don’t take it personally – use it as an opportunity: iteration is a beautiful thing.

Understanding from the beginning what your end goal is, but recognize that the route to reaching that goal is paved with uncertainty and calculated risk. As Mr. Covey said, “begin with the end in mind.”

Fail, but Fail Fast

At some point, if you stick with product development long enough, you’re bound to have a flop.

Understand the narrative of the product that you are creating.  If the narrative is not being met by the product, you may have to recognize that your product is not the solution – in which case, fail, but fail fast.

Not every product can be a home run – some times, a bad idea is just that; a bad idea. So how do you know if this is the case? For starters, go to the market and let people vote with their dollars: this is the only true measurement of your success or failure.

Understand the metrics of success but also understand and acknowledge that, despite the potential blow to your ego, you may not be a winner this round.  But there is always tomorrow…

You are far from alone in this one flop. I leave you with examples of from the dustbin of innovation history (hint: Furby made the list), compliments of CNET.

Embrace the iterative process, believe in yourself, and remember that it’s all about perspective.