Vedran Ismaili Founder & CEO - chatbot builder, optimist and rookie skateboarder.

6 Questions you should ask yourself before building a feature

3 min read

Most of us have a long list of features we want to add to our product. We see these features, as the one’s that will take us a step closer to product market fit, differentiate us from competitors or even take us closer to our product goal. But with a long list of features that all seem urgent, how does one prioritize in a good way?

When my team and I discuss new features, we always come back to a few simple questions that help us prioritize and navigate our long feature list. Before adding a new feature, we always ask ourselves…

1. Why will it make your product better?

Before adding a new feature, you need to ask yourself a very basic question, how will this feature make my product better? You shouldn’t build a feature without having a good reason and you should always ask yourself, “How do I think this will improve my product?”

It is easy to be tempted to copy competitors, thinking that a feature seems to be adding value to them but you need to resist this urge for several reasons. Firstly, over time it will lead you to become a follower rather than an innovator and secondly, it may actually cripple you from finding a better solution to the problem, a solution your competitors haven’t thought of.

Asking yourself why you want to add the specific feature will help you build a better product and also help you prioritize which features you really need. This also brings me to the second point.

2. Will it make have a measurable difference?

To know if a feature is successful and adds value to your product you need to have a good way to evaluate the impact of it. Too often new features get added without metrics that track the effect the feature has had on the user base. When a new feature is added, it needs to be evaluated in an objective and quantifiable way, otherwise, you will have end up having subjective arguments that won’t lead anywhere.

If you don’t know how to validate the feature through data, if you are unsure the best choice is to wait, pause or even kill that specific feature.

3. Will this feature add unnecessary complexity to our product?

Product features need to be limited since we strongly believe complexity kills a product. Sure, some products are more complex but they should never be complex to use. Complexity overwhelms users and your will need to invest heavily in explaining for users how to use your product, and most often they will end up leaving your product for a simpler one.

Each feature you develop or discuss needs to have a clear single purpose and should be easy to explain. Features with multiple purposes ex “the feature will allow us to add new users and also” should immediately set off the warning lights. A feature needs to satisfy one need and never more than one. You should be focusing on how to build a feature that satisfies one need, but does so in a great way!

4. How long will take to build?

Time is a limited resource, especially in start-ups. Therefore every feature needs to be evaluated against time and their potential impact. If something is going to take several weeks to build you really need to be sure that that feature will have a big impact, otherwise, you may have wasted valuable time. For larger features, it is smart to look at the possibility to break them down into small MVP versions to test the idea before committing too much resources to the feature.

5. What do users say they want?

Users won’t always know what they want or need. It is your job to figure that out and to listen to user problems. At Henry, we spend a great deal of our time with users to understand what problem they are trying to solve before we think about any new features or product additions.

You also need to be careful not to over prioritize features based on user feedback. It is easy to want to satisfy users a bit too much leading you to add features, that don’t add value across the board in hopes of keeping them. You won’t be doing yourself any favors and in the long run, neither your customers.

A much better way is to look at user actions and tracking what users actually use and don’t. That will also help you actually understand what is working and what isn’t.

6. How innovative is the new feature?

When prioritizing a feature, you should also look at how innovative a feature is.

Sure, all features won’t be innovative, most features aren’t but in order to build a successful business with a unique edge, you need to look less at competitors and their feature sets and more on finding better ways of solving customer problems.

Focus on the more innovative features, make the big bets, swing for the fences and experiment. Building disruptive features will help you sustain a competitive advantage. Sure, changing a color of a button may increase click-rate but it won’t turn your business from failure to giant success and it is also super easy to copy.

These are a few tips on how my team and I think about when developing features, it is a quite simple framework but a very powerful one, especially if you are a young start-up that still has a lot left to build.

I hope this article helps you have better discussions about feature development at your company. If you feel other things should be on the list I would love to hear it in the discussion field below.

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Vedran Ismaili Founder & CEO - chatbot builder, optimist and rookie skateboarder.