Roadmap Management

3 Best Practices for Prioritizing Feature Requests

By on November 30, 2020

Successful products receive a lot of feedback from prospects, customers and users. Specific ideas that these people express in emails, support tickets or other communications are known as feature requests. The challenge for product managers is organizing them and incorporating the most promising ones into the development cycle. Identifying the promising ones is done by prioritizing feature requests.

Let’s take a look at how to organize feature requests and three strategies that you can use to prioritize them.

Organizing and prioritizing feature requests is one of the most challenging aspects of a product manager’s job. Click To Tweet

Collecting Feature Requests

Feature requests can come from unsolicited emails, support tickets, salespeople and countless other sources. Of course, an inbox full of feature requests isn’t very helpful. They need to be organized in order to understand their relative importance, vetted by the development team to understand the complexity and run by stakeholders to approve the costs.

A typical feature request process might include:

  1. Anyone that receives a feature request adds it to a shared Trello board or adds a +1 if the feature request already exists, as well as estimates its importance to the user.
  2. Product managers comb the backlog and estimate the cost and complexity of each feature request regularly.
  3. Stakeholders evaluate the time, cost and importance of each feature request and organize the cards in the order they should be implemented.
  4. Developers pull cards from the feature request backlog and add it to their current sprint regularly to actually implement the features.
  5. Product managers should communicate any newly implemented features, especially to the users that originally requested them.
Roadmap Portal for Jira by Amoeboids

Roadmap Portal for Jira – Source: Amoeboids

The exact process that you use to collect feature requests depends on your organization. For example, if you use Atlassian products, Roadmap Portal integrates with Jira Service Desk to enable customers to vote on feature requests and provide feedback. It’s an easy way to transparently build a roadmap while integrating with other Atlassian tools.

How to Prioritize Them

The five-step process in the prior section sounds straightforward, but the third step is very ambiguous. Prioritizing feature requests involves weighing the time, cost and importance of each feature request while ensuring that the product remains competitive in the market. It helps to create a well-defined framework to conduct these evaluations.

Amoeboids-Feature-Request-Board-Checklist

Importance to the Business

Most companies exist to make a profit—for better or worse. While it’s tempting to work on the lowest cost features, it’s much more important to look at the long-term impact. A feature that costs $1,000 and generates $500 per month in incremental recurring revenue is far less valuable than a feature that costs $50,000 and generates $10,000 per month in revenue.

Of course, market risk also plays an important role in a product roadmap. A feature may be costly and time-consuming to develop with little incremental revenue generation, but a competitor that launches the feature could result in substantial lost business. The market risk may therefore be well-worth the significant investment. 

Other features may help the sales team close more deals. For example, there may be a feature required by an entire industry subset that’s frequently requested by sales leads but rarely by actual customers. If the feature were to be implemented, it could open the door to significantly greater sales over the long run rather than simply increasing average revenue per user.

Importance to the Customer

A feature’s importance to a customer can be difficult to estimate. For example, a customer may experience an edge case and make a feature request that would be helpful in the moment but rarely used in day-to-day workflows. On the other hand, a request that comes up from multiple customers regularly may be worth prioritizing sooner.

There are a couple of factors that go into importance:

  • Painfulness: How painful is the user experience without the feature? Are there a few extra clicks? Do they have to use an external service?
  • Frequency: How often does the pain point arise? Does the feature request address an edge case or an integral part of daily workflow?

Rather than relying exclusively on the actual request, it helps to look at actual usage patterns among existing users. You can also use in-app surveys to catch users in the moment and better determine if there’s a real pain point to solve and the size of the problem. You can also use simpler surveys with a smiley face scale to determine satisfaction with a workflow.

Technical Risk Factors

Software development involves a lot of uncertainty. While developers can estimate a feature’s complexity with some degree of accuracy, unexpected problems, additional requirements or other factors can quickly escalate the time and cost. There is also the potential for technical debt that arises from cutting corners during the development process, which can create long term problems for the project.

In addition to these risks, developing features takes away resources from other items in the backlog. The opportunity costs of developing feature requests or the possibility of feature requests delaying the overall development timeline are an important consideration that should factor into decisions made by stakeholders.

The best way to control these technical risk factors is to allocate a set amount of time and resources for new feature requests with each sprint or development cycle. That way, there’s enough time for developers to accomplish the request without cutting corners and the overall development timeline can remain on track.

The Bottom Line

Feature requests come from a variety of different sources, including emails, support tickets and other communications. After organizing these requests, product managers should evaluate and prioritize them by looking at the importance to the business, importance to the customer and the technical risk factors that might occur.

If you use Atlassian products, Roadmap Portal integrates with Jira Service Desk to create a transparent roadmap for customers. Customers can easily vote on features, provide critical feedback and see what features are coming up next.

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