3 ways to manage feature requests
The best software businesses are constantly trying to help their users be more successful. When users’ pain points are not addressed, they sometimes start the request process by asking for a feature through conversations with an account manager, support ticket or even social media. To create an efficient feature request tracking process is no easy task, especially without a robust system in place. But it is critical to building a successful product.
These requests should also be incorporated into the development cycle regularly, which means that collaboration is necessary between support team, salespeople, developers and product managers – and an indirect one from the customers.
Let’s take a look at feature requests, how to manage them and some tools to assist in the process.
What is a feature request?
Most software businesses know better than trying to guess what customers want—they use customer interviews, surveys and other methods to try and learn from the source. While these processes are essential to product management (especially early on), a growing customer base often results in numerous inbound feature requests over time.
Of course, it would be a mistake to send every feature request straight to a product backlog. Some feature requests suggested by customers may be out of scope while others may require a lot of engineering resources to implement. Managing these requests requires a balance between improving a product’s core value to rejecting ideas that don’t add more value (or even subtract value).
Valid feature requests must also be prioritized before entering the product backlog. A large number of requests for the same feature may be prioritized over other less popular feature requests. Or quick requests that take minimal time to implement may take priority since the team can show value to customers with minimal engineering resources.
How do I make a feature request?
The best way to keep feature requests in one place is to set up a centralized repository. Whether a feature request is received via a support ticket or found on social media, it should be aggregated into a centralized location where product managers can determine if it’s worth incorporating into the product backlog for future development processes.
There are several tools that you can use to organize feature requests:
No Solution: Spreadsheets
Example Google Sheet – Source: Amoeboids
Google Sheets, Smartsheet or other shared spreadsheets are a quick and easy way to collect feature requests across most teams. They provide a semi-organized place where product managers can add fields to count the number of times that a request was made, use their own feature requests tracking mechanism to record the source or any other data points that may be useful for managing them.
The problem with using spreadsheets is that someone has to manage feature requests manually, and the file can quickly grow to be unwieldy and difficult to manage over time. While it may be possible to filter and sort data, spreadsheets aren’t typically designed to handle large or overly complex data sets.
Starter Solution: Trello
Example Trello Board – Source: Trello
Trello is a versatile tool that’s well-suited for managing feature requests. Customer feature requests could be added as a column to a product sprint board or a separate Trello board could organize feature requests into columns based on their viability or other attributes. Public Trello boards can also help encourage other users to send and vote on ideas.
While Trello offers many integrations, there’s no good way to limit participation to current customers. Public and unlocked Trello boards are accessible to anyone that has access to the link whereas locked boards must be manually updated by team members.
Integrated Solution: Roadmap Portal for Jira Service Desk
Roadmap Portal – Source: Amoeboids
Roadmap Portal integrates with Jira Service Desk to enable actual customers to request and vote on features. Customers can login with their JSD accounts and roadmap items are dynamically populated based on JQL queries, which makes Roadmap Portal an easy-to-use way to gather requests, comments and votes with the utmost transparency.
How do I create a feature request in Jira?
Creating a place to store the type of feature requests is the first place to start, and a Jira administrator can help in this regard. The various stages of the process are:
- From the Jira Administration menu, select Projects and then click on Create Project.
- Select the type of project, and give it a name –This will create a Board, which will be the place to view and manage feature requests.
- Create a way to group the requests, like Epics – which are designed for collecting feature requests into separate categories. Ensuring that all requests end up in the same place not only creates an easily accessible repository, but also encourages others to review the existing feature requests so that duplications are avoided. Over time, this requested repository will grow and become a valuable asset for product teams.
- Review requests using some quick filters like
- New requests — requests that have been created in the past seven days. The query to be used is: createdDate >= -7d
- Requests that have not been assigned to an epic can be listed by using the query: “Epic Link” is EMPTY
- Requests that have not been given any labels can be selected by using the query: labels is EMPTY
How do I track a feature request?
Making use of the versatile label structure can go a long way in tracking feature requests. Some that might be useful are:
- Customers — For features that customers have requested. Doing so helps in relating requests to a particular customer, and features progression can be easily communicated.
- Benefits — Advantages of implementing the feature, like speed, insight, or flexibility, makes it easy to list feature requests demanding that specific benefit. Based on the overall goal of the project, relevant feature requests can be listed and actioned on.
- Complexity — By tagging the amount of effort required for the feature to go live, it can be easily deduced how long a fix will take in case of emergencies. This can also serve as a reminder to assign enough resources to begin with.
You can even add quick filters for labels, to really quickly get access to the requests you need.
There are certainly many other solutions out there to aggregate requests for features into public-facing product roadmaps. When evaluating these solutions, you should carefully consider the features, integrations and costs to make sure it’s the right fit.
What makes a good feature request?
The feature request management process can be challenging from both logistical and implementation point of views. By keeping best practices in mind, businesses can streamline the process of collecting, organizing and managing feature requests to maximize their value.
Some best practices to consider include:
- Keep all feature requests in one place. Organization is critical to managing feature requests, and the best way to keep organized is via a centralized repository.
- Create a process for updating it. Customer support team members, marketers and account representatives should know how to add feature requests to a repository.
- Communicate with end users. Respond to users promptly after the feature request and don’t forget to follow-up with any progress – user feedback can be of immense help.
- Comb the backlog of all your feature requests. Product managers should periodically categorize, prioritize, and move feature requests into the backlog.
- Create a public roadmap. Public roadmaps make it easier to communicate plans with customers over time in order to keep them engaged and collect customer feedback.
In the end, the key to successfully managing product feature requests is developing a robust process that encompasses all of these steps. There should be a plan with action items for different team members to ensure that none of the constructive feedback falls through the cracks.
How do you prioritize a feature request?
There are plenty of ways to prioritize feature requests, and the processes can vary based on the team or organization using it. Even in such scenarios, there are a set of questions that can be asked:
Are the feature requests in line with your business goals?
Trying to appease customers is one thing, but neglecting the purpose of the product or solution is an entirely different ball game altogether. Project management team leads should keep an eye on product feature requests that might seem simple enough but out of the purview – because focusing on these small things can distract the team from the bigger goal.
Is the feature request in line with what your most important customers want?
Adding features is not just a one-way road, it adds delays and dependencies to other parts of the product or solution too. That’s why if the features are interfering with the sections that are used by most valuable customers, it pays to be extra careful.
Does the feature request fit in your development budget?
If the feature is critical to the functioning of the application or its future – the money will be found somehow, but anything short of that can wait until the time is right. The development budget here not only talks about the finances part, but also ‘budgeting the bandwidth of team members’ part. If the team and its resources are tied up in developing feature requests that aren’t expected to wow the customers, they can’t actually do the work that wows the customers.
Do other stakeholders agree with the feature requests list?
Product feature requests that are shortlisted should be shared with the rest of the stakeholders, so that they can discuss features to be added. If any proposed feature upvote is contradicting the functioning of any other department, it can be flagged. Also, having a sign off ensures that the most rounded feature requests get adopted.
How do you respond to a feature request?
Having a structure to the process of replying helps, so that customers receive a ‘thank you’ email for submitting the feature request within a specified timeframe. This automated mail can contain details of the next steps – when can the team be expected to take a look at feature requests and some more. If the feature requests are viable and ideal, the team can respond affirmatively and continue to engage the users to understand the need of the feature request better. This increases the understanding of the requirement, while ensuring customers that the team cares about product improvements.
How do you reject a customer feature request?
It can be uncomfortable to say ‘no, your request isn’t going to be accommodated’ to real, paying users. These suggestions below can help you understand and navigate such situations, and still make users feel like they had a valuable discussion about the feature.
- Being empathetic to the user’s problems is essential while saying no. They have suffered this issue for a long time, and when they can see the end to their woes in sight – you are about to say ‘no’. Starting off with “I can appreciate features XYZ would ultimately save you time, but…” can ease a lot of nerves.
- Explaining the why behind the no helps in softening the blow to the user. The response need not be technical or long winded, but should clearly explain why the team is moving in a different direction. Users also work somewhere – and they understand when the empathetic product manager explains how the organization is taking a different direction.
- Asking for future feedback also is essential to stop customers from getting disheartened. While it wasn’t possible to include a particular feature, does not mean no new requested features by that user base will be selected again. Highlighting the positives of the suggestions while saying no to the feature also shows users that their feature requests are being considered seriously.
The Bottom Line
Feature requests are a great source of product ideas to improve software, but aggregating, analysing and prioritizing them can be a challenge. Whether you use Google Sheets or Roadmap Portal, there are many different tools that can help streamline the process and translate feature requests and feedback into high levels of customer success and user happiness.
It’s equally important to keep in mind that feature requests are just one part of the customer feedback loop. The best software companies collect feedback in a number of ways, including customer interviews, usage heatmaps and other methods, and incorporate that user feedback into their development cycle regularly to ensure they are constantly improving.