The best software businesses are constantly trying to help their customers be more successful. When customers have an unmet need, they sometimes request a feature through conversations with an account manager, support ticket or even social media. To manage feature requests 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 engineers, salespeople, developers and product managers.
Let’s take a look at feature requests, how to manage them and some tools to assist in the process.The best software businesses are constantly trying to help their customers be successful—and managing feature requests is a large part of that job. Click To Tweet
Manage Feature Requests
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 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 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 they are a quick way to add value with minimal engineering resources.
Tools to Assist in the Process
The best way to manage feature requests 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.
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 aggregate feature requests across teams. In addition, product managers can add fields to count the number of times that a request was made, record the source of the feature request or any other data points that may be useful for managing them.
The problem with using spreadsheets is that they can quickly become 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. 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 customers 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.
There are certainly many other solutions out there to aggregate feature requests into a public-facing roadmap. When evaluating these solutions, you should carefully consider the features, integrations and costs to make sure it’s the right fit.
Best Practices to Remember
Managing feature requests 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 utilizing feature requests to maximize their value.
Some best practices to consider include:
- Keep everything 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 engineers, marketers and account representatives should know how to add requests to a repository.
- Communicate with customers. Respond to customers promptly after the request and don’t forget to follow-up with any progress.
- Comb the backlog of requests. Product managers should periodically categorize, prioritize, and move 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.
In the end, the key to successfully managing 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 nothing falls through the cracks.
The Bottom Line
Feature requests are a great source of ideas to improve software products, but aggregating, analyzing 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 into high levels of customer success and 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 feedback into their development cycle regularly to ensure they are constantly improving.