Yes, It Is Possible for Product Managers to Review Every Single Customer Product Idea
October 2, 2018

Yes, It Is Possible for Product Managers to Review Every Single Customer Product Idea

by Ron Yang

Zero is a winning number. I aim to tick off every item on my to-do list each day. This includes reviewing product ideas as they come in. Yes, it is hard to hit that “0” consistently. But for product managers, it shows that you are being responsive and efficient. Even better, you are not missing any opportunities to delight customers.

Reviewing all customer ideas is about responsiveness and efficiency — but also about staying close and identifying patterns that could affect the future of the product.

Every product manager knows that customers have great insights based on the jobs they need to get done. So do colleagues across the organization — especially ones who work with customers on an ongoing basis. These folks might be the first to see an unaddressed problem or an unfulfilled need in the market.

Now, the truth is that most ideas are not so great and that there are plenty of ho-hum and even just plain bad ideas also submitted along the way. These ideas should never find a place on your product roadmap.

Many companies have an idea management system that funnels customer requests and feedback through their sales, customer success, or engineering teams. Those teams are often asked to filter what gets submitted. Unfortunately, this artificially limits the scope of ideas the product team sees and considers. And that means missed opportunities.

But there is a better way. Rather than limit the inflow of ideas — give customers an unfiltered voice.

Yes, opening up idea submission directly to customers might be scary at first. Will there be a deluge? Will you be ready? I get the concern — it may feel as though you already have more requests than you can handle.

But getting direct feedback and customer ideas reveals patterns in pain points. It shows you which issues are common and, over time, which are persistent. Both are key considerations when you are deciding which features to prioritize.

So it should not be a question of if you review all ideas without a filter but how. You just need a plan for what it will look like:

Centralize submissions To be able to efficiently review all ideas, you have to collect and review from one central place. For that, you need a tool that allows you to gather, review, and then prioritize ideas based on how well they align with your goals. Our team at Aha! uses our own idea management software for these tasks — an ideas portal to collect and Aha! scorecards to evaluate.

Prioritize the work Make this a product management initiative. To underscore the importance, idea organization and review should be a key job function for everybody in product management. You can track progress over time and use it as a metric to evaluate team members against. Also, set a time frame for reviewing to make sure it all gets done in a timely manner.

Assign responsibility Especially at larger enterprises, certain ideas might sit idle because everybody assumes that someone else is taking care of it. Make sure people know who is responsible for what and that it is part of their regular routine. Assign the task of categorizing submissions and then give each product manager a specific area of the product or work to identify the best opportunities. One additional benefit for categorizing ideas is that we are able to easily create thematic buckets. This way, we can quickly find ideas related to specific areas of the application or identify repetition across similar ideas.

Schedule reviews Yes, zero unreviewed ideas is the goal. When it comes down to it, just one person is ushering each idea through each step — consideration, categorization, and prioritization. But you also need to follow up, especially as product plans change. Pick milestones for strategically reviewing the “under consideration” or “likely to implement” ideas on your idea list. Preferably, whenever a major product decision is made and then formally as a team every few months.

Vet against goals Now that the work is assigned and scheduled, it might seem a bit daunting. It does not have to be. You can make it efficient. How? By going back to your goals. Just ask yourself this question: Does the idea align with those goals? Your answer will make it easy to say yes or no to each submission and move on quickly.

Say “no” Be ruthless about what is a priority and what is not. If an idea does not clearly and unequivocally fit in with the strategy, reject it — with kindness. When we do say no, we leave comments on the idea in the portal explaining why we do not plan to pursue the idea. This heads off any further discussion, but at the same time, it does not discourage people from submitting other ideas in the future.

When it comes to feature requests, almost everything is reasonable. But you need to ask yourself what is likely.

Eliminate the rest. Even some ideas that align really well with your goals might be beyond current technology, too taxing on your development team, or otherwise unrealistic. You can always resurrect an old idea if it becomes more feasible later on.

And you get the reward of seeing that big, fat “0” on your screen. Winning.

What tips do you have for reviewing customer ideas?

We know product managers cry tears of joy when they use Aha!

Ron Yang

Ron Yang

Ron builds lovable products. He was the vice president of product management and UX at Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software. Ron has more than 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship and leading product teams. Previously, Ron founded and sold his own company and has been on the founding team of multiple venture-backed companies.

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