The product management guide

Aha! helps product managers get their mojo back

What are product features?

Product features are characteristics of your product that describe its appearance, components, and capabilities. A product feature is a slice of business functionality that has a corresponding benefit or set of benefits for that product's end user.

To offer maximum value, product features must be prioritized effectively. Features should be added based on quantifiable ways that they will add value for the product’s end users. Product features should also be prioritized based on how well they achieve business objectives.

This is easier said than done. With so many stakeholders involved in one product release, it can be challenging to know where you should begin. Efficient features management takes skill even in single product /single target market companies. But in more complex organizations, it takes real expertise.

Here are four tips to make feature prioritization more efficient, meaningful, and enjoyable:

Goal first

As a great product manager, you must establish a "goal first" approach for your product and the features you will add. The product team must agree on strategic initiatives first, then align the roadmap and requirements against them.

Explain your product’s direction to all stakeholders involved with your product. When doing so, articulate the value that new features will deliver to the customers and business. This clear, goal first direction will keep everyone on the same page.

Lead with conviction

There's a reason that PMs are considered the CEOs of their product. Competing interests will incite debate over which features should be added to a product. Even on great teams where consensus and trust come easy, someone must make the final call when there are real reasons for disagreement.

Product managers must make tough decisions and lead with conviction. If you do not take action to resolve these disagreements and try to push indecision into engineering, they will either start building what they think is right or thrash and simply stall out.

Write more (and less) down

Engineers often complain that there is not enough written down, which makes it impossible to focus their efforts. Resist the urge to write long requirements documents. Instead, capture features and their related stories or requirements as bite-sized chunks.

This gives you a record of what customers and product stakeholders are requesting. It also allows you to incrementally improve these ideas and add additional details over time. Perhaps most crucially, it helps you assess if customer requests align with the features that product stakeholders believe are important.

Rank features based on business value

If you are taking the first three actions, the final step is to quantify the value of features against metrics that matter to your business. Then, rank these features based on those scores. Use a simple "effort" scale to rank these features based on projected maximum return.

Doing so will help you confirm how much each feature will cost in terms of resources. This is not the "official" effort estimate, but it will give you a sense of what it will take for you to consider regarding your roadmap planning.

Features are where you define items for work that will be performed in a release. With this in mind, feature definitions should clearly state the business benefit or functionality that will be delivered to target customers.

Each feature should have its own definition. These definitions should clearly state the value (also known as the "what") that must be delivered to your customers. Each feature definition should also include the customer benefit and the target end result.

Finally, feature definitions must clearly state how each feature will achieve high level business objectives. As Product Manager, you know that communicating across several teams is the key part of your job. This often involves working with senior stakeholders in your organization. To earn their buy-in, you must put yourself in their shoes. Can you describe, in one sentence, why your company exists? Do you know which key problems the c-suite wrestles with?

To begin your feature definition process, start by picturing your product's end user. Which problems keep them up at night? What's standing in their path to success? How will your product help them excel at what they do and be happy doing it? To answer these questions, it helps to create buyer personas.

Personas are examples of real buyers who influence or make decisions about your product or service. Mapping personas to the features you add can help ensure that all features deliver value against your target market.

Use concise titles for your personas and tie each persona to your high level strategy. This allows you to add personas to their respective features. You'll create a tie between your defined personas and the features that are designed to delight them.

It’s important not to rely on your colleagues or the sales team — or simply turn to surveys — when creating personas. To make personas as real as possible, you must speak directly with your customers and prospects. Keep asking, “Why?” until you understand their challenges and motivations. If you speak to enough customers, patterns will start to emerge. This will allow you to distill key insights that can be used to characterize each persona.

Consider pursuing and answering these key questions for each persona that you create for your product or service:

  • What is the customer trying to achieve?
  • Why is the customer trying to achieve that goal?
  • How will the customer be impacted if she cannot achieve the goal?
  • Which alternatives might help the customer reach their goal?
  • What must you deliver for the customer to reach this goal?
  • The first three questions distill the essence of each persona. The second two can help you win the heart of the customer — and get paid for doing so.

As Product Manager, you are the CEO of your product. The onus is on you to keep all teams involved in a product's release on the same track to success. Defining features in a way that ties buyer personas back to key business objectives is essential.

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