What are product features?

Product features are discrete areas of new and upgraded functionality that deliver value to your customers. You can think of these as little gifts. Broadly, features can refer to capabilities, components, user interface (UI) design, and performance upgrades.

Product managers own the product roadmap and what will ultimately be built. Evaluating, defining, and prioritizing features is a large part of the role. Features may also contain other details, such as timing, status, and assignees — but generally you should have an understanding of each of these elements for any given feature:

  • Description: The task or action the user needs to accomplish and how the feature serves them

  • User challenge: The pain point or challenge experienced by the user that the feature solves for

  • Benefit: The benefit or value provided to the user

  • Goal: The broader product goals or measurable objectives that the feature ties to

  • Initiative: The high-level effort or theme of work that the feature aligns to

It is important to have a consistent, repeatable method for defining and describing features so you can tie each one back to a key business objective. Otherwise, you can end up with a hodgepodge assortment of new functionality and enhancements that are not delivering value.

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What is the difference between a feature and a benefit?

A product feature is a specific piece of functionality that has a corresponding benefit or set of benefits for the user. Benefits are the value that users gain from using that functionality. Skilled product managers can articulate benefits — why the feature ultimately matters to the customer.

The table below shows example products and services with sample features and the corresponding benefit:

Product/Service

Feature

Benefit

Automobile

Reverse automatic braking

Enhanced safety

Toy robot

Built-in rechargeable battery

Convenience, ease of use

Financial reporting software

Custom analytics report

Flexibility, configurability

Online training portal

Search and filter options

Time-savings, interactivity

Articulating the benefit allows you to evaluate how each feature supports major areas of investment, or initiatives, as defined in your product strategy. Further aligning features to customer needs and business goals helps you connect the "why" to the "what" of what you build.

How do features differ from user stories, requirements, and epics?

Along with features, product teams also leverage user stories, requirements, and epics to describe what you will build. The table below details the most common usage for these terms. Depending on the development methodology your team uses, the terms may have slightly different meanings.

Epic

A group of related features or user stories that share common business objectives. As larger bundles of work, epics tend to span multiple releases.

Feature

A slice of functionality that describes a product's appearance, components, and/or capabilities.

User story

A product feature described from the perspective of the end-user. The user story format is helpful in relating features to benefits. As a [type of user], I want to [action] so that [benefit].

Requirement

A defined capability that needs to be completed in order to deliver a feature. A single feature may have multiple requirements.

How do features, user stories, requirements, and epics work together? Let's look at an example from a fictitious cycling application. In the screenshot below, our epic is related to "Rider reporting" — this is a group of capabilities that will enhance the rider's ability to report on their performance. This is a broad scope of work that needs to be broken down into multiple features or user stories, like "Bike mileage tracking" shown here. This single feature then contains multiple requirements, including the design of the mileage report and integrating with an existing analytics engine.

Requirements, features, user stories, and epics go together — but you can choose the best structure based on your product or service. Your team may have a preference based on the development framework your engineering team follows. For example, most agile teams eschew requirements for high-level user stories. If your product is very complex or your industry is heavily regulated, you may need to have detailed requirements to be sure you have captured what is needed in a precise way. Either way, keep customer needs at the forefront of feature definition.

How to prioritize features

You likely have a lot of ideas and requests to review, along with a backlog of needed enhancements. A prioritization process is essential to determining what you will build next, and so is the task of clearly defining features. This makes it easier to gain alignment around what a feature will entail and to send the right information to your engineering team when it is time.

To offer maximum value, product features must be prioritized effectively. Features should be evaluated 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.

With so many stakeholders involved in one product release, it can be challenging to know where you should begin. Efficient feature management takes skill even in single-product or single-target-market companies. But in more complex organizations, it takes real expertise.

Start with goals
As a great product manager, you must establish a "goal first" approach for your product. The product team agrees on strategic initiatives first, then aligns the roadmap and requirements against them. Explain your product’s direction to all stakeholders involved with your product. A goal-first approach will keep everyone on the same page.

Rank based on business value
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.

How to define features

Competing interests may 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 have to make tough decisions and lead with conviction. If you do not take action to resolve these disagreements, the indecision will be pushed into engineering. They will either start building what they think is right or thrash and simply stall out.

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. Mapping personas to the features you add can help ensure that all features deliver value against your target market. Collaborate cross-functionally to answer the following questions:

  • Which customer segment is served by this feature?

  • What is the purpose of the feature?

  • What does the feature help the customer achieve?

  • What specific challenge does this feature solve?

  • What is the desired user experience for this feature?

  • How does this feature enhance or interact with other features?

User story mapping is another way to define how features might meet customer needs. User story maps are a visual representation of the customer journey. You can quickly organize and define features from the perspective of each interaction that a user has with your product. Below is an example of an interactive user story map created in Aha!

Now that you have evaluated a feature's business value and answered critical questions about your customers, you are ready to define your feature in more detail.

You may want to create a wireframe to provide a quick sketch of the desired user experience for a given feature. Then, work with the UX team to deliver a mockup, or visual design, of what the feature will look like. All this work is grounded in giving the engineering team clarity about what is needed — so that they can implement a brilliant solution.

Define and prioritize features that will bring the most joy to your customers and the most value to the business. From here, you can work with engineering to move features that are high-priority into upcoming releases for development.

Product management dictionary
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