Product Managers Guide to Feature Planning
Why do you buy products?
Because you like the provider? Because you have money to spend? Or because you can’t think of anything else in the world to do?
Rather, the reason you or anyone out there in the world buys anything is simply because of the benefits it offers.
And the product solves a user’s pain points through its features. Features are essentially what makes your product—hardware or software—worth buying.
So, if you want to delight your customers more and more, you’ll need to double down on planning and building better features into your product.
So, what does it mean?
A feature is a characteristic, trait, or attribute a product has. It’s simply anything a product is, does, or an attribute built in to it to solve your end users’ pain points. It’s important to keep this key point in mind: All a product feature serves to do is meet your product’s users’ needs and offer them enough value to keep using it.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- what product feature planning entails,
- the key questions to answer when planning product features,
- how the feature planning process works, and
- some best practices and tips for planning and executing features better.
What is feature planning?
Building out a new product feature is arguably the most intensive in the product management process.
You have dozens of meetings with stakeholders, collaborate across departments, hold daily standups (if you’re running Scrum), and create varied, complicated reports to help higher management to evaluate your progress.
In the midst of all this, it’s easy to lose your bearing, misdirect efforts, and fail completely in your efforts to launch a new product feature.
That’s where product feature planning comes in.
Feature planning involves creating a process, assigning resources, and preparing the human and technical input required to deliver a product feature—on time and within budget. Feature planning is the project road-mapping process required to set out how a feature is going to get developed before even taking a step.
Project roadmaps are similar to feature planning since they can help your team plan and execute projects better. To understand more about project road-mapping, check out our tell-all blog about project road-mapping.
Questions to ask when planning a product feature
Quoting Harvard philosopher Thomas Kuhn, “the answers you get depend on the questions you ask”. As such, if we’re looking to understand how planning a product feature works, we must ask questions that dive deep into the nuances of the feature planning process.
I won’t bore you with details from Simon Sinek’s award-winning writ (Start With Why). We know all too well that everything starts with why.
Feature planning starts with understanding exactly why you’re building what you’re looking to build.
If features are designed to solve pain points for your product’s users, the feature planning stage must start with defining your target audience’s pain points, how your planned feature will solve those pain points, and before and after pictures of how your product should help your users.
The purpose question helps your entire product management team align around what exactly your end-users need before you chart your way forward to solving their pain points.
Who’s your target audience?
Product features are built to solve problems for humans.
Notice the emphasis on the human part. Your product won’t just stand on Fifth Avenue and become useful. It’ll have to solve a specific problem for the audience you’re targeting.
Maybe the problem is one you’ve seen your current users struggling with or another that they’ve actively solicited for you to solve (feature request tickets). At the end of the day, a product must do something specific for your target audience.
So, once you understand what your target audience needs, take things a step further by understanding who they are and what their specific situation is like.
When are you releasing?
Set a target. This will essentially be a timeframe or time window within which you intend to release the feature to be built.
At this stage, the product development team can pitch in, making use of their experience with launching other features to determine the volume of input, and, consequently, the amount of time required to deliver the product feature you’re planning.
What actions are necessary to launch this feature? What needs to be done to deliver on this plan?
At this stage, you already understand the user problems you’re looking to solve with this product feature and have an idea of the timeline it should take you.
The next aspect to settle on with the product management team is the different tasks that’ll need to be performed to get the feature completed.
For instance, if you’re looking to launch a mobile app for your organization, you’ll need developers committed, the graphics team ready, and copywriters set to create content.
Here’s where you should shortlist all the layers of input you envision going into the upcoming feature so you can get started mobilizing them.
Plan your product features with ease using Kissflow Project.
The feature planning process
What’s the time-tested and most efficient pattern for getting things done in project management? If you answered processes, you’re right.
A process gives you a sequence of steps needed to be run to get a task done.
And so, if you haven’t already guessed, the best way to plan on and execute product features is to use a process.
The feature planning process gives you a reliable and scalable tool to use for planning the work that goes into building a feature from scratch.
1. Define the feature you’re planning
Before you can get started planning a product feature, the first step is to plan what it’ll look like and answer questions such as what functionality it’ll offer, how extensively it’ll integrate with your existing product, the channels you’ll release it through, and what it’ll look like when completed.
2. Prepare resources and build a timeline
Resources in this context go far beyond just materials but include the human and technical input that’ll go into building the feature you’re planning.
This is a good stage at which to discuss with other departments within your organization regarding the staff they can commit, the hours of work they can deliver, and any constraints that may hinder them.
With resources committed, you can then estimate how long it’ll take to get a working version of your product feature ready for end-users.
3. Outline your feature
Break down the feature you’re looking to build into bits and pieces that’ll eventually fit together.
This way, it will be easy to assign work to responsible teams or individuals, get everyone to focus on what they’re good at, and analyze everything from a micro-scale to see what may not work as envisioned.
Fix it, if possible.
With a detailed outline of your planned feature in your hand, the entire team engaged on the project proceeds to build a working scale version of the feature you’ve planned.
It doesn’t have to be pretty at first, but it does have to completely mirror every nuance of the real-life feature you’re planning.
Why? Because this is the only way you can analyze the feature on a smaller scale and make any necessary adjustments.
5. Collect feedback from users and other stakeholders
Once you have a workable version of the feature you’re building, in the form of a prototype, your end-users will be the best judges to determine whether it solves their problems and how well it does so.
Share your prototype with users for testing and collect feedback on how useful they find it in day-to-day usage.
Armed with actionable feedback from your users, get back to work refining, testing, and refining yet again until you get a ready-to-use product.
Best practices for planning product features
There are a few key tips to keep in mind when planning product features to ensure you invest your team’s energy wisely, efficiently, and, most importantly, profitably. These include:
Leverage project management tools to organize your process
Feature planning is essentially a branch of project management.
To get the best results, you need to execute with a project management tool that empowers you to organize your team, communicate effectively, assign and track tasks with ease, and collect reports on your progress.
Project management tools like Kanban boards are ideal for building product features with a management approach.
Whether it’s with your team, other involved stakeholders, or your end-users, effective communication ensures that everyone has a singular vision of what your users need and you’re all working toward it in unison.
Once you set hard and fast rules around planning product features, you make it hard for your team to try out different ideas and get creative.
Remove any strict barriers and create an atmosphere where your team can experiment with ideas they think are worthwhile.
Planning product features takes a refined process, a culture of incremental improvement, and the right tools to get it just right. And we built Kissflow Project to offers teams like yours a tool that offers:
- reliable communication via chat, @mentions, and notifications,
- task management, for creating, assigning, and reviewing tasks,
- visual collaboration tools like Kanban for managing tasks visually,
- time tracking to keep your team on track, and
- reporting and analytics.
No matter your team’s size or how complex the features you’re building, Kissflow Project empowers you to plan and launch the best features possible.
Take Kissflow Project for a spin here.
- 10 Best Free Project Management Tools – Features Comparison
- How to Create a Product Roadmap for Agile Projects – A Definitive Guide
- How to Manage Product Feature Requests – 6 Best Practices
- How to Plan and Manage a Successful Product Launch