Ask A Good Product Manager

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What is the best way to manage feature requests?

Posted on September 17, 2008 · 12 Comments

Question: How can a product manager best manage requests for new features and enhancements?

We get a ton of suggestions for enhancements to our product. Some of these are legitimate ideas, some not so much. Right now, we don’t have a good way of managing all of these suggestions. Should we immediately throw out all suggestions that seem like bad ideas, or should we try to capture them somehow? And if we do capture them, how do we prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by them? More importantly, how can we best use this customer input while at the same time not spend all of our time just responding to enhancement requests?

Answer from Roger Cauvin of Cauvin: There are two aspects to this question.

First, how should an organization digest and prioritize enhancement requests? Don’t take enhancement requests at face value. Always probe into what problem the customer wishes to solve with the enhancement. A customer support representative should start by capturing the request as the customer has stated it. But then she should ask the customer, and document, why the request is important to the customer. Later, a product manager may follow up with the customer to further probe the underlying reasons for it.

In the end, you shouldn’t directly prioritize the enhancement requests from the customer, but instead the underlying problems they are trying to solve. The enhancement requests themselves are merely a conduit to understanding the underlying problems and represent suggestions for how to solve them.

Second, what is the best way to capture and manage enhancement requests? Many tracking systems exist for managing bug reports and enhancement requests — some of them are listed on this Wikipedia page.

Don’t assume that a tracking tool will magically make managing enhancement requests easy. How you use the tool determines its effectiveness. Again, of paramount importance is tracing the enhancement requests to the underlying problems they are intended to solve.

12 other answers so far ↓

  • John Mansour // Sep 18, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Managing hundreds or thousands of enhancements is impossible. Here’s an approach that will greatly simplify this exercise and add a tremendous amount of value to your product planning and prioritization efforts.

    Set up buckets or categories for enhancements – not by product area but by customer function or task, for example, airport check –in, ticket purchase, boarding, etc. As enhancements come to you, drop them into the appropriate bucket. When it comes time to plan the next release of your product, simply look at the buckets to determine customer areas needing the most attention. Balance these priorities with others necessary to grow market share. Often, there is a great deal of overlap.

    View an article on this subject at http://www.zigzagmarketing.com/outlines/ZIGZAG%20Tip%209%20September%202004%20-%20Planning%20the%20Next%20Release.pdf

  • Weekhang Teoh // Sep 19, 2008 at 9:44 am

    I fully agree with Roger, and I think having a methodology to prioritize the requests is compulsory.

    What’s even more crucial, once you have define the methodology, is to get buy off and communicate the methodology to all stakeholders in your organization. I think it’s crucial because then the stakeholders will already have an idea on whether their suggestion is valid or useful before submitting to you – and you’ll save a lot of time in managing or processing the bad ideas.

    In terms of methodology – a practical one that I have came across and adopted is the Outcome Driven Innovation by Strategyn – that advocates measuring “what customers want” (they publish a book about ODI with that title) by the importance and satisfaction score. Just Google it up – the concept is simple and you can easily adopt or change according to your environment.

  • Gopal Shenoy // Sep 22, 2008 at 10:36 am

    I agree with the other comments here. I had also blogged about this topic – Five ways to prioritize feature requests – http://tinyurl.com/3l62kt

    Gopal
    http://productmanagementtips.com

  • Justin Dillard // Sep 22, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    You are correct. My Team uses Team Foundation Server from Microsoft to classify request, and plan interations. It works pretty well for us, but we get too many to keep up.

  • Catherine Connor // Sep 24, 2008 at 11:21 am

    We have been successful at leveraging our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to collect customer feedback received by sales and support (we use salesforce.com), and prioritize features based on CRM data (and other parameters).

    This month we released a productized version of our internally validated solution:

    Rally Product Manager centralizes customer feedback directly in salesforce.com for product managers to readily have access to the number of customer requests as well as sales revenue potential associated with these requests.

    If you work with a development teams that adopted agile practices, you even get visibility into the development “black box”, by displaying development status in salesforce.com for your stakeholders to view the status of customer-submitted feedback.

    The value is described in this short demo: http://media.rallydev.com/demos/rpm_demo.htm.

    If your organization uses salesforce.com, you may want to take a look at this innovative product.

  • Richard Leavitt // Sep 24, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    I’ll add on tho Catherine’s suggestion with what we’re doing at Rally. We’ve implemented a web 2.0 community built around feature requests. Users submit FRs with screen shot and design suggestions, engage our PMs and other users in discussing them, then vote up or down on the FRs.

    THere are several beautiful things about this:
    – No need to actively manage thousands of FRs. After all, there can be only ten TOP 10 FRs at any one time. The community is telling you what they want added NOW. Other FRs will bubble up as you knock off the top vote getters.
    – Big loud customers can enter their pet features, but if no one else votes for them they recognize it’s not a priority.

    Richard

  • Stewart Rogers // Sep 24, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    I STRONGLY agree with everything Roger said above. He has articulated exactly what you should do. I want to stress two points… 1) You do not prioritize the request itself, you prioritize the problem (or need) it leads you to and the priority is determined by its impact and 2) you need a tool that allows you to separate the request from the problem (and ultimately the features and requirements) while being able to link everything together for purposes of traceability. Great Q&A!

  • Raj Patel // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I too agree with Roger’s excellent points, especially:

    “In the end, you shouldn’t directly prioritize the enhancement requests from the customer, but instead the underlying problems they are trying to solve.”

    I too have found that many enhancement requests are just what the requestor thinks can solve his problem/need – which in reality may or may not be the best way to solve the problems that he and other users face. So, it is very important to delve into understanding the underlying problem. This, combined with our understanding of our own product will often lead to solutions that will please the requestor even better.

    – Raj

    P.S. Our company offers an affordable, web-based tool specifically designed for Product Managers to track requirements and feature requests. It is used by hundreds of companies of all sizes – the following links provide further information:
    Accompa – Requirements Management Tool for Product Managers
    Get 30-Day Trial of Accompa

  • Jason Cohen // Oct 29, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    We’ve been quite successful with an on-line, free, public feature request / discussion / voting system. Our customers love it too!

    The reasoning behind it and the benefits we’re getting is summarized here:

    http://blog.asmartbear.com/2008/10/2000-feature-requests-our-foray-into.html

    Also, while I agree that it’s the root pain and not the surface feature request that matters, that can be vetted even with a feature request system.

    Finally, consider that with 2000 feature requests (which is what we had), you could spend time getting to the root pain, combining similar requests, etc., but since you’ll be implementing less than 10% of the ideas, 90% of this time is wasted.

  • Software Product Managment » Архив сайта » Какой лучший способ для управления запросами на изменение // Jun 19, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    […] Перевод статьи из блога Ask Good Product manager. Ссылка на статью: http://ask.goodproductmanager.com/2008/09/17/what-is-the-best-way-to-manage-feature-requests/ […]

  • Handling the Avalanche of Feature Requests : The PM Vision // Dec 21, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    […] John Mansour suggested in 2008 the idea of categorizing requests by area of functionality.  You can look at those groupings to see which areas get the most requests.   Further, when it makes strategic sense to enhance an area of the product, you can then review all the suggestions for that area and attempt to address the underlying problems at once. Chances are, you have a persona or personas in mind for whom you’re designing.  You’ve got some idea of their problems and what it’ll take to solve them.  Are you selling them one or more products, or a single solution composed of one or more products in your portfolio? Which feature requests are you receiving related to the pieces required for the solution(s) you’re selling? […]

  • Hannah Chaplin // Apr 15, 2016 at 2:05 am

    This was a massive problem in my last software business so we built a product to specifically handle feature requests. There’s so much value in enhancement data but you have to understand prioritization and who the requests are coming from.

    I’ve answered each of your questions below:

    Should we immediately throw out all suggestions that seem like bad ideas, or should we try to capture them somehow?
    – You should try to capture them; so much good stuff will be hidden in there!! We have a link from our software product which is specifically for our customers to give us feedback and feature requests. This stops all requests coming in a muddle from all over the place! Customers can also discuss enhancement and prioritize them so you get a dynamic view of demand. Customer enhancements and priorities will change over time so if you don’t have a way to capture that, you are always working with stale data – not helpful !!

    And if we do capture them, how do we prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by them?
    – Having a single area where customers can self-serve will solve this issue. Instead of calling support or an Account Manager, they can simply raise requests, discuss and prioritise them. In our product, Receptive, we automatically communicate updates on enhancements to customers so there’s no extra work involved for you at all. A lot of companies are great at capturing the feedback & enhancements but not so good at closing that communication loop – keeping your customers informed as enhancement change status is very important.

    More importantly, how can we best use this customer input while at the same time not spend all of our time just responding to enhancement requests?
    – See above about communication…automatic updates are fantastic and remove all the time you’d spend doing this manually. Again, gathering this all in one place is key then you can really start using the information you have gathered to get insights into enhancement demand. In our Reports section you can get insights with one click. Popular examples are:

    – What matters to big vs small customers
    – What was important to users who left
    – How industry & location impact enhancement requests
    – How job role affects demand for enhancements (decision maker vs day-to-day users)

    Hope this is helpful. Love talking about this stuff so contact me anytime: hannah@receptive.io

What do you think?