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?
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.