How to Provide Product Suggestions

by Scott Austin October 25, 2012

How to Provide Product Suggestions

We're in the middle of the product development of our first web version that we'll release to customers.  We're trying to be lean, which means there are lots of holes in the product.  And we've got a lot of feedback and suggestions coming in from all directions.  Yet many of these suggestions are not productive for us.  Some of the reasons for them not being productive include:
  • the bug/issue is already known about
  • the suggestion/feature has already been thought of
  • it's already on the backlog
  • it's too far out to worry about or even talk about
  • the suggestion is an opinion or assumption

In product development, there's no shortage of things to do.  We've all got long backlogs of features that we've thought of but haven't gotten to yet.  It's always a question of prioritization and sequencing.  And whenever we see a new product or a new version of an existing product, it's easy to see what is missing or what the next steps are.  It's fun to think about how to evolve the product and jump into brainstorm mode.

But we need to remember that the team working on the product lives that product.  It's the focus of most of their waking hours.  They are constantly thinking about how to improve the product.  They are also trying to keep their heads down to get the next release out the door.

With that in mind, here are my thoughts on how to increase the usefulness of suggestions:

  • Be humble.  Don't think that you are a product genius just because you have an idea that is not in the current product.  Your great idea has most likely been thought of many times already.  Couch your suggestions in terms like 'you've probably thought of this already' or 'an item for the backlog if it is not already there.'
  • Know the teams current goals.  Then focus on the actionable, here and now things.  Things that help the team meet its current goals.
  • Realize that a lean team is going to be focused on customers and data to determine their path forward, not just ideas.
  • If your suggestion is for a feature that's far out (for me, that's more than two sprints), then don't expect a discussion about it.  If it's good, it will be remembered or put in the backlog.  But the team is too busy working on this release to engage in a discussion about a feature that may ship some day.
  • Understand the difference between a bug and a missing feature.  Classify your feedback appropriately.  Bugs are more important (and immediate) than features (which are probably already on the backlog).
  • Perfect is the worst enemy of good enough.  No product is perfect.  Don't try to make it so.  Understand that everything has a point of diminishing returns.
I'd love to hear from anyone who has other best practices for giving product suggestions.
Scott Austin
Scott Austin