Which feature requests should be prioritized, and how? This is the perennial dilemma faced by product managers across every industry.
To answer this, businesses need a structured feature request process. Without this process, and a system that handles feature request management, it can be difficult to organize incoming requests, set priorities, and ensure follow through to keep products competitive and customers happy.
Using a feature request system centralizes incoming requests for product updates and new features. This ensures that everyone managing the feature request has visibility into the process and access to information needed to make the proposed feature a reality.
What is a feature request?
A feature request is an idea or suggestion to improve or enhance a product. Most often, this refers to a software product, but any type of product or service may receive requests for new features. Requests may come from customers (including end users, IT teams, or business managers) or they may originate with developers.
Them can be received in a number of ways, including submitting a designated form, sending the request through email, or making the request during a meeting or customer success call. Increasingly, feature requests from customers are surfacing in social media channels, community forums, and may even come directly from customer success managers or employees via collaboration apps like Slack.
Example of a feature request
Let’s say that a customer has purchased a CRM system from a software company. The customer likes the product, but would like the option to customize lead intake forms so that they include more information. The customer goes to the company’s website, accesses a feature request form, and submits their idea. The software company will then have the opportunity to review and add this functionality to their product.
Another example might be an incoming message asking for the functionality to generate a new kind of report in the CRM.
What is the difference between a bug and a feature?
Bugs are errors in programming that cause crashes, security incidents, or produce an unexpected result. A bug occurs when software code does not behave as intended. One example of a bug could be a program that crashes unexpectedly while it’s being used, or an app that won’t allow users to upload files even though it’s supposed to.
Some bugs are serious and require immediate action. Other bugs may be inconsequential and barely noticeable. These kinds of minor bugs may not inspire the same sense of urgency.
Features are the functions and capabilities that provide value to customers and make the product useful. Features tell us how a software product is supposed to work.
An example of a software feature could be a workflow automation tool to export data, or for a CRM to convert incoming data into leads and assign them to a sales representative.
|Errors in programming||Functions and capabilities|
|Cause crashes, security incidents, or produce an unexpected result||Provide value to customers and make the product useful|
Is a bug fix a feature request?
The short answer is no. A bug fix is not the same thing as a feature request. However, bug fixes may be handled by the same teams that manage feature requests.
Bug fixes may also follow the same process as feature requests and may compete with them for developer bandwidth, depending on their level of urgency.
While the bug fix and feature request processes may look similar, the triggers for them are different. A feature request occurs when a user of the product identifies a need or a functionality that isn’t currently available. A bug fix addresses a problem users have encountered with a software product.
Different types of feature requests
Feature requests can be sorted into two different categories. The first is a request to improve an existing feature. The second is for a new feature altogether.
Product improvements are requests to modify, update, or alter an existing feature. A product improvement request may be as simple as changing the color scheme on the user interface, or as complex as altering the data flow to display added information on a report or dashboard. Because product improvement requests vary in their complexity, the resources and effort needed to implement them will vary as well.
New feature requests
A request for a new feature may be more complex than a request for a product improvement. Feature requests may result in application-wide changes that affect the product architecture and require a lot of time and effort on the part of the developers. New features may be bundled together into a new version of the product.
Depending on the complexity of the request, new features may have a longer development cycle than requests for product improvement.
How to write a feature request
Writing an effective feature request means providing as much information and detail as possible. Include contact information for follow-ups, the product version being used, and examples of similar features from other products for reference, if possible.
Use the feature request form on the seller’s website for fastest results. Informal requests made in chat forums or social media may take longer to get noticed. If these informal requests don’t include enough detail or contact information, it will be difficult (if not impossible) for product teams to follow up.
How to track, prioritize, and manage feature requests
Users have a few options for submitting a feature request. Ideally, they will submit the request using a form that your team makes available on your website. The benefit of using the form is that you can structure the form fields to capture all the information your team needs to identify, assess, and prioritize the request. (More on that below.)
In other situations, requests will be less formal. For example, users may post about a feature they need (or would like to have) in a community forum or through a social media channel. They may also share their request in a phone conversation with customer success teams or email to the company. No matter the source, your team will need a process for capturing and organizing all feature requests.
1. Standardize feature requests
To better manage feature requests, you’ll want to define all the information your team will need in order to understand the request, and then take action on it. Some of the information you may need could include:
- Who submitted the request
- Contact information
- Product type or version they are using
- Customer need the feature will address
- Feature request category, such as user interface, data export, or integration
- Whether a competitor offers a similar feature to determine if the request addresses a product gap
- Date the request was submitted
- Customer description of the feature
If your team has access to process management software, you can easily build a customized form or use a product feature request template that captures this information and converts it into a work item for your team. Once you have collected the information your team will need to prioritize and act on the request, you should also assign it a unique identifier to help keep track of it.
When the request is received through a channel other than the form, you can either enter these manually or set up an automation that captures them from email or spreadsheets. Once captured, the next step is to review the request, organize it, and respond to the submitter.
2. Centralize all requests
Since feature requests come from multiple channels, you’ll need a method for capturing and consolidating them into a single source of truth. This can be done manually or with a process automation tool that’s integrated into your existing stack. If your team does use a process automation tool, make sure it’s connected to every point of entry for new requests.
3. Classify each request
Customers often submit similar requests, which is both good and bad. The good news is that the feature or improvement is probably one that most customers want. The bad news is there are duplicate requests that need to be reviewed.
To eliminate this rework, take the time to review requests and group them together. It’s more efficient to track a single request that addresses multiple customer requests than it is to track multiple requests for the same feature.
Classifying similar requests makes it easier for team members to see priorities. If necessary, consolidate the requests into a single feature request. Then, reference the other requests, so nothing is lost.
To streamline this from the start, include classification fields in your feature request form so requests received are already tagged, classified, or categorized.
4. Prioritize each request
Your team will have a system for prioritizing requests that’s based on a number of factors. These include popularity (how often the request has been received), competitor activity (whether the feature addresses a product gap), alignment with your product roadmap, and how difficult it will be to implement.
5. Engage customers
If the feature request comes from a customer, let them know that you’ve received their request and give them the opportunity to track its status. For teams that use process automation software, notifications of receipt can be sent by the software. Teams also have an option of sending customers a link that allows them to check the status of their request.
In some cases, more input will be needed from the customer to assess or plan the request.
How to respond to a feature request
Responding to feature requests quickly and clearly helps build trust with your customers and distinguishes your product from your competitors. Still, not every request will have the same level of priority, and some features will take longer to develop than others.
Whatever the future of the feature request may be, it’s still important to respond to incoming requests with timeliness and consistency. Here’s how:
- Respond to every request. No matter the request or the user, acknowledge the request.
- Explain the process. Let the user know the steps a request goes through so they have an idea of how long the process takes.
- Don’t overpromise. Don’t agree to deliver a feature unless it’s planned. If all the requested functionality will not be delivered, let them know and why.
- Be honest. If the request doesn’t align with the current product roadmap or isn’t popular with other customers, it’s OK to let the submitter know that it may be a while before the feature is available. Find out what problem the request is meant to solve and try to help the customer find an alternative.
How to manage feature requests in Pipefy
Automating the feature request management process reduces the time people spend tracking, scheduling, prioritizing, and administering the request. With customized workflows, teams can focus on delivering the request. Individuals can take responsibility for keeping the team updated through collaboration tools.
With Pipefy’s low-code, visual user interface, workflows can be created without having to add to the IT backlog. Instead, product managers are empowered to create automated processes easily and securely with an IT-approved toolbox designed to streamline and improve the feature request process.