A quick guide for defining an optimal number of features for your product

A quick guide for defining an optimal number of features for your product
Image by Milad Fakurian

“What features should we add to our new product?” is the foundational question in product design. The feature set is a result of marring user needs with business goals. At the same time, we all know that the more features we add, the more complicated and expensive the product becomes.

There is no magic formula that allows us to find the optimal number of features for your product. But there is a three-step approach that can help us with that.

1. Define the core set of features

“We cannot launch without those features!” this is what many product teams say when defining feature sets. Defining the core set of features is by far the most challenging part of product design, but a few practical tips can help product designers overcome this challenge.

Applying Pareto principle

Many products get overburdened with not essential features right from the very beginning. Product creators think that the more features they add, the more value they offer to their target audience. The truth is that the number of features is not directly relevant to the product’s value.

More features just mean more work the product team has to do.

Don’t aim to build a feature-rich product that covers all potential use cases because adding more variables to your product will make it more challenging to test your assumptions. Instead, define the one job to be done with your app that will be extremely valuable to your target audience. The Pareto principle can help you with that.

The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. For product designers, the Pareto principle can sound like “80% of the value comes from 20% of features.”

Building Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Postponing product market release is one critical mistake that many product creators make. The more you design and build without releasing, the more unvalidated hypothesis you will have and the more risk of building a product that no one needs.

The right way to build a product is to learn from real-world usage and adjust your product design decisions to the user’s behavior. And that’s exactly what MVP can help you with.

The purpose of MVP is to reduce the number of assumptions you have about your product.

MVP allows you to strip your product down to its core, the basics, that will enable you to validate whether your initial idea is valid. You will see how your target audience responds to your design and will be able to make essential changes.

What is MVP? Image by Henrik Kniberg

Beat the fear of getting on the market too early

“It’s too early for us to get to the market.” Many product teams believe that giving access to users to MVP can harm their business. You shouldn’t worry about that because releasing MVP is not the same as releasing a final product. You can give access to your MVP to a relatively small group of users (i.e., early adopters who signed up for the beta version) and track their performance. Early adopters are typically selected from loyal users, and they are more willing to explore your product and provide detailed feedback.

2. Learn how users interact with your product

Your first product release to the market gives you a huge opportunity to learn how users react to the features you added to your product. You need to learn how your users interact with your product to understand what engages and drives them to action.

Track features people use most of the time

Most users don’t need all features that your product offers. So it’s your goal to identify features that the majority of users engage in. It is essential to improve the user experience of those features firsthand because they provide the most value to your target audience. Particularly, you need to simplify the user experience for initial use because the first interaction with your product will form an impression about your product.

The MoSCoW method is useful for prioritization features to add to a product.

MoSCoW template. Image by Visual Paradigm

Introduce a feedback mechanism in your product

It’s essential to add a mechanism that allows users to share what they think about your product. This mechanism should be available inside the app so that users don’t have to leave the product to share their thoughts.

Slack allows you to use the “/feedback”command to quickly submit feedback to their team.

Carefully analyze user feedback

Don’t consider everything that users say as a plan for the action. For example, when some users say, “I wish your product have a feature A,” you shouldn’t make feature A the top priority in your list. Instead, learn whether this feature is valuable for a large segment of your users. A tool called user journey map can be very helpful for this analysis.

User journey map template by NNGroup

3. Introduce gradual, not radical, changes

Fast is slow, but continuously, without interruptions (Japanese proverb)

Adapt your product to the user behavior by introducing small changes that will improve the user experience. This strategy is beneficial for two reasons:

  • It’s faster and less expensive to add small changes
  • Its easier to track the effect of introducing those changes.

Here are a few key metrics that you want to measure regularly:

  • Behavioural (Task Success, Task Time, Error rate). It will help you understand whether your product is easy to use.
  • Attitude (Net Promoter Score, System Usability Score). It will help you understand how users feel about your product.
NPS. “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend this product to a friend or colleague?” Image by Reviewpro

The process of feature prioritization requires a lot of work. The most important thing to remember is to focus on the UX of your product.

Good user experience makes the product, not the number of features you offer