How to avoid wasting time [+ money] designing product features that go unused

Simon McCade

A common question that many tech companies ask is ‘how do we prioritise new product features for the best?’. It’s not unheard of for this to cause headaches and teething problems in new tech solutions.  

The more limited your resources, the more crucial it is to get this task of prioritisation right early on - not only for your audience, but for the long-term success of your product or service

As a digital product designer who is often called upon to provide expertise when resources are tight, I do this day in, day out, in a range of industries. Allow me to share some of the problems and solutions that crop up time and time again in design:

The lack of the luxury of time

Many tech companies simply can’t afford to take their sweet time when it comes to building new features into the mix for such an early-stage product, nor can they afford to cut corners, so they need to constantly prioritise and re-prioritise what their focus is on at any given stage of the build.

It’s often the case that new ideas come thick and fast, whether they’re from the team itself, from customers reporting bugs or even focus groups who have never used the product before. 

Tech companies need to constantly prioritise and re-prioritise what their focus is on at any given stage of the build

It’s not the creativity that’s the problem (after all, that’s why these folks are in the tech space), but the cruelty of the ticking clock means that these ideas must be quickly and efficiently filtered to ensure that resources are being spent in the right areas. 

Ask yourself, is this idea really worth pursuing or is our time better spent elsewhere?

Having a clear vision will help you decide what to do next

Feedback can often come at you like wildfire as a tech company, so the challenge of deciding what to focus on next is a persistent one. 

When you’ve got your customers, your founders and your co-workers all throwing ideas and feedback, both positive and negative, at you, it can be difficult to maintain focus on the real purpose of your product or service. 

This ultimately means that your product or service will lose its focus, too, if your resources are prioritising the wrong tasks. 

One way to get around this is to find a way to constantly remind yourself of why you got into the business of running a tech company in the first place. 

Maintain a clear vision to effectively manage your priorities

Set a daily reminder, stick a Post-It note to your computer, write it on your mirror - whatever it takes to help you maintain your focus. 

This way, your clear and constant vision will make it much easier for you to decide what to do next because you’ll have a honed idea of how this or that new feature will benefit the product or service and its target audience. 

A deeper understanding of how you will benefit from the new feature and, indeed, how you can measure its impact will really help you stay on track when it comes to realising your ultimate goals. 

Going with your gut is not always the best way

Whether we like it or not, we can’t escape gut instincts about what is best for our UX design or onboarding process, but this can often lead to additional complications if we’re not careful.

I find that it’s best to lead with the understanding that all opinions are subjective and obviously influenced by personal bias, even if you think your priority list is logical. 

Take a step back from the UX and UI and analyse what’s best for all users and not just one user before you go ahead and implement a new product feature. 

Some tech companies make the mistake of immediately jumping on individual requests from new customers when they don’t actually reflect the views of the masses, so it’s important to take your time to understand every aspect of customer feedback. 

Build features based on value and effort

Let’s take it as a given that you’ve conducted some market research in order to validate whether or not your customers need what you are planning to build. 

You can take any one of a number of directions to build it with the correct features, but there is one simple solution that I swear by when it comes to making sure you are getting it right: the product matrix chart. 

Matrix chart: Business value vs Complexity / Effort

Begin by identifying the two key metrics you’ll measure performance against: what is the business value of each feature and what are the development costs to build it?

You can place your features on the four quadrants of a matrix chart to help you identify which ones are the most important to the success of the product or service. 

Put Business Value on the Y axis and Development Effort on the X axis to give you and your team a scale to work to when it comes to defining priorities. 

Discuss each feature in detail in terms of the implications on the business and, importantly, the team behind the business. 

This kind of openness and togetherness will help you plot your priorities on a graph for everyone’s reference. 

If some features come out with low Business Value and high Development Effort, put them to one side for now and focus on the ones that have a bigger impact and are easier to implement (the ones in the first quadrant). 

The second quadrant represents the features that come out with high Business Value but high Development Effort to boot, so these should be your secondary priorities. 

Anything that comes out in the third or fourth quadrants are, of course, your lowest priorities and might even be questioned as to whether they are worth your time and effort in the first place. 

You can then take the next step to put your first quadrant features into priority order by following this criteria: 

  1. This feature must be done: The product is incomplete without it.
  2. This feature should be done in the next development cycle: The product is noticeably lacking without it. 
  3. This feature can be done in the following phase, but is dependent on time.

How to start prioritising new product features

Whether you like to work remotely or in person, it’s an easy task to get this prioritisation off the ground. 

Simply draw a matrix chart onto a whiteboard or use an online tool or take a look at the matrix chart I have set up as a Figma file and explore my Resources for more. 

This will mean that everyone can collaborate and stay on the same page at the same time, so there’s no crossover in tasks and no confusion. 

The benefits of prioritising to maximise your CX

This is easily one of the most effective ways I have seen in the design and development phase of any early-stage tech company. 

Creating a shared vision that everyone can refer to means that you avoid that dreaded siloed approach that is so damaging to your company’s progress. 

The structural integrity you inject into the working processes behind the product or service will absolutely be evident in the finished product because everything will work as it should and, of course, how everyone hoped it would from the beginning. 

A happy customer means a happy team.

Getting it right from day one

There quite simply is no time for rushing when it comes to great customer experiences. 

You might not have the luxury of all the time in the world, but great products are designed one feature at a time. Trust me, your customers will be able to tell if something has been rushed or siloed by your internal team. 

Building the right team to build the right tech solution will be evident in the finished product

The kind of discipline outlined above provides a simple way to grasp what your most impactful features will be for the benefit of the people you’re trying to target. Prioritisation charts are an excellent way to begin the design process of giving the people what they want exactly when they want it in their customer journey with you.

Do you need design support with your tech project?

Are you considering redesigning your product and not sure which new product features to implement? Why not get in touch today and we can discuss your business objectives and help you apply a disciplined structure to the design and build of your product?

Continue reading