Refining features: The Shorter the List the Better the Launch

This time on the Arch blog we're taking a look at the process of scope refinement and why it forms an essential part of the discovery process.

Published by Hamish Kerry

Scoping a project is one of the most important parts of our Product Manager’s job. Above all, it helps define the nature of the application or website on the first launch and provides a roadmap for how future iterations of the product or service will be introduced.

Why is refinement important?

Getting started with a new project is an extremely exciting phase. It’s where the initial passion for the project is forming and the ideas are coming together thick and fast. When clients approach us, there’s usually a strong motive behind their reasons for developing their application or website, it either:

  • Fits a narrative based on personal experience.

  • Fits an internal business requirement.

  • Fits with a need for an underserved market.

Sometimes it’s all of the above. The underlying requirement for the product one of the most important points for us to ascertain as part of the scoping process.

Often the briefs we read, on first look have an extensive list of features, giving the product or service multiple USP’s, and this is by no means a negative. Every day we use applications that are the most completed version of the initial idea and so it makes sense that as a potential provider of an application, a business owner would want it to have all the bells and whistles.

Instagram, for example, we see as an app that can do almost everything a social media app could possibly do; send messages, upload photos and videos, share locations, play music, feature ads and stories. However, most certainly at Instagram’s initial release, the app was a far cry from the multifaceted ecosystem of content sharing we now see.

In fact, Instagram in its first ideation was an application called Burbn, named after the creator Kevin Systrom’s penchant for bourbon, which featured core functionality including location-based check-in with the ability to share pictures among swathes of other features. After funding was raised and a team was assembled to develop the app, Systrom was convinced by his team to heavily refine the features offered at the initial launch to keep the application in line with the most popular image sharing applications at the time.

When it came around to an initial launch, Burbn, now named Instagram, was a stripped-down version of the initial idea, focusing on the core features of sharing photos, commenting and liking. It’s all too easy to forget that consumers in 2010, much like today, found a love for applications that offered them a strong service, with a good core offering. There was little need for extra features to be included to make the application successful on the first launch.

Absolutely the idea of being able to send photos directly to other users, or have automatically disappearing videos are great additions to the service, but Instagram remains successful because of just that. A strong core idea with yearly additions that keep the app ahead of the curve.

Credit Business Insider: WayBack Machine

In that sense, iteration becomes a clear party of a successful product roadmap. When clients bring us an extended list of features, the first step we need to undertake is ascertaining the exact context for why they need to exist on a first launch and how that relates directly to the USP of the product or service. Often we find the main USP of the service is achievable with a limited number of the features first outlined. Every project we work on is unique, each has a diverse history to the context it’s requirements, our job as part of the discovery process is to ensure that each of the features we outline for a first phase launch achieves the goals of the core product purpose.

How do we do this?

So, how exactly do we go about refining features? We’ll it essentially happens through conversations. At each level of the process, conversations between our teams and yours are taking place, each time just as important as the last.

The first set of analytical conversations that take place will come in discovery sessions. These are meetings held with your assigned design and development team that form the core understanding of the project and set the key goals and timelines for the launch of your product or service.

Within these meetings, we hold conversations about the essence of the application. Often times we’ll ask our clients to sum up their product in a few key sentences;

  • What exactly is its purpose?

  • Why is it important?

  • How is it different?

These core questions provide the foundation of the product's core principles. They pertain directly to the user, the environment in which it will be held and how it directly addresses the issue/requirement at hand. From this discussion, we’re able to ascertain the USP, which in the best possible way may be different from that which you had initially thought, much like the discussions Systrom needed to have in the early days of Instagram.

From the (sometimes newly) founded USP, we ascertain the features from your original list that directly support the goal of the product. The final summations of these conversations and workshops become the outline for the complete first launch version of the product while providing the footing on which all future versions of the product can be based off.

What is the outcome of refinement?

Sometimes, there is a preconception around developing a product, that if a feature is not included in the initial launch, it won’t be included at all. This is slightly misguided if the right roadmap is chosen. For example, at Arch, we build everything with modularity in mind. Your first version launch, while not always containing all of the features initially laid out, will be able to, in the future, accommodate all of the necessary new features you could imagine.

The refinement process is key for many reasons, budgetary requirements are often a key contender when it comes to the logic behind refining a features list. But there are many other considerations, including the requirement for feedback. There is little point in developing a feature, which following feedback from users turns out to be redundant, or limits the capacity for a user to engage with the product's core service.

When we’re working with a client, the term ‘roadmap’ comes up a lot, for a very good reason. Developing software is a journey, on which there are many stops. If you were to consider it a road trip, your first launch is comparable to the first stop for petrol you need to make. It’s where you reach ‘a’ destination, not yet your final one, but one that provides you a moment of rest and replenishment. It’s an opportunity to take in the scope of the journey you’ve been on, how far you’ve come and how far you have to go.

The most successful digital products in history have all existed (and many continue to exist) on a constant roadmap of iteration and development. The introduction of new features can occur at any point in time on that journey, the key is to make sure that you’ve started off well. That your ‘car’ is packed well, you’ve not forgotten anything important, and that anything which may have been left at your starting point is always able to be picked up on the way.

To conclude

When you’re starting out on the development of your product or service, everything seems important. The ideation period right at the start is valid for capturing a whole host of concepts, features and solutions you want to provide, however, the most successful way to go about developing a new product is one of conservation and refinement. Working with a software development agency should always involve two-way communication, but it is important to remember the journey that you’ll be setting out on and all the opportunities it will present for new ideas in the future.

By Jo Samways

Co-Authored by Hamish Kerry

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