The trickiest part about building a product is deciding which path to take. You are forced to understand what your product is and what you want it to become. On top this, you must be willing to take risks and stand behind your decisions.

Here at Webconnex we get to compound those challenges by having four products, roughly built around a core platform but having unique traits of their own.

So… How do we prioritize what is important for each product and how do we manage to make decisions about new features? Well, let me start by talking about a trap that we find ourselves falling victim to.

Stop and Go Traffic (AKA Customer Driven Development)

Webconnex’s customer base have had a big impact on what our products have become today and yours should to, (as you see fit). After all we are building products we want people to use and knowing our customer base is very, very important. The customer driven development model has drawbacks that need to be managed. It can become overwhelming very quickly and easily distract your team from what might be bigger and better wins or more important features overall.

Let me give you an example of what this might look like.Customer X calls in and says “We love your product and we really want to use it but it doesn’t have Feature A. We can’t use it without Feature A”. One of the initial reactions for most people is “wow, we can get one more customer if we just had Feature A”. So what happens is you start to talk to Customer X about the feature and by the time you even begin to understand why they need the feature your team has invested a lot of time into a feature that might not even be a core offering to win over a second customer down the road. Meanwhile you have fifty other potential customers that might just be looking for a feature that has already been planned or discussed about internally because you know the product really could benefit from it.

The potential for distraction is huge and often takes resources away from development that could be done to really set yourself apart in the market.

You and your team must evaluate the usefulness of each feature. Some feature requests may help only a small percentage of the user base and others will be widely used. But don’t lose sight of the importance of customer input because it’s a vital piece of the equation. Though at the end of the day your choices are what determine the quality of the overall product.

We have arrived at several amazing features at Webconnex by listening to customer input. We start by vetting the idea internally, followed by talking to other customers in similar industries about how they would use the requested feature and how they would implement it to make them better. Through this process and having an awareness of the competition, you can arrive at features that will be worthwhile.

Ultimately, your company has the control to evolve its product as they see fit. As you drive down the road of product development you are going to hit traffic. Keep in mind that you take what the customer requests and filter it through your business’ lens. Does it belong in the core product? Could it be evolved to be a more generally used feature? Does a feature already exist but needs to be revamped? In the next Programming post we will discuss additional methods to building a great product.