How We’re Turning Feedback into Strategic Product Decisions

Cameron Fitchett
Director of Product Marketing at ProductPlan

productplan idea management

There is no shortage of product ideas. They come from everywhere. Customer feedback, feature requests, and new ideas born from your interpretation of your product strategy—can all be the starting point for your company’s next great opportunity.

The challenge has never been finding more things to consider. Of course, there’s always plenty to consider.

The real challenge is to cut through the noise and identify what’s actually worth pursuing.

Earlier this year, we set out to solve this challenge. Specifically, we want to help product teams make better decisions. Yes, that starts with a way to capture and organize ideas. But it must also include a way to connect these ideas to the broader opportunities they represent.

Most of all, we want to help you avoid the feature factory, a dreary place where product teams are encouraged to ship more features faster without validating ideas or assessing impact after launch. In the feature factory scenario, what gets built next is often decided by who yells their idea the loudest. It’s a frustrating, demoralizing, and ultimately unsuccessful way to create a product.

feature factory

How are product teams managing their ideas today?

Over the years, we’ve talked to our customers about this challenge. And it is a problem without a great solution. The solutions that do exist today tend to fall into two camps.

1. Repurposed existing solutions

The first camp consists of ad hoc solutions created using your digital workspace’s existing tools. You know them well.

It’s the cluttered spreadsheet of ideas that was created years ago by someone who no longer works at your company. There are multiple versions of it living… somewhere. Which one is most current is anyone’s guess.

Or it’s a Google form shared amongst internal stakeholders and customers. Anyone can submit an idea for something they want you to build at any time. It is great if you like your ideas repository like you like your volcanoes—explosive, violent, and wholly unmanageable if caught in the vicinity of its spew.

2. “Purpose-built” solutions

The second camp consists of “purpose-built” solutions. Many product management platforms attempt to help teams collect and manage their ideas. Some provide a customer-facing inbox for feature requests. Others have created integrations with popular tools that allow product teams to capture ideas where stakeholders live and work.

With enough time and maintenance, any of these solutions can be a viable way to collect and organize product ideas. But if not careful, these solutions can also encourage a feature-factory approach to product management. An idea alone does not solve a problem. The most challenging job isn’t necessarily collecting feedback. It is defining the opportunities or problems the feedback aims to solve.

And, of course, not all ideas are created equal.

Ideas should be used to validate (or invalidate) broader opportunities.

The problem with ideas is that they typically land on a product manager’s desk as a feature request. When this happens, it skips an essential part of the product manager’s process.

The product manager’s job is to hear the pain a customer experiences or the goals they hope to achieve. Then the product manager researches to understand how they can build a solution that won’t only work for that one customer but entire segments of their customer base. The solution must also align with and help achieve the business’s goals, be it retaining more customers, increasing the speed of adoption, or tackling a new market.

For an idea management solution to work for product teams, it must separate the idea from the opportunity. On their own, ideas often exist in the solution space. They might suggest a feature to build, for instance. But when captured in mass, ideas will point to common problems worth solving. Trends will emerge. These are your opportunities. From there, it’s on you – the product manager – to develop a solution that helps your organization attain the desired outcome.

It can also work in reverse. For example, take the goals and objectives your business prioritizes during its annual or quarterly planning sessions. Then, you can translate the goals and objectives into opportunities for the product team. From here, it’s a process of sourcing ideas that can support and validate the opportunities your business pursues or, in some cases, invalidates them.

It’s all about helping product people make better decisions, using the ideas they’ve sourced as invaluable insights to prioritize.

Ideas should inform your roadmap—they shouldn’t replace it

Many product people we speak with talk about the agony of a bottomless pit of ideas. An overflowing inbox. A dumpster of post-it notes. It might be tempting to toss all those ideas into your backlog, eventually creating a roadmap out of the best ones.

Doing idea management this way is a sure path to the feature factory model. Unfortunately, it creates a reactive roadmap rather than a proactive one. And it can result in your product organization—and your business—careening in the wrong direction.

Over the next couple of months, we’re excited to show you what we’re building to help you avoid the agony of an endless supply of ideas. For now, know that our goals are as follows:

Digital transformation is all the rage right now. Idea management is one of the last remnants of that non-digital era. Unfortunately, many companies still consider it a crowd-sourced way to build your roadmap. This is not the right way to do it. Sure, you’ll get some good ideas (and some bad ones), but if you’re not aligning them to your product strategy, you’ll just be flying blind and wasting time.

Stay tuned for more about ideas management from ProductPlan!