Product Management- How to Decide What to Build

Decide What to build- Product Management

Our last blog on product management was about listening to customer problems to identify what to build. Once you have identified the customer problems and user needs, the next biggest thing to do is deciding on what you can uniquely create that can solve the problems you have found.

As a product manager, deciding on what to build is a critical decision. One mistake that many product managers do is capture solution ideas in a lengthy feature backlog which is the list of features that they like to develop. This is completely against the idea of focusing on customer problems rather than solutions and chances are that you get fixated on specific solution ideas and jump to conclusions with a risk of delivering sub-optimal solutions that don’t solve any user problems and end up not getting used at all. Hence, understanding user needs is the first step in deciding what to build. And then how to proceed?

In this blog, we discuss the steps to follow as a product to In order to decide on building the best possible product that gives the best business value. There are essentially four steps that product managers should include in their strategy of deciding on ‘What to build?’:

  1. Idea Management
  2. Product Specifications
  3. Roadmapping
  4. Prioritization

1. Idea Management

Once you have identified the user needs, you should start to capture the feature ideas that you want to build. This is the idea management phase where product managers should try to capture suggestions, ideas or feature requests for the product’s evolution.

A better way of doing this is by logging the user needs that you have identified and looking to address in your product, and listing out the relevant solution ideas for each need beneath it. The ideas can be captured from across the company- from different teams- product team, dev team, marketing team, support teams and so on. Crowdsource ideas from internal teams or conduct brainstorming sessions to generate ideas. Sure you will get a mix of ideas and solutions. Analyze and evaluate each and take decisions. A product manager is also responsible to ensure that the features are usable and feasible by working closely with the tech teams and other teams.

2.Product Specifications

A product specification document is a document with a set of requirements provided to product teams with all the information on what the team needs to build.

A product manager at this stage can limit himself to specifying the features at a high level and leave the rest to UX designers/engineers who are specialists in developing the solutions and are well aware of the capabilities of the technologies they use, in later stages. Product specification documents usually covers the following details:

  • User personas- Who are we building the solution for and how will they benefit?
  • Business case- What is expected on the bottom line?
  • User stories- What does the user want to do, why and how?
  • Mockups/sketches- What should the final product look like
  • Technical specifications- Any technical issues that are to be considered.

3. Product Roadmapping

A product roadmap is a visual document that is shared with all the stakeholders to communicate the steps you plan to take to achieve your product vision. It informs everyone involved, where the product stands today, the direction in which it is moving and how to get to the vision or goal. A product roadmap essentially represents your product strategy and should include things like business goals, product areas, priorities, scope, etc.

4.Feature Prioritization

Till now you have gathered ideas and solutions, organized them and decided on the product vision and strategy and have a clear idea of the solution and what should be the final product. Now comes a big task. Making the big decision of deciding what to build? Where to start with?

This phase is called Feature Prioritization. It is a pretty daunting task and never make a mistake of getting it done over a session. It requires much more of your time and thought process.

There are many prioritization frameworks that you could use to decide on how to prioritize features and decide what matters the most. Here are the most popular prioritization techniques:

1.RICE- The RICE framework was developed by messaging software Intercom for its internal use and product management strategy. RICE is an acronym for the four factors measured for each product feature or initiative using the technique- Reach, Impact, Confidence and Effort.

Reach- How many people will the feature impact in a given time.

Impact- How much will the feature impact users, represented using a multiple-choice Scale as 3- for massive impact, 2- high impact, 1- medium impact, 0.5- low impact, etc.

Confidence - How confident are you about the impact and reach scores, measured as a percentage score.

Effort- Time investment required for the initiative, measured as persons per month

The overall RICE score is then calculated using a formula:


2. Kano Model- Using the Kano model Product managers can identify potential features and prioritize them based on the delight a product or feature provides customers. It basically uses a chart plotted with the product function on the X-axis and the level of customer satisfaction on the Y-axis.

The features can be put in three buckets- Basic Features that is must-have for your product in order to solve the problem but investing more in them won’t improve customer delight, Performance Features that improves customer satisfaction as you invest in it and Excitement Features that will yield a disproportionate increase in customer delight if you invest in them.

To get the customer insights, a Kano questionnaire is used where you ask the customers how they feel about with or without each feature you are trying to prioritize.

3. Value versus Complexity Quadrant

In the Value versus complexity quadrant, you evaluate every feature based on the business value of it and the relative complexity to implement it. This is a simple and common approach that most of the product managers today follow.

4. Opportunity Scoring- This is kind of gap analysis where you measure and rank opportunities based on current customer satisfaction. Your opportunities are features/products that are highly important but customers have a low satisfaction currently.

5. Affinity grouping- This is a technique in which the entire team participates and each one brainstorms ideas or opportunities on sticky notes and group similar items together. Then team members start voting on or rank the groups to determine which is more important.

6. Story mapping- Story mapping is the technique used to prioritize features in agile projects mostly. In this method, the workflow of the product is mapped using cards or kanban boards from beginning to end of the customer experience, and then you order the most important things from top to bottom to prioritize.

More Tips to Build Great Products

Following the above steps are effective in deciding on what to build and how to go about building the features. Here are a few more tips that you need to keep in mind all the way while following the above steps to build products that can become successful:

  1. Understand your target user and always champion their needs: Any product to be successful should provide solutions to users that are usable. The solution you provide should be straight forward and easily understood by your target audience. For this, you should factor your users’ background knowledge, skills, and experience to determine the nature of the solution or feature you provide. At this stage user testing your solution ideas on a group of users using a prototype is an ideal solution.
  2. Validate your assumptions: You would have decided on a list of features to build, but it is quite important that you ensure to validate all your assumptions still stand good before sending them to designers and engineers and they begin working on them. The best way to validate is probably to get back to your customers and confirm if they still have the need. Ask yourself or the team questions like “Is the understanding of the problem right?”, ‘Is the solution you identified useable and solves the user problems?’, “Is there any discrepancy in the feature definition and user need?’ and try to answer them before you start working on the solution.
  3. Ensure clear communication of context to the team- When the product spec doc is being sent to the dev team, the product manager should ensure that the designers and developers understand clearly what they are building and why.
  4. Release features in phases to minimize risk- When you building functionality with many features before they are tested on users, it becomes more tricky and riskier by putting in substantial efforts on developing all the features without knowing how the results would be. This risk can be minimized if you can launch the smallest group of possible features so that you can change course if something doesn’t work. This approach of releasing the smallest amount of functionality as a subset of your greater initiative as early as possible is known as the Minimum Viable Product(MVP) strategy. This approach maximizes learning and minimizes risk.

Making decisions on what to build and how to build can be intimidating. But, it is one of the most important tasks of a product manager which needs to be done right to ensure that the product you build satisfies your customers, solves their problem and brings revenue to your company. There are far more opportunities, but identifying the right opportunities, managing the ideas, defining the product spec, road mapping and prioritizing features to be build can all lead to building the right product. We hope the steps and tips in the article helps you as a product manager to decide on what to build next for your project. All the very best to build products that customers love!

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