How do I decide which features to implement?

Which feature to implement next or first is a difficult to answer question whether you are managing a matured product or trying to build new product? Of course, the question changes to which features to implement first when you are trying to build new product but the conundrum is same. I tried asking these questions to various Product Managers as well successful Entrepreneurs and although I got different types of answers most of them had few common threads such as

  1. Features, which will make most money
  2. Features, which can be built within shortest possible time
  3. Features, which are absolutely essential for product/release to enter the market

Overall I understood that there were multiple ways to look at the desirability or necessity of the features and most Product Managers or Entrepreneurs try to identify the Feature ROI before they decide to take a shot at implementing it. Some of the considerations of Feature ROI are (grouped by internal and external focus)

Feature FocusFigure: Feature Focus

The question of which feature to build becomes even complicated (rather painful) for a Product Manager to begin with than for an Entrepreneur. The reason being, in case Product Manager someone in the company (mostly executives) will definitely ask a business case for the prospective release and to illustrate the ROI for the shortlisted features. That doesn’t mean Entrepreneur can escape the pain as he/she may not need to answer anybody the same way Product Manager because the pain comes later when the judged feature(s) do not yield the results expected results.

So the question, which arises now, is “how” can one assess the appropriateness of the feature and then determine the real ROI for above mentioned considerations?

The straight forward answer is that there is no magic formula to address this question. At the max what a Product Manager or Entrepreneur can do is that try to go to the source of the information where such information can be obtained. For example, the external factors such as Customer Demand & Revenue Potential can be directly assessed with customers or derived from market research data. And, Competitive Necessity & Regulatory Compliance can be ascertained through the industry knowledge or market research.

On the other hand considerations with internal focus are comparatively easy to ascertain as data for such judgment can be requested and obtained through implementation teams. As you can probably guess, experience suggests that ascertaining internal Feature ROI considerations is much easier than external ones as the source of data in case of later is beyond organizational control. Therefore, the guidance is that we take such data with pinch of salt and try expecting lower than proposed returns for external focused Feature ROI considerations.

I personally prefer to solve the most pressing problem(s) for majority of customers. Such approach guarantees that even if I misjudge the feature potential it I end up solving most pressing problem(s) for some customers or relatively important problem(s) for most customers.

What practices do you follow when you have to create a business case for a prospective product release?