codal insights

What’s A Feature List, And Why Do I Need One?

Sean
June 3rd, 2019
6 MINUTE READ


Project kickoff is an exciting time. Finally, after diligently comparing vendors, weighing options, and getting the paperwork approved, it’s time for your platform to take shape, for your idea to come to fruition.

And while project kickoff is energizing, it can also be overwhelming. There’s a long to-do list of tasks before the project build can begin, and it’s easy to see why clients are more than a little apprehensive.

One early project deliverable that often seems to raise eyebrows is the feature list. Whether it comes off as unnecessary or vague, it’s not uncommon for clients to ask about it. Many wonder what it entails, or why it’s so important.

So Codal, being a UX design agency, figured the most user-friendly solution was to compile a feature list FAQ. So without further ado, here they are—asked and answered.

What Is A Feature List?

“It’s just a list of the platform’s features, right?”.

Well, yes and no. Yes, feature lists describe all the exciting things your platform will be able to do—maybe that’s live video streaming, or real-time data visualization, or whatever your platform’s flashy selling points are—but they also include much more.

Early draft of a feature list for one of Codal’s projects

Feature lists are the blueprint of your website or app, entailing everything the platform must be able to do. Not just the marquee features, but the less glamorous requirements too, like single sign-on, or a Google Maps API integration.

Why Do I Need One?

A feature list serves as a crucial reference that’s used by every single person that touches the project, from business analysts and project managers to UX designers and developers. But perhaps even more importantly, it helps shape the project’s scope and timeline.

To build a feature list, project teams and clients need to collaboratively perform feature prioritization. This is the process of ranking the platform’s functionalities by importance and necessity. Prioritization helps us determine which features should be included in the initial release, and which should be delayed for later ones.

That’s how a feature list informs a project’s scope and timeline. Say you need a platform launched as soon as possible. We can prioritize only the absolute essentials, then plan an aggressive timeline to meet that goal. Or say the opposite: you have the luxury of enough time to launch with a fully decked out, top-to-bottom finished platform. We can expand the project’s scope and plan accordingly.

Feature lists lay the foundation for a successful project. That’s why they’re perhaps the most important document in the early phases of a project.

What Makes A Good Feature List?

Because feature lists are so fundamental, it’s important they’re as polished as possible before the project build begins. Remember, constructing a feature list is a collaborative undertaking, performed by both the agency and the client.

For us, feature list creation occurs in the Discovery phase of Codal’s Agile process. Many of the tasks performed in this phase serve to flesh out and improve the feature list. Here are just a few we regularly conduct.

Stakeholder Interviews & Surveys

Every project has stakeholders, often with competing ideas of what the ideal version of the final product should be. That’s why feature prioritization is so often a balancing act, one where project teams must weigh the wants, needs, and expectations of different user types, business leaders, and other stakeholders.

To gain insight into these wants and needs, design agencies like Codal will conduct stakeholder interviews and surveys. The bread-and-butter of almost every UX research phase, these techniques consist of the design team meeting with or surveying key stakeholders— users, admins, managers, supervisors, etc—and learning what they expect from the final product.

This helps immensely with feature prioritization. For example, say a used car finder mobile app requires a search-by-voice functionality. But looking at user survey data, we find that most used car consumers wouldn’t use search-by-voice. That’s a great sign that we can assign a low priority to that feature, or even remove it entirely.

Competitive Analysis

Conducting competitive analysis refines and polishes feature lists by providing valuable insight into the platform’s direct and indirect competitors. By investigating their branding, architecture, content, and most importantly, their features, we can begin to see what functionality is absolutely necessary (or unnecessary) for early releases.

An excerpt from a competitive analysis report conducted by Codal. This figure demonstrates different layouts across digital media sites.

Competitive analysis is sometimes mistaken for simply cribbing the competition’s features, but in our experience, it actually can result in key differentiators for the client. That’s because competitive analysis also studies what functionalities the competition doesn’t have. When this happens, we can prioritize that missing feature, and immediately boost our client’s value proposition at launch.

Analyze Current User Journeys

User journeys describe all the steps a user must perform to complete a task. They’re crucial for feature lists as well as a key deliverable in the discovery phase. If a current version does exist, Codal analyzes those journeys, studying which steps work well and which need to be optimized.

If a current version of the platform doesn’t exist (i.e. we’re building the experience from scratch), we study the current way users complete that task, even if its not done digitally. For example, let’s say an outpatient clinic is still faxing medical records to a hospital. We would study the workflow of generating, sending, and reviewing a medical record to discover the best way to translate the process to the digital realm.

Putting It All Together

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground in this blog post. To recap:

  • Feature lists are the blueprint of your website or app, entailing everything the platform must be able to do.
  • To build a feature list, project teams need to perform feature prioritization, the process of ranking a platform’s functionalities by importance.
  • Future list creation occurs in the Discovery phase of Codal’s Agile process, and many of the tasks performed in this phase—like interviews, surveys, competitive analysis, and journeys—serve to flesh out and improve the feature list.

While we’ve (hopefully) answered all of your questions about feature lists, we’re sure you have some new ones. Feel free to reach out to us to learn about discovery, the rest of our process, or more of our design and development services.

Sean McGowan
AUTHOR

Sean

Sean is a technical researcher & writer at Codal, authoring blog posts on topics ranging from UX design to the Internet of Things. Working alongside developers, designers, and marketers, Sean helps support the writing team to ensure Codal produces engaging web content of the highest quality. When not writing about the latest and greatest in digital design, Sean can be found baking, watching movies, or complaining about the shortcomings of his favorite Philadelphia sports teams.

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