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Can a Feature List help your project be a success?

By:
December 2, 2015

We all know someone who loves making lists; shopping lists, to-do lists, bucket lists, wish lists, etc. Lists are great for collecting ideas and getting them down on paper so they can be organized into a logical plan. They help us remember important details by tracking what needs to get done and when.

At Crux Collaborative, one of our favorite types of list is a Feature List. We use feature lists to track and organize all of the features and content that needs to be considered during a project. In this article, we’ll show what goes into making a feature list, describe the benefits of using them, and explain how they can help your project be a success.

What is a Feature List?

A feature list is a communication tool that we use to identify and categorize features and content that a site or application should have and when the features should be available (e.g., at launch or as part of future phases). While it isn’t a detailed project schedule, like a Gantt Chart, the goal of this list is to capture and prioritize ideas.

The list items are the output of brainstorming. Feature lists contain ideas that are generated from a variety of methods including working sessions, in-person interviews, sketching sessions, and other discussions. Once we’ve collected everything, we start building our feature list in a spreadsheet and begin the process of organizing and prioritizing.

The Anatomy of a Feature List

When setting up the feature list we add a few contextual details to validate that the feature is necessary and helps meet the project’s goals. This helps the project stay on schedule and within budget.

1. Feature Description

Features are listed in their own row so they can each be reviewed and categorized. Only high-level descriptions are used to avoid cluttering the document and potentially limiting its usefulness.

2. Priority

We work closely with our clients to determine how important each feature is for the project by assigning a priority value to it (e.g., Low, Medium, High). This can influence when a feature is integrated as well as the significance it has in the site or application.

3. Business and User Objectives

Earlier in the UX Planning process, we identify business and user objectives. We include these in our feature list as columns to confirm that the features bring us closer to achieving at least one of the goals. Each feature should be connected to at least one business or user objective. If a feature doesn’t relate to the main objectives of the site, it may be reevaluated and its priority lowered until features that map to key objectives have been implemented.

4. Release Phase

The last step is to specify when a feature needs to be included. While many features will be released at launch, complex systems often involve phased releases of features over a span of time. Identifying a release phase allows the team to focus on getting the most important details right for launch without neglecting to plan for the future.

An Example of a Feature List

An Example of a Feature List

Key Benefits

There are a number of benefits to creating and maintaining a feature list throughout the lifecycle of a project.

Budget

Feature lists can help projects stay within budget by defining the features that must be part of the initial launch, and what can be integrated later during future enhancements. New ideas are less likely to sidetrack the project because they can be tracked and implemented later.

Planning

Since the features are already assigned a target release phase, it becomes much easier to plan what will be done and when.

Communication

Because each feature needs to be validated against the goals of the project, this tool encourages teams to discuss each feature in the context of project goals. By facilitating conversation, the feature list encourages team members to weigh the pros and cons of a feature early in the process, and to identify which features are most critical for initial releases and which can be implemented after a minimum viable product has been delivered.

Buy-in

When team members are encouraged to provide insight and ideas, they feel a stronger connection to the solution. The simplicity of a feature list makes it easier for ideas to be discussed and evaluated based on how they achieve project goals instead of relying solely on the popularity or flashiness of the idea. Feature lists also allow for “pet features” of key executives or project members to be visible, tracked, and prioritized in the context of project goals, and as a result, alleviate potential political battles that can result based on personal opinions that don’t necessarily map to objectives.

A Living Document That Keeps the Conversation Going

Feature lists are easy to update at any time, so they encourage new ideas to be incorporated as they emerge. Just because a feature seems out of reach in the moment, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth considering in the future. This low-fi tool encourages honest discussion about the project, even “pie in the sky” ideas. However, it is important to avoid adding too many new features to the current phase as it can impact timing and budget if too many features get added to the current release.

As with most other lists, writing everything down is just one part of the process, and getting proficient in using the tool takes a bit of practice. Contact us to learn more about how a Feature List can help your project.

By Katherine Block
Project Coordinator

Katherine is a jack of all trades with nearly every aspect of the UX process. Her broad approach enables her to fill gaps between the different phases of interactive design including Information Architecture, Development, and Project Management.

View Katherine's Bio

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