Stop building features

Wait, isn’t building features the point of software development? It’s definitely the way we have been trained to visualize a checklist of value that needs to be completed for a product to be successful. However, the best way to measure the business value of your product is not through feature checklists but through use cases.

In product development lifecycles, features are often built in a silo. Team one is working on feature A, while team two is working on feature B. This works great until two or more features crossover. The key to foreseeing this crossover is to have a strong understanding of the underlying use case that is driving the user journey. Only at that point, can you truly start to understand your customer’s experience and how to deliver true value to them.

The feature parity argument

I think we have all dealt with it at some point. If we can just check these 10 boxes, we’ll have parity with our competition and then we can start to innovate! The problem is, you will never catch up to the competition. As you’re busily checking boxes, they are continuing to innovate and outpace you.

How do you break the feature parity cycle? Start by talking to your customers to discover what their key problems are. You need to uncover their use cases. With that knowledge in hand, you can analyze how your competition approached a problem and look for innovative ways to do it differently and provide differentiating value.

Focus on the use cases

To start uncovering use cases, start a regular research cycle with your customers.

Go into the sessions with an open mind and listen to their problems, observe how they work, what works, and what doesn’t.

Don’t go into a discovery session with wireframes for an idea you want to validate — that’s placing the cart before the horse. Before you can start to design, you need to first fully understand the problem.

Some teams feel they already know what they need to do and just want to start doing it. But I guarantee in each discovery session you do, you will uncover at least one thing you were not aware of. This is where the opportunity for true innovation can be born. The way you win in the market is to uncover these use cases and innovate on them.

Moving into design

Once you feel confident about your customer’s needs, it is safe to move into design. Before you start scoping out user stories, create journey maps for each use case. You need to see how different use cases overlap and connect. Your user journeys show how everything is related. In some cases, you may find your user experience is too disjointed, which will lead to design changes early to improve the flow. It is much better to find problems at an early stage instead of after you have invested time and money into developing the product.

Before you design one wireframe or write one line of code, ensure that you understand the use cases that are driving the design of your product. Avoid feature silos and fail fast in the early stages of your design to avoid costly overruns and products that don’t actually solve the user’s problems.