How to better scope features with Feature Therapies

Matthias Stiller
Mar 9 · 5 min read

At Holygram we strive to use meeting time as effectively as we can. Since we’ve started developing our product a while ago a few techniques have evolved internally that we’d like to share. One that we’re using quite heavily these days is what we call The Feature Therapy.

The Feature Therapy is our approach to extract knowledge of a feature idea that’s deeply nested in the cortex of it’s inventor’s brain. More than that, it helps us to make decisions and breaks down implementation details into better digestible chunks.

Since we’re thinking remote first by default, the Feature Therapy itself of course suits amazingly well to our preferred kind of working model.

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Feature What?

“Why Feature Therapy?” you might ask. The idea literally is to put each feature that we want to better understand as a team on a couch and ask it questions.

Questions are a powerful tool to better express doubt, to scope the idea, to make decisions out of it, to have everyone on the same page and to achieve commitment among the attendees.

Or as the authors of The Art of Powerful Questions put it:

Questions open the door to dialogue and discovery. They are an invitation to creativity and breakthrough thinking. Questions can lead to movement and action on key issues; by generating creative insights they can ignite change.

Putting the feature on a couch

At first we give a slight introduction about the feature that we want to dive deeper into. Without going into too much detail, we explain in just a few sentences what the feature might be about. Next we put the feature on the couch and start questioning before finally elaborating on our answers.

The process of the Feature Therapy can be broken down into three steps:

For the Check-in feature, which is part of Holygram, the results looked like this:

First: Introduce — presenting the idea: “We want to give users the opportunity to asynchronously answer recurring questions in order to make transparent what they’re currently working on or what for example they did in their spare time. This helps to reduce silos by spreading knowledge across the organization and to decrease isolation as for example private things can be discussed as well.”

Second: Ask — questions you want to discuss: the questions below are a subset of the questions the Check-in feature has been confronted with. As for this second step it’s fairly important to focus on asking. Answering should be strictly not permitted during that part of the “Therapy”.

Why so harsh? Over the course of about 15 Feature Therapies we’ve learned that one question inspires the attendees to ask more questions. More questions provide more details and more chances to scope. Having answers in-between only disturbs this creative process. That’s why we postpone answering as long as possible.

There have been many more questions asked of course, but for the sake of example we’ll keep it with the ones above.

Third: Elaborate — seeking for answers: last but not least the team works through all questions and discusses potential solutions for each of them. For the example of our Check-in feature we come to the following conclusions:

And that’s basically it. A feature scoped to what matters. A feature understood by the team. A feature that the attendees of the Feature Therapy commit to. A structured way of breaking things down step by step. A guideline to what comes next …

Whats next?

As a next step we find it to be good practice to use the results of step number 3 and to create sketches out of it. Sketches can be anything ranging from drawings to wireframes or even Sketch or Figma designs. Anything that again creates a better understanding of the problem and that brings us closer to the final piece of software is welcome.

How to apply in remote work environments?

As mentioned at the beginning of the article Feature Therapies do work well for distributed teams. At Holygram we prefer step number 1 and 2 to happen asynchronously. We use dedicated pages in Notion to give features an appropriate place.

The answering part is slightly different as it requires discussions. For us meeting online to elaborate on the solutions has worked out pretty well. The good thing — everyone already is on the same page and can prepare upfront.

We use Feature Therapies during our Unplug Meetings (we’ll write on that as well in the future). In Scrum world Feature Therapies could be used during refinement of Product Backlogs and User Stories (we don’t work that way, but we see some use cases here as well). In Shape Up — the development process created by Basecamp — the Shaping part could be a good place for Feature Therapies maybe as well.


If you want to see how the Feature Therapy helped us develop our Check-in feature please sign up for our private beta over at Holygram.co.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Thanks!

Matthias

About Work & Progress by Holygram

Unleashing the full potential of remote work.

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