At PrecisionLender, we actively encourage “feature requests” from our users, and those suggestions have been hugely successful. We love hearing statements that start with, “It would be great if you added …” They’ve led to some of the most valuable and highly used features in PrecisionLender.
Some requests are easy to turn down. Others prompt us to slap our foreheads and wonder why it wasn’t already a feature. It gets added to the queue and, presto change-o, the tool is instantly better!
There’s a third request category though, that can be the trickiest to handle.
These are the ones that sound promising, and seem to have value, but we aren’t as certain. Maybe the details are fuzzy, or maybe it seems like something that is hugely valuable when it’s needed, but we’re not sure just how often that need would arise.
We have to wrestle with these, while also walking that fine line between “Wow, this tool can do anything!” and “Wow … this thing is complicated!” That’s a tricky balance, and luckily we have great engineers who are MUCH better at designing solutions for the problem than I would be.
When we get these, we start what we call our “ripening” process. The details deserve their own post, but this is essentially where we work through the idea, determining first if it is worth building and then exactly how it should be built. We always involve clients in this process; they help us figure out the best path through whiteboard sessions and some rough prototyping.
Bankers are always happy to tell us what they want. The fascinating part, though, is that even with this rigorous process of vetting feature requests, there are times when we are 100%, unequivocally, dead wrong. We build exactly what the bankers said they wanted … and then they don’t use it.
Seth Godin had a recent post on this that actually inspired us to write this one. He talks about the difference between building what people want and building what they really need and will buy. Steve Jobs had a similar mantra, and we figure it’s worth following the advice of those two guys. If a feature has real value, clients will use it. And when they don’t? Rip it out and start over.
We recently did this with some functionality that had been in our tools since the early days. Bankers told us they wanted (no NEEDED) the ability to add tasks to pricing opportunities, and to be able to track things like referrals and social relationships. So we added it, and it actually was a big hit in product demos with prospects.
But our current clients almost never used it, a fact we all knew but essentially ignored. Finally, Eli Weinstock-Herman (our VP of Software Engineering) decided that the screen “real estate” and brain space for our users was too valuable. So he wrote an internal blog post that laid out the cold hard truth with some ugly usage stats. Once you see that a feature has been in place for 3+ years and through millions of accounts, and has been used less than 200 times, the decision becomes pretty clear. So we took it down, explaining our decision in a post in our support center.
We always strive to build what bankers want, but as we have found, that’s not always as straightforward as it seems. So, if there is functionality that you need or want, please ask! But also be aware that we follow our process, not to be slow or bureaucratic, but because the user experience is the MOST IMPORTANT thing to us, and we want to defend it at all costs.