Writing by Peter Hilton

Product feature trackers

Product operations’ missing tooling 2023-11-21 #product

Monjur Hasan

  1. Feature lifecycle
  2. Feature release
  3. Feature rollout
  4. Feature trackers ←
  5. Feature analytics
  6. Feature as construct

A sufficiently well-organised product manager might like to manage the full feature lifecycle, so they could answer feature-level questions.

  1. Which features in development require documentation to enable customer support?
  2. Which upcoming features deserve external marketing announcements?
  3. Which feature designs can the compliance team review in an impact assessment?
  4. Which customers will get early access which new features, via which feature toggles?
  5. Which features did we release last week, or last December?

Existing tools either don’t help product managers answer these questions, or only answer one each, without any reasonable possibility of comprehensive feature lifecycle management. A unified product feature tracker could change that.

Feature portfolio and lifecycle

The first problem for a unified feature tracker to solve spans the whole feature lifecycle: understanding which features the product even has. As a product manager, you need to know whether each feature has progressed from designed, built and released to adopted, matured and (ultimately) decommissioned.

Feature status enables cross-team workflows, such as notifying:

In the same way, the simplest business process support starts with some kind of inbox, and evolves to making basic workflows visible. Product operations deserve business process support too, and for more feature metadata than lifecycle status.

Release checklist templates

With lifecycle statuses come the milestones that change them, such as feature release. Each milestone deserves a checklist, because product managers have too many tasks to remember, for too many people, and for too many features. While product managers rightly focus on customer needs and product development opportunities, downstream features often get lost.

Even for a minor feature or bug fix release, a product manager can publish a better on-time internal announcement when a checklist reminds them to prepare the release date, feature/fix name, descriptive text (including who benefits), and a screenshot. Having these ready even one day in advance of the release makes product management work less chaotic.

Product operations tooling can do more than provide workflow status visibility. It can provide process guidance, which assists less experienced product managers, and promotes consistency within larger teams of product managers.

Release notes aggregation

While feature release planning requires preparation, feature rollout publishes information, both internally and to customers. Product teams typically struggle to publish regular and consistent release notes, or spend a lot of time getting it right. It doesn’t surprise me that teams release half-hearted badly-written release notes, or don’t bother at all.

But most of the work to prepare release notes lies in identifying, naming and describing features, and keeping track of their releases. A feature tracker that captures release dates could generate daily, weekly and monthly release note digests dynamically. Teams could get more value from structured feature tracking, than from writing release notes by hand.

The obsessively organised product manager

The fatal flow in the idea of a product feature tracker lies in its ideal customer profile: an obsessively organised product manager who would actually track features in practice. Even if this kind of product manager does exist, they make up a small market for this kind of product.

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