Validating product decisions: tips from 8 experts

As product managers, we understand the significance of validating an idea before committing to the build. However, often validation is easier said than done. 

Ideas come from every which way because everyone involved with your product, internal teams to users, have opinions (which is a wonderful thing). Because without these ideas and requests, a product quickly becomes stale, lacks innovation, and can ultimately fail.

Whomever the idea comes from, whether it’s the CEO or an end-user, you must validate the idea. Validation helps us determine which features will significantly impact our users and push our product further toward success. Basing product decisions on the immediately available information (like the opinions of your team) is dangerous, but validation can help.

How to validate product ideas

It’s not enough to sit down and ask your friends and colleagues over a cup of coffee what they think you should build next, or what they think of potential new features. You need multiple inputs to validate potential product improvements. Though there are many ways to validate product decisions, we chatted with some experts to see how they tackle this matter at their organization.

Mykola Tymkiv, COO of Mac Keeper, summarizes feature validation into three main components:

  • Capability. What is your development team capable of implementing within a set time frame? This constantly changes as you strive to create these features, but understanding what’s realistic is a first step as well as an ongoing one.
  • Utility. Many companies have added new features to have an update, features for features’ sake. Often your best bet is to decide how to pitch the feature and whom to pitch it to. This has a hidden advantage of potentially creating new user groups and customer personas.
  • Usability. With those new customer personas in mind, reach out and survey or demo to test the new features. How do they use them? How often? For what purpose? When you see users begin to avail themselves of these features on their own, you have a successful validation.

Understanding your team and resources, getting to the root problem or problems your users are facing, and finally understanding the extent to which folks are using your features. This article will draw on the above points as well as other learnings I gained through these conversations and leave you with some actionable points for validating product decisions. 

Prioritize feature requests based on their frequency

A quick look at how often a specific request is made can tell you a lot about its potential impact on your user base as a whole. Establishing a fully functioning product feedback machine allows your users to easily submit requests, which by nature, will help establish an ever-expanding repository of user feedback. Over time, you’ll be able to identify which requests are one-offs and which repeatedly come up. 

“If a feature is necessary, we’ll have quite a few people asking for it or talking about it,” explains Petra Odak, CMO at Better Proposals. “We want to launch new features based on the actual needs of our users instead of just coming up with features which are nice to have.”

Whether you’re collecting this information from a central source of user feedback or customer-facing teams, it’s essential to prioritize to ensure you’re delivering value to your user base as a whole, as opposed to acting on one-off requests unique to a single account or user.

Test potential features with a landing page MVP

You might be thinking, “I’m a product professional; if I’m building a new feature, then obviously it’s something our users need,” but have you checked with them? What have you done to gauge their interest and understand whether they will actually use what you’re building?

Tom Winter, CRO at Eye One, addresses the idea of creating minimum viable products as a way to test and validate product ideas with users. The team creates a landing page as a basic prototype of the feature they’re building to gauge interest. “We create a landing page for the proposed feature where we can monitor the level of engagement from other businesses,” Tom explains. “This will showcase the proposition’s benefits through text and various pieces of media.”

As a way to double down on their findings, after the landing page test, the team at Eye One compares engagement metrics to previous features they’ve released. “For instance, we look at the number of businesses that have signed up to the waitlist to assess the potential of the new feature’s future performance,” says Tom.  

Getting real-time feedback in a semi-complete environment is a sure way to understand if the features you’re building are hitting the mark or coming up short. 

Leverage a group of super users

Your users are your best source of information when it comes to determining which features to build. Their ability to indicate the importance and effectiveness of a new feature is unmatched. They’re happy to share their opinion most of the time, so why not leverage a place to gather new product improvement ideas.

While there are many ways to do this, Gene Caballero and the team at GreenPal emphasize social listening. They created an All-Stars Facebook page where GreenPal vendors share best practices, ask for advice, sell or buy equipment, vent frustrations, and (maybe most importantly) let the team know what features to build and the extensive details surrounding those features.

But the engagement goes even further, “We have daily questions asked to us about how things work, why some things are done the way they are, and even what others recommend in certain situations,” Gene, Co-Founder at GreenPal explains. As a bonus, the team estimates that 90% of support requests surfaced are answered on the All-Stars Facebook page, saving GreenPal a tremendous amount of resources and allowing them to focus on building new features.

Don’t underestimate the power of a well-executed survey

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again, never underestimate what a user survey can do for you. What better way to ensure your new features and products will be helpful to your user base than asking them straight up?

Like many of us, Daivat Dholakia, Director of Operations, and the rest of the organization at Force by Mojio receive many new features and product improvement requests. Before they build or release a product or any new features, the team ensures that they will be helpful to their user base. “We have a small user group that we consult about additions to our software,” says Daivat. 

​”To identify the usefulness of new features, we give our user group surveys,” Daivat explains. “We identify potential new features and ask them to rank how much it would improve our software on a scale of 1-5.”

Customer surveys are a highly effective method for gathering feedback to enhance your product. A survey can be just the thing to open the line of communication with your users to provide the insights your team requires to build a successful product roadmap. When following customer survey best practices, your surveys will be constructive and effective.

Beta test with a small group of users

Starting with a small group to beta a new feature before a broader rollout is how the team at Pixoul validates their product decisions. As a human-centric web design firm, leaning on their users for input is paramount. 

The relationship is already there — you have a deep understanding of your users’ business needs, so rather than assuming to know the inner workings of your target market’s businesses, leverage the information you have right in front of you. 

“Not only will [our users] trust us based on our past performance, but we have a much better understanding of their business’s goals and needs,” says Devon Fata, CEO of Pixoul. “If a feature works well for established clients, we’ll start offering it to other clients and new customers as well. If it doesn’t, we’ll generally take that feedback, make some changes, and pilot it again.”

Beta testing requires building a community of users, finding the ideal beta users, and finally motivating those users to provide regular feedback, but the payout far exceeds the initial effort.

Don’t stop getting feedback once you’ve launched

For businesses like Autonix, following up on recently launched features and product improvements is paramount to validating product decisions. Sure, the work you do to ideate, test, and launch new features are essential, but if you’re not following up and following through post-launch, your product could still be missing the mark.

“For customer-driven features, we work closely with the demanding customer to address their needs while maintaining the ethos of our software. This ensures at least one customer is satisfied,” says Scott Teger, Founder of Autonix.

“Once the feature is launched,” Scott explains, “we announce its availability to the rest of the customers through email and encourage feedback. Typically we may tweak a new feature one or two times, so it fits most use cases.”

Just because you’ve launched your new feature doesn’t mean the work is done. Often it takes a few iterations to deliver the most value for your users, and by getting their feedback post-launch, you can do that quite easily. 

Monitor adoption and usage metrics

Jered Martin, Co-Founder at OnePitch finds value in analytics for tracking the performance of recently-launched functionality. “Custom tracking within the user profile helps us understand user interactions, time on page, and goals achieved,” explains Jered. “This informs us how users interact with new and existing features and what additional edits, changes, or improvements can be made.”

Concrete data is a sure way to validate if your features and functionality fit the product or if they come up short. Whether it’s an in-house tool for tracking or if you’re using Google Analytics, monitoring your users drives more insights that help inform product decisions and assist with roadmap prioritization.

The bottom line…

Validation should be a priority at every point of the product development lifecycle — from ideating new features to solution validation, to checking in post-launch. If you’re diligent about the process and keep a keen focus on listening to your users, they’ll lead you straight to the cornucopia — telling you everything you need to create a successful product.