Iceberg

Hidden Features in Product Builds

Once we get past POC and MVP, we need to start thinking about the entirety of the product we’re building. Here are four features that our clients commonly overlook, but, like the parts of an iceberg supporting the surface, are needed to support the whole.

Search

We all use Google, Bing, or (God forbid) Yahoo! every day to search for what we need. Most clients want their search to behave as well as those other search products do. The truth is, search is a big, deep, and complex topic, and it’s frequently a hidden feature. Search doesn’t come fully formed out of the box. Yes, we have some tricks up our sleeves (Solr, we love you!), and some code that can decrease the time to functional searching, but it’s not something that comes free. It’s a great example of a hidden feature that, if done well, is ignored as table stakes, and, if done poorly, causes user irritation and site abandonment. So don’t ignore search! Treat it like you would any other feature, invest the time needed to flesh out requirements, and be aware that good search takes good developer talent to build right.

Form Validation

Email sign ups. Account validation. User preferences. When forms work well, we ignore them. When they don’t work, we get frustrated and abandon the flow. The most unloved part of the form? Validation states. What happens when a user doesn’t enter a zip code? What happens when a user does not accept the terms and conditions? What is the visual style? How does a user know what to fill out and what not to fill out? Is the user told about their mistake when they click “submit,” or does the form include validation when the user changes each individual field? And how do all these rules apply to mobile? Like search, pay attention to your forms. Your form is there for a reason. You need a form for users to sign up, to authenticate, to purchase a product. If you need a form for a crucial business reason — and chances are you do — then don’t ignore the validation states, because without them the form is useless, frustrating, and a permanent roadblock to user engagement.

Admin Experience

Oh, the backend. How we love to hate you. Chances are, you’re a legacy, a left over, a cobwebbed corner of the house. You suck time from staff, you create inefficiencies, you are the reason the business suffers.

When building a new site, a new workflow, a new product, don’t forget about the admin experience. Admin workflows are generally the last part of a product to get a facelift, so be aware that whatever you build now will be with you for a long, long time. Think about things like the preview state, data dependencies, admin navigation, and roles and permissions. Consider giving your admin experience some UX love. Remember that your staff is the human face of your digital product, and the less friction they have when using the backend, the happier, more efficient, and ultimately more productive your product will be. And please consider adding some iteration time to help your admin experience. Chances are your business will change over time and your admin workflows will change with it, so build in some time to allow your admin experience to grow as your product grows.

Integrations

Non-technologists tend to think that integrations happen magically. What, can’t we just put this part into that part and flip the switch? The reality is that integrations can vary from a 30-minute task to days or weeks of work. The more mature SaaS providers will have great documentation, easy integration points, and clear requirements and dependencies, but don’t count on it. Most often, SaaS integrations require some amount of lift, so plan on it, budget for it, and know that integrations are often a hidden part of the build.

Whole product features are not appropriate for every stage in a product's lifecycle — POC and MVP are very different than full-featured product iteration — but at some point, a mature product needs to be a *whole* product in order to keep those users you fought so hard to acquire... 

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Comments

When I used to build (or scope) software in detail I remember many a time where a customer might say something like "oh, and add a search box".  The simplicity of the Google search box belays how complicated things like search is.  The old adage "simple isn't easy" is very true in all the things you are pointing out.

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About the Author

Victoria Blake, Vice President of Product

 

Victoria is a product manager who developed her product practice in the crucible of startups. Because of this, she understands technology within the context of the whole business organization, from sales to client services to customer support. She specializes in investigating users' core needs, digging into the competitive landscape and business case, and prioritizing features that deliver real value. Victoria is a true believer in Agile. She uses all the tools in a product manager’s toolkit--including A/B testing, continuous improvement, phased and MVP releases, user testing, and data-driven decision making--to build products that solve real needs. She takes pride in good work, believes in the power of teams, is fluent in Nerd, and has a burning desire to get things done. 

When she is not drinking Kombucha from the tap at Metal Toad, she is spending time with her family, attempting to get to the gym, and trying to get to sleep by 10 p.m. after watching an episode of Battlestar Gallactica. 

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