“If you build it, they will come.”
— Kevin Costner, Field of dream 1989
About three years ago we decided to open source part of our product and base it on Python. We felt that as part of this move, we should create a strong user community.
Within the product team, we saw this as an opportunity to get closer to our users and create an open dialog with them, and thus, Quali’s Idea Box was born.
“What’s an Idea Box?” you might ask. Excellent question! It’s what others may call Suggestion Box/ Voice of the User/ Product Feedback, etc. Essentially, it’s the place where a community of users can suggest, vote on, and discuss features and improvements for a product.
Any idea relating to the product is welcomed, however (as we have learned the hard way), it’s important to set the right expectations and provide clear guidelines on the process.
If done correctly, it’s a wellspring of great ideas for your product and a direct line to your user; all you have to do is listen. However, If done incorrectly it can have zero impact and engagement from your users or worse, it can have a negative effect as well as create wrong expectations (at some point in time I’ve heard the phrase “ideabox- where ideas go to die”…).
As of today, more than 680 ideas were suggested. 354 of them we decided to accept and 90 (25%!) were added to the product in various product releases.
We are still working on positioning the idea box as the central tool for gathering ideas and request from our customers as well as increasing our entire users’ community engagement within it.
I’ve gathered below the needed ingredients to get you started on building an Idea Box based on our journey and the (many) mistakes we’ve made along the way.
4 Fundamentals of Building an Idea Box for Product Growth
Team Commitment To The Process
The first thing to ask yourself is whether you can commit to providing the attention and bandwidth required to manage such a process. It means regularly monitoring every idea and be responsive (yes, even if you are not planning to add it). Your users took the time to write down the request. No matter how impossible the request is, that feature is important to that user. So, you should take the time to respond to the request.
At Quali we take turns to handle the Idea Box and make sure its heart keeps beating steadily. Every week a different product manager is responsible for addressing every idea suggested by the community.
Turn Ideas Into Features
Allocate time and bandwidth to turning user-based ideas into features. Not every idea will go into the product, but, if none do, then your users will stop asking for them.
A Good Communication Process
As new ideas are submitted, make sure to update the request regarding the lifecycle of ideas. If you started working on an idea, make sure to let everyone in the community know. If no one knows you fostered their idea and actually made it into a new feature/capability in your product, it’s as if never did.
Each week, we make it a point to mark new ideas as either “active” if they align with our roadmap, or “not planned” if they don’t.
When updating the community about the fostered idea, it’s best practice to include an update on the design concept. We usually reach out to the users who have suggested, liked, or commented on the idea with the suggested design to get their feedback and include them in the process.
Usually, if you start a conversation with your users, they will give you their solutions to the problem they’re facing, it’s our job as product managers to understand their underlining challenges. This can only be done by having a conversation and asking the right questions.
A Good Management Platform
You need a place where your users can post their ideas, and you can track, manage, and, more importantly, get all the required information from it.
It can be a social network platform (more convenient for B2C products), forums, or a dedicated tool (UserVoice, Aha, etc.).
The platform we are using is far from being perfect. To list just a couple of issues we deal with:
- Getting analytics from it is a pain (and user data is like gold for product managers), so we are basically forced to use python scripting that we developed to retrieve analytics from the platform via API.
- It doesn’t play well with other tools we use to manage our backlog and roadmap. This complicates the process of tracking and updating ideas and causes some duplication of work.
However, it does provide us with some great benefits such as:
- It gives us a convenient interface that connects to our community via SSO (that we integrated).
- It allows creating ideas with ease, commenting, tagging, voting and searching.
The above covers the basics; If you want to get started I encourage you to check out our Idea Box and read the guidelines we created. They describe the process more in-depth and are based on more than three years of experience with hundreds of ideas submitted and dozens of ideas implemented.