Development, Thought Leaders

How to Define a Product Scope

December 17, 2019

by Guillermo Vidal

Content Creator, Bixlabs

At Bixlabs, we follow a 3-step process to define the product scope of every project we work on. It's one of the best methods to manage resources efficiently and to ensure you're making critical design and development decisions based on concrete, validated evidence. 

Oftentimes, companies fail to create successful products not because their idea is bad but because they don't invest the necessary time to define their product scope.

They end up building products based on gut feelings instead of data and user research. These products probably boast an overwhelming number of features users don't need or understand. In short, time and money are wasted.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Building a product that users care about requires a plan, a methodology, and a process. When you work on a complex, costly project such as the development of an app, establishing a product scope is crucial.

Essentially, product scope is the sum of all the features and characteristics of a product or service. How it will look, how it will work, and what it will offer to users.

3 Steps to Define a Product Scope

  1. Lay the foundations of your product 
  2. Define and prioritize product features 
  3. Define the minimum viable product (MVP)

Step 1: Lay the Foundations of Your Product

Before you start defining the functionalities of your app, you need to gather the information that will lay the foundation for your digital product.

Understand Your Users

The first big thing you need to do is to identify who your users are and what they need. 

A fundamental part of creating a successful product is to realize that you are not the user of your product. To solve your users' problems, you have to step up from yourself and try to understand how they feel, what are their goals, and how they behave.

One great tool to do that is to create user personas. Personas are fictional characters you create to represent the different types of users that will use your product or service. It’s an excellent resource to understand your customers' needs and expectations. 

Think about your audience's personal info, professional info, goals and challenges, location, negative info, and values and fears.

Source

What's more, user personas are useful throughout the entire product development process: from deciding which features to include in a prototype, to evaluating the end product.

To create a persona, you will need to gather information about your users. One of the best ways to do so is to run user interviews.

Identify Your Product's Value Proposition

A value proposition is your product's promise to customers. You can think of it as your company's elevator pitch.

It is a clear statement that:

  1. Explains how your product solves users' problems and how it satisfies their needs.
  2. Defines the specific benefits it delivers.
  3. Tells the customers why they should buy from you and not from the competition.

Establishing your product's value proposition at the early stages will help you guide critical design and development decisions, such as feature prioritization and product roadmap.

One example of a company that offers an excellent value proposition is Uber. 

Uber conveys the simplicity and the benefits of the service, and explains why Uber is better than other transportation options:

It conveys the simplicity and the benefits of the service, and explains why Uber is better than other transportation options:

  • One tap and a car comes directly to you
  • Your driver knows exactly where to go
  • Payment is completely cashless

This tells users upfront what type of experience they’ll get if they choose them. 

Step 2: Define and Prioritize Features

Now it's time to define and prioritize the features for your product. Consider your user personas and your product's value proposition. 

Identify Key Functionalities

Recognizing what features your product should have is, essentially, defining what problems will your product solve and what benefits will it bring to users.

One great way to identify key features is through brainstorming sessions. In his book Solving Product Design Exercises, Artiom Dashinsky describes an excellent framework for brainstorming product features called the 5W1H method.

This technique helps teams to make critical design and development decisions and answer six fundamental questions about the product:

  • WHO will be the user?
  • WHAT is the feature?
  • WHERE will this feature be used? 
  • WHEN will it be used?
  • WHY do we need this feature?
  • HOW will this feature be used?

Listing product features of the product will help you determine which should be prioritized. 

Prioritizing Features Based on Need

A product shouldn't try to solve all the user's problems. That's why you must prioritize your product's features to offer maximum value,

The core idea is to focus only on those features that serve the mission of satisfying the users' needs; functionalities your product must have to fulfill its fundamental purpose.

The features that don't suit that goal should be cut, not necessarily forever but at least from the first version of your product.

It's better to have an app with a few polished, functional features than an overly complicated product that does things that nobody asked for.

However, with so many stakeholders involved in one product release, it can be challenging to know where you should begin. 

One of the most effective ways to prioritize features is using a lean prioritization matrix

Categorize your priorities in terms of value and effort they would require.

In this matrix, think about the features you brainstormed and then categorize them based on the value they’ll add to the product and amount of effort they will require. 

Quick wins are features that are high value, low effort. 

Big bets are features that are high value, high effort. 

Maybes are low value, low effort. 

Time sinks are low value, high effort, and should be cut for good. 

This tool allows you to compare features considering the impact they will have on the user's experience or your business, and the efforts they'll require for your team.

Step 3: Define the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

After you lay the foundations for your product, understand the needs your product will address, brainstorm the product’s features, and prioritize them based on value and effort, you’re ready to define a minimum viable product (MVP) and all the functionalities that it will include.

An MVP is a product with enough features to attract early-adopter customers and validate a product idea early in the development cycle. It also helps the teams receive user feedback to iterate and improve the product.

The features you don't include in the MVP, for example, those you categorized as big bets or maybes in the lean prioritization matrix, will be added in the further versions of the product. That's why you also want to create a product roadmap for your app.

A product roadmap is a long-term development plan that gives all stakeholders the information they need to coordinate development tasks. It's a clear way to represent the evolution of a product throughout its different versions.

This tool can be critical to the success of a business since it provides predictability to the development process and allows teams to allocate resources and coordinate efforts.

Defining a Product’s Scope Requires Critical Thinking and Multiple Iterations

Defining a product scope is setting clear rules on how to face the development of your app to meet users' needs.

Establishing the right scope from the beginning is critical to ensure that your product is going in the right direction to fulfill your business goals and your users' expectations.

It's also a necessary step if you want to keep a straightforward process with an efficient cost and time management.

At Bixlabs, we help top-tier startups build successful digital products for mobile and web. We work with an integrated, resource-efficient process that ranges from validating hypothesis, all the way through launching.  

If you're looking for an experienced team to build your app, give us a call.

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