Article in Product Development and Strategy category.

How to Turn an App Idea Into a Product: Creating a Feature Set

The feature set helps you kick off your ideas for your final product; it’s one of the first steps to bringing your app idea to…

App development is a process that requires constant modification and evolution. Sometimes, your original product idea may transform into a solution for a different problem— and it is especially malleable during the different stages of planning.

Here at Fueled, we welcome difficult conversations where products are dissected, broken down, and molded into better versions of themselves. We know whether an app idea will succeed, how much money an app can earn, and what can become the next mobile tech trend. If you’re a developer or a company that needs further accountability on a possible mobile app idea, we’re your go-to people.

Nathan Jones is one of our brilliant product managers who loves solving puzzles and discovering efficient solutions. But when he’s not interacting with clients or polishing up products, he’s sharing his two cents on what is crucial to creating the right app.  

One of the most important components of a successful app is a feature set. The feature set helps you kick off your ideas for your final product; it’s the first step to creating a solid skeleton for the app body.

FEATURE SET: WHAT IT IS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

By definition, a feature set is a high-level description of the functionalities that you want to include in an app. It is an amount of information that proves or suggests that certain features are necessary to solve a problem that the user has.

For example, if someone needed a way to check the weather on their phone, the obvious solution would be to develop a weather app. In order for this app to solve the user’s problem, it would absolutely have to include the ability to view the daily forecast, as well as information on temperature, humidity, precipitation levels, and incoming storms. Integrating GPS would also make sense, as the user would usually want to check the weather in their current location.  

A feature set should not be a mere list of features that you think are cool or relevant, and they especially should not be added in without a specific agenda in mind. You need a hypothesis around the feature set that will give real value to the market that you’re targeting.

“Do we need this feature to solve a problem? Is it going to provide value to the user? Would it be better to push the feature off for later and do more research surrounding the topic?"

THE REALITIES OF BUILDING A PRODUCT

feature set

The number one goal is to build a product that clients can use. Your idea doesn’t need to be revolutionary or provide huge value to your audience.

It is not a top priority for you to be creative— the constraints of software, hardware, and the affordances are comparable to the user and their hands. Their interactions on the phone are constraints that allow you to be creative in the first place.

“It’s the knowledge base that you drive your decisions from, and the more experience you have with them, the more you use those bounds."

There’s a distinct difference between having to write an essay and having to write an essay about a given topic. You generally need one idea to spark other ideas, and sometimes you need boundaries for creativity. For now, we suggest that you consider the latter.

There are plenty of ideas in the world where the best solution is a google form, website, or a newsletter. Product Hunt began as a newsletter in 2013 where a closely knit community shared upcoming products. When the founder realized the potential, he created a more practical blueprint and built Product Hunt into what we know today.

Keep in mind that you have to scale hundreds, thousands, even millions of people; your product needs to speak to them on a personal level. If someone is already committed to one app, they’re not going to use another app that displays identical features.

Ultimately, it’s about modifying people’s lives in a way where they’ll feel more inclined to use your product instead of your competitor’s. You have to successfully build a product that makes users want to stay.

PRIORITIES TO CONSIDER

informational architecture set

Information architecture helps create a better experience. It requires you to build and deliver your information in a way where the user feels that their problem is solved— your product has given them the perfect amount of content that they need. IA takes first priority when building a good feature set, as it is more useful in growing inspiration for developers and designers. It will weed out superfluous bits of knowledge that can’t be beneficial to the user, but preserve the necessary details that will be.

“Ask yourself: What is the user actually going to be able to see? What are they going to be able to do?"

The skeleton should be written from the perspective of how the feature set is going to impact the user, as well as many other technical elements. The developers’ responsibility is to figure out if part of the value proposition is the technology that it’s using.

If a hypothetical feature set involved blockchain, it would be useful to include it in a feature set, as it is a part of the value proposition for the user. If it’s just a miscellaneous feature that happens to be on the mobile and web platform, then the technology is not as crucial— or the user simply doesn’t care enough for it to be worthwhile.

PRACTICAL STEPS FOR A NEW FEATURE SET

First, think about the problem you’re trying to solve and build everything from there. That requires you to work backward from a mindset that tends to focus more on the reason you want to build the app for.

Pulling your attention away from the reason and more towards the issue allows you to stretch out the complete picture. A young feature set that begins by addressing the problem will adequately display all the necessary pieces that fit together, as well as the levels of complexity that make up its DNA.

THE SLOW AND STEADY PROCESS

DEALING WITH NEGATIVE PUSHBACK

build feature set

If there is collaboration involved with other departments, negative pushback is inevitable. When it comes to communicating information to app development companies like ours, it’s important to remember that the goal is to solve a problem and build a long-lasting business.

Not all app ideas will get far into the actual process, even if there is a lot of passion and enthusiasm that tries to support its growth. At the same time, there can be a number of valid reasons that led you to arrive at any one feature. So how do we get to a place that’s good for everyone?

It doesn’t hurt to step back, trim off excess, and revise an idea the same way you would when you’re writing an essay or shooting a ton of film. There will always be content that must be cut off or revisited, especially if you want to chisel your skeleton into the best product possible.

At the end of the day, you should always be thinking about how you can benefit the user rather than how you will achieve a certain goal for their idea: user needs come first, and your personal goals second.

If you’re a few steps ahead and already have a business model, it’s definitely something you want to keep in mind for a larger roadmap. But if you’re holding onto plans that have not been tested or validated, there’s plenty of room to improve.

FEATURE SET WITH UX/UI

It’s wiser to develop a feature set without UX or UI in mind unless the interaction is a core part of the value proposition. Tinder is one fine example of an app that needs UX/UI elements incorporated into its feature set; its swiping mechanism is the main feature that people will use. But if your skeleton mostly consists of inputting information and receiving something back, then investing more on the functionality is the way to go.

MOBILE LIMITATIONS

As technologically advanced as we are now, there are mobile limitations that slow down our progress.

Let’s say you want to send messages wirelessly. Your phone can send data without internet connection, but you ambitiously want to include photos and additional attachments. There’s limited functionality for that, so when someone claims that two iPhones can talk to each other without LTE or Wifi, you have to recognize that there are still unspoken limitations.

“Ideas usually aren’t limited by hardware or software—but we have to figure out the cost and the proper way to build a plan."

EXPERIMENTATION FOR YOUR FEATURE SET

QUESTIONS TO ASK FOR YOUR MVP

The MVP will allow you to take a hard look at the questions that are directly responsible for your product skeleton. Does your product improve the user’s life? Does it save them time and money? Will the user be willing to give up something else to use yours instead?

Because you might not have had the chance to test out your product, all these questions exist as basic assumptions. During the experimentation process, make sure to include simpler methods to test out your hypothesis while excluding the details that don’t.

“It’s about testing your hypothesis quickly and efficiently— with the least amount of money."

HYPOTHESIS TESTING

Begin your testing by interviewing users and identifying the problems they’d like to see solved. Ask your questions in a way where your words pertain to the product, and see whether your idea can solve any real problem that people may have.

Once you figure out early wireframes or prototypes, return to the same users (or different ones! It’s a case-by-case basis) and observe how they respond to your blueprint. Determine whether they have a mental model of the product and if they know how it can provide value to them. Weigh their response against your own mental model and compare: how closely do they resemble each other?

You can also begin to look deeper into the UI and conduct UX testing. You need to see if your app is constructed in a way where users can easily figure out its purpose. Once you have somewhat of a live product, you can layer on the analytics or behaviors you want to see directly into the app.

Features like heat maps, events, and funnels are all objective— depend on them. Everything up to this point was subjective but now is the time to switch gears. This is the first objective piece of data that you’ll be receiving, and you’ll have to know whether people are using a certain product or not.

“You hear an idea, whittle it down to the problem you’re trying to solve, determine who has that problem, then conduct user interviews."

user testing

USERS

The goal is to monitor responses and see why users are not turning to your app. In order to do that effectively, you might have to go back to interviews or surveys more than once.

If you need to collect random, unbiased feedback, use resources like Craigslist and User Testing. Our digital age offers you the opportunity to discover all types of people as long as you know where to look.

Before you go out to reel in potential users, you need to know how to phrase your questions so the responses are not too influenced. Carefully structure impartial questions to acquire the answers that will end up helping your product.

After you develop a prototype, observe users and how their usage aligns with your personal goals for current functionality. You make note of their feedback, modify the prototype into a product more applicable, and repeat the process until you’re ready to move onto the next step of app development.

CONCLUSION

Because there is both a harsh reality and an exciting potential that goes into building onto any type of solution, we strive to share our expertise wherever we can. Sketching out the essentials of a feature set is a healthy precursor to the slow and steady process that we unveiled, along with the eventual hypothesis testing with a set user base.

You battle through unreachable expectations, maneuver your features around limitations, and make countless revisions to your app skeleton so that it can someday solve a problem that is prevalent in our everyday living.

In the end, you’ve finally established a feature set that has persevered trial after trial, change after change— and as you continue developing a solution for your target user base, you will appreciate all the time and effort you put into increasing the stability and flexibility of your feature set.

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