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Build or don't build a software feature? (dont.build)
164 points by knadh on March 7, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments

Interesting visual tool and mental framework. Unfortunately, I think this would have "failed" in all the decision processes I have been a part of. Why? Each of the questions is valid, but bad decisions usually stem from incorrectly answering one of these questions.

> How valuable is the feature to the target users, truly?

Take this question for example. Accurately answering it is not always possible. A common mistake is to ask your users or take their word for how valuable they perceive a feature to be. That approach is better than nothing, but can often lead teams astray. This isn't because your users are stupid, it's because your users don't have the perspective that you have in terms of (a) what is possible, and (b) the knock-on effects of the feature on other aspects of the software value proposition.

Note: the above is _not_ true about bugs. If a new feature is actually a bug/issue fix raised by your users, they are usually right.

> What is the time, technical effort, and cost to build the feature?

Estimating technical effort is so difficult that it is an entire field in itself. When working on complex systems, you also have to consider the future complexity introduced when building on top of the new feature (linked to the last question).

> but bad decisions usually stem from incorrectly answering one of these questions.

Then change your answers. For me, this kind of method of assigning numbers to aspects of a choice and combining them in some way is there not to be an oracle, but to direct your thoughts or discussions within a group.

For example, if you gut tells you a feature is definitely worth it, but a tool like this says it’s only borderline useful, that shouldn’t make you immediately discard the feature, but make you consider

- whether the list of aspects is complete

- whether you judged the existing ones correctly

- whether your gut was right (e.g. if your gut says its worth it, but you also think its hard to implement and only moderately useful. Clearly, something is wrong or missing there)

When making a group decision, a big advantage is that this moves you from exchanging opinions “I think we should do A; you think we should do B” to more concrete discussion “I think it’s worth a lot and easy to implement; you think its worth something but too hard to support for what it’s worth. Let’s discuss those two separately”.

Items about which there’s strong disagreement even after discussion may even trigger postponement “let’s get a better idea about how hard/useful this is first”

The only way to make an informed decision is by thresholding on some number scale, but as you say, it also is impossible to assign numbers to aspects of a solution.

Good point. It could be interesting to make this into a multiplayer tool. Allow each member of a team to answer the questions and then focus the debate around the questions where there is the most disagreement.

> your users don't have the perspective that you have in terms of (a) what is possible, and (b) the knock-on effects of the feature on other aspects of the software value proposition

"Hey Jack, we've been asking for an edit button for years! It's not that difficult."

> This page requires Javascript to function.

Missed an opportunity to present the “don’t build” reasoning! :-)

I have yet to meet someone in real life who disabled js on the browser

It is, unfortunately, only really an option that’s particularly feasible for technically-inclined people. Which is a shame, because it speeds up the web so much, and makes a great many pages work much better—but it breaks a fair bit too. (Those are the main reasons I started doing it a few years ago, rather than privacy and such, which are secondary reasons at most to me.)

The sad story: it’s the technically-inclined people that have powerful machines despite being capable of making do with weak machines, knowing better how to manage limited computational resources, but it’s the technically-ignorant people that have weak machines and need more powerful machines.

In other news, after thinking of it from time to time for a few years, yesterday I finally disabled all font selection to see what it’s like, so now pages can only choose monospace, sans-serif or serif (I choose my own fonts for those years ago—all this font stuff is in Firefox’s preferences, BTW, no extension required). It’s rather pleasant, so far, a great improvement, with only very minor trouble from icon fonts.

Every single person with JS disabled browses HN

People who disable js don't really need that. So time saved presenting the reasoning

Sounds like a modified/more complex version of the well-known RICE framework.


This is useful as a way of demonstrating "questions to ask yourself". But how do do you decide whether something is 3/10 or 7/10 for any of these? What might be even better is being able to compare options against each other.

As someone often advocating for not building features, after playing with this a little bit I do think some of the constants* behind it's formula are a little off toward the pessimistic/negative outcome.

If a very complex feature is of true high value to 90% of my users, it seems uncontroversially worthwhile: the tool gives me "No, but a close call (48%)"

I'd suggest putting a little more weight on value & user importance and a little less weight on complexity/effort.

Otherwise, GREAT tool. Even just as an aid to get across the idea that some features should not be built, which is often not understood.

*for reference, weights are currently as follows:

# users: 10

effort: -15

user importance: 20

biz complexity: -15

value: 20

risk: -20

This is a cool tool but it should differentiate between "users" and "customers" so that weighting is based on the potential for making paying users happy (or perhaps the word "user" should just be changed.) It also appears that these sliders are equally weighted but I find that these factors are NOT equally weighted based on a particular feature, the lifecycle of the product and the lifecycle of the company.

I was thinking the same, until I saw: How important are the target users to the existing product?

Interesting approach for a decision calculator.

Why is the result always between 5% and 95%?

TL;DR: A minimum score of 1 messes with their formula. OP should consider changing it.

Looking at the page's <script>, I think it's because they set the minimum score to 1 rather than 0.

In addition, for three of the questions, a high score is seen as a negative rather than a positive (e.g. a high score in "development effort" likely means "a lot of effort"), so behind the hood they invert those scores by doing (10 - score).

The problem is then that positive questions have a range from 1 to 10, and negative questions have a range from 0 to 9, and the means you have a minimum score of 3 and a max of 57, rather than 0 and 60.

For a more flowery answer: A developer never deals in absolutes :)

I'm not sure it would be useful to decide if something should be implemented or not (in the sense that you often already know), but it's a great visual tool regardless, and could be used to show users how development decisions are made.

A nice additional feature would be a way to bookmark a set of slider values, so that it can be shared with others.

This is cool!

It's kind of similar to what the RICE/ICE frameworks are trying to help achieve [0].

We built some scoring of impact/effort into our tool Kitemaker [1] and allow teams to prioritize their work by these things. We ended up going with really simple scores like S/M/L since it's super hard to know the difference between a 6 and a 7 (and it probably doesn't really matter anyway).

0: https://medium.com/glidr/how-opportunity-scoring-can-help-pr...

1: https://kitemaker.co

You didn’t ask for this feedback but I’ll give it to you - your homepage is way too generic. “Break silos”, “Focus on what matters”, “Powerful integrations”, etc. There are 1000s of tools offering those features - why is Kitemaker different and worth me looking at?

This is ideal as a teaching tool. Related to another thread (dictator's handbook thread) I used salience models to help make feature decisions, which are a lot like story points poker without the overhead, but the effect is the same. The key challenge is getting honest assessments from people of the questions. Most people when provided a model will ask, "sure, how do I get it to say what I want it to say?" and if it doesn't say that, they won't accept that their desire is thwarted by principle.

Such a useful tool, and I foresee referring to it regularly.

Interesting mental model you made here, I like it! Stuff like this definitely helps get people into system 2 thinking instead of going with intuition and in this case that's probably a good thing.

I thought seeing charts of how the answer would change along with each slider value for a given value range might help as others have mentioned it's not too easy to answer the questions accurately. Could help handle uncertainty since people would then be able to understand the range of answers in between their "best case" and "worst case"

I like the idea, but unfortunately, with the exception of the first slider, they are all subjective and hard to quantify.

What's a technical effort of 6 vs 4? What's a technical debt of 8 vs 6 or 7?

Seems like it's missing a tick box that asks if it's already been promised to a customer. That would automatically override everything and make it say "Yes, build it."

Just a bit of a nitpick (or issue for non native speaker) maybe, the answers are confusing in relationship to the title.

Title: Don't build (or build) that feature

Answer: Yes

I think the way I selected the questions (high impact, low effort) it should tell me to build, but as I read it, the tool tells me either to not build or answers an OR question with yes or no.

"Go" or "Hold on" would be better?

I think "build" / "don't build" would be best.

Love the stuff that ZeroDHA builds (I'm a heavy user of Listmonk[0]). Maybe this is the secret to them shipping so consistently and high impact features!

[0]: https://github.com/knadh/listmonk

Besides the first, all the measures here are relative, so I suppose it is up to the user to calibrate.

Take build cost. Suppose a project would take 2 engineers 4 weeks to build. A large team may call that a "2" but a small team would call it a "8".

Reminds me of https://weekdone.com/ for some reason. It should be a Jira plugin where the team can vote on each of the questions. =)

I like the idea. Some corner-cases yield odd results, however, e.g. 1,10,10,1,1

Great job on this decision making tool. One thing that might be missing - the business viability of the feature. All else being equal you prioritize features that add value to the company that builds them.

I'd guess that was intended to be captured with "how valuable is the feature to target users, truly?" If target users truly find the feature valuable then I guess that means the feature is adding value to the company.

Users don't find ads valuable, but plenty of businesses still wants developers to add ads to the product.

To be fair, the tool doesn't seem to be exclusively for "business software", so that would be a parameter you'd control yourself.

Using decimals instead of going 0-10 so 5 could be the halfway mark (or 1-5 with 3 as halfway) is kind of an example of "don't build that feature".

I wouldn’t show the result in realtime, as it allows fine tuning parameters to get to a result I want, and not one I need.

Maybe it should say "build" or "don't build" instead of yes/no.

The value seems to range from 5% to 95%, is that to leave room for uncertainty?

That's because the sliders only go down to 1, not 0 (if you change the HTML and set the "min" value to 0 you can get to 0% or 100%). I guess it makes sense because none of the answers could possibly be 0 as far as I can see.

Or perhaps as an optimisation he could set the total to 0% or 100% immediately if certain answers are set to 0 - for example, if no user need the feature, it should be 0%, or if the time and cost is 0, it should be 100% (although that's absurd), etc.

Features are a last resort proposition.

this is a survey?

It appears to be a decision calculator.

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