In one of my earlier blogs, I had discussed how important it is to avoid feature overload. A lot of discipline and focused decision making is required when deciding on what to include and what to leave out from the first version of your website.

I often come across situations where business owners or stakeholders get emotionally attached to a particular feature for one reason or the other. However, it is critical to make these decisions as objectively as possible.

The typical CEO and CTO discord: Let’s take an example of a startup that wants to build a site focused on the stock market. They want to be a “one-stop shop for analyst opinions.” While the CTO (or the product manager) is dreaming of a comprehensive portfolio management module being built, the CEO insists on covering as many stocks as possible.

This is a difficult decision indeed! And it needs to be discussed. In any team there are people who will be passionate about certain features or certain ways of doing things. How does one decide? If there is an objective criterion on which a decision can be made, it can make the complete discussion less stressful.

In principle, there should be an objective process that is used to make any decision. One process is to have a five-way filter. Weigh every feature against the following criteria and ensure that you select only those features/modules that pass through all the five layers.

1.    Vision – You need to have a very unambiguous and clear vision statement. How does a particular feature align to the vision of the project? Weigh it against the vision statement. Assume that the vision statement is: “We will provide the widest coverage of analyst opinions for a stock being traded on the NYSE or the NASDAQ.”

Now, portfolio management is an important feature for every investor. However, is that what you want to be? The Best Portfolio Management Company? No! Your differentiator is “widest coverage of analyst opinions.” So focus on that.

2.    Elevator Pitch – One important question that you need to ask yourself is “How will I explain what this site does to someone in less than 25 words.” This is also called the elevator pitch. Once you have answered this question, you need to decide if this new feature is going to add to or strengthen whatever you have defined in these 25 words. In the above example, the elevator pitch is “We provide quality research and analyst opinions for stocks being traded on the NYSE and NASDAQ.”

Based on the vision and the elevator pitch, the CEO would say the decision is quite clear that we need to start covering more stocks. However, the CTO has a valid point as well. Portfolio management will bring in repeat visitors. It is important that people who come to the site get hooked on the site in some way or the other. How do we bring visitors back? So, here’s an impasse.

3.    Market size – You are not building a site that you like. You want to build a site that will add value for its users. Any feature that you want to add in your site should be targeted to a wide majority of your users. What is the percentage of users that will benefit from this feature? If the answer is a very low number, is it still worth it?

Now, let’s try to apply this to the argument that the CEO and CTO are having. How many users will go through the process of registering and create a portfolio? The answer is – a very small percentage of the user base will do it. People avoid registering on sites and will definitely not create a portfolio unless they are sure this is the place where they want to build the portfolio.

4.    Monetization – Which feature can be monetized better? Is there a short-term or long-term monetization strategy for the feature being discussed?

How will you monetize a portfolio module? If people are averse to registering, it would take you a lot of convincing to get them to pay even a cent for the service. On the other hand, if you cover more stocks you will start catering to a wider audience and of course Google will have more to index.  Ad revenue will increase.

5.    Non redundant / simpler alternative – Is this feature already present in the site in some form or the other? Is there an alternative that more users can benefit from and still solve the problem?

OK, people will not register for a portfolio manager. What if we send an email whenever a new opinion is listed for a particular stock? All a user needs to do to register for an alert is to click on the selected stock and enter the email ID. This will also ensure repeat traffic.

This criterion should bring you close to making an objective decision. Now, this is just one feature and after going through this exercise for a few features, the process starts becoming faster and you can easily skim through the complete list of features that you want. This will give you a good start. There may still be a few surprises down the line, but this approach creates a framework that can be used in making all future business design decisions.