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The Intrinsic Value of Features

Updated: Feb 9, 2020

As we scale Agile from single Agile Teams to leveraging a Team of Agile Teams new challenges emerge, especially regarding our desire to “make decisions based on what is known at the time”. The use of features alleviates this challenge and increases our confidence that we are working on the right thing at the right time. In this article I will provide the “what” of features, feature backlogs and feature roadmaps and provide insight into the intrinsic value they provide.

Let’s Use an Example

This topic is best conveyed in context of a specific example which ties all the concepts together.

Let’s imagine we are at a prominent software company and have just been informed of a new initiative, codenamed “Child Tracker”. This initiative is about rapidly bringing a new product line to market, using an Agile approach and a Team of Agile Development Teams.

With that context, our first question may be “What are the compelling benefits and features of this product line?”

What are Features?

A feature is a type of requirement, detailing a specific business or operational need, that if implement and released, it will individually provide a compelling increment of benefit. It is fact about what your product or service has.

Individual features are typically the target of a single release (a specific configuration of a product; an incremental solution targeted for our production environment).

A benefit is something of value or usefulness, that explains why the features are relevant.

The picture above helps to delineate Features from the Benefits they may provide. Compelling benefits are those that provide a “minimum lovable product”, strongly enticing desire and envy from our market and intended users.

Now, let’s leave our umbrellas behind and return to our example product. Let’s assume our Child Tracker product will be sold online and at stores such as BestBuy and ComputerWorld. As part of our marketing strategy, we are going retro, showcasing the product in a commercial software box.

As inferred from the front cover, the over-riding compelling benefit is “peace of mind” for parents and guardians who are entrusted with a child’s well-being. This will be provided from several features that provide benefits of increased safety and awareness.

The identification of great features, such as those on the back of the box, starts with a few key attributes and is elaborated upon as it rises in priority in the feature backlog, approaching the transition to development activities.

  • A well stated short descriptive name and narrative description.

  • A benefit hypothesis detailing the proposed measurable benefit to the end-user or organization.

  • Acceptance criteria which will be used to determine whether the implementation is correct and delivers the intended benefit.

  • Features, as they reflect requirements, should be focused on “what” is desired rather than “how” it may be implemented. They should be communicated in the language of our business and not be cloaked in technical implementation details.

  • As our we want to quickly provide incremental benefits to our stakeholders and end-users, individual features should be sized as small as practical while retaining the goal of a delivering a compelling benefit.

What is a Feature Backlog?

The feature backlog contains all the features, cutting across all initiatives; providing a single view of our prioritized list of features supporting the initiative.

  • Indeed, it contains all the features. If a feature is in there, it might get done. If it isn’t, there is no chance that it will get done.

  • It is continually reprioritized.

  • It’s simply a prioritized list of “features we want to do”, not a commitment.

What is a Feature Roadmap?

The feature roadmap provides a schedule of activities and milestones that communicate planned feature progress from submitted to delivered, over our planning horizons.

  • It provides a rolling wave view of prioritized features for a set of limited planning horizons, with near term confidence.

  • The feature roadmap is designed to be of value to all audiences, from the Senior Leadership and Executive Stakeholders to the individual members of an Agile Development Team.

  • From a planning and forecasting perspective, features placed in the next immediate quarter will be of high confidence, the second quarter medium confidence and the third quarter out will simply provide marquee (coming attractions) only. Shown below is an example from our Child Tracker product line.

  • This high-level roadmap is typically enriched with a drill-down capability to provide visibility to the detailed progress of each feature across several workflow states.

  • Every quarter we will meet to ensure alignment and increase our confidence in the feature roadmap, covering our previous quarter and the three future quarters of work.

Why Use Features?

The combination of a single feature backlog and a feature roadmap provides significant value to the overall enterprise and the Team of Agile Teams.

  • Features provide a bridge between our broad ongoing initiatives and the low-level requirements (stories) used to plan and drive the daily work of our Agile Development Teams.

  • Features provide increased insight and alignment into when we will deliver benefits through the use of a feature roadmap.

  • Increased, early engagement, awareness and collaboration from Business Owners and Stakeholders.

  • Early identification of cross-cutting concerns, dependencies and risks.

  • Early identification of similar needs, to reduce the probability of redundant development efforts and to spur the opportunity for “build one, use by many”, reducing development efforts in individual Agile Teams.

  • Allow for communication of best practices, improvements and lessons learned across the enterprise.

  • Enable leadership and stakeholders to make decisions quickly, early in the process, without having to wait for the discovery of all the supporting lower level requirements.

  • Support continual dialogues ensuring we are focusing on the “right items” at the “right time”.

  • Allow us to make it easier to collaborate, manage dependencies and coordinate our implementation efforts.

  • Some features may take significant time to develop, longer than a few sprints, and a longer planning horizon is needed for alignment and coordination.

  • Provides our leadership, stakeholders and users the understanding of how our Feature-driven solutions will evolve and how they will participate in achieving the vision by aligning supporting activities to the timeline of the delivery.

  • Strengthens the relationship between all the Stakeholders by providing them with a means to understand, collaboratively shape, and plan for future solutions.

Call to Action

So, the call to action is to leverage the concept of features to help drive, communicate and align your plans and desired outcomes across of Team of Agile Teams supporting numerous Business Owners and Stakeholders.

In later blogs, I will provide more insight into the opportunity to relatively size and prioritize features to aid in planning and forecasting, without having the entire backlog of supporting stories.

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