Written by Lukasz Bancerowski
Published August 24, 2016

Wisdom of the crowd in a lean startup

We live in the lean days and that makes it crucial to get feedback on the most important features of new products straight from the users. But what does it mean the most important?

Startup dilemma

At some stage you ask yourself: Am I smart enough to decide what are the best features to create the best product? Do I need them all? How to find the best road map for my product?

The most important thing is your vision. It can change with time but at least at the beginning, you should focus on your vision – what exactly should be in the limelight? The goal should be specific and well described, as a too general one could generate distraction. That could make it harder to decide which feature would fulfill your vision of the product. At this point, you should answer a question: what is unique about your application? What is better than comparing to the competition?

For sure you need to decide which way to go with your roadmap. Sometimes it’s hard to get feedback from existing users – the app isn’t ready yet or some features are really expensive and you are not sure if it’s worth to start implementing. Even if you are expert (or not ) in such domain and you think you can estimate/predict what is the best solution, you should still always listen to the wisdom of the crowds.

At the first, we should focus on the most important goals which fulfil your vision of the product. No more than three, however, if you have only one – that’s the best solution – distraction is really small in such case. Once you describe your vision well then you are ready to…

Finding possibilities

Your vision can be realised in different ways. You can either pay more attention to functionality or to usability, trust me there are many possibilities. What you should try to do is to point out all of them. A traditional brainstorming session is one way of seeking the opinion. The biggest disadvantage of this approach is that one person with a strong personality can dominate such session. It’s better to use 6-3-5 method (or see the movie) which activates people equally. The other technique is impact mapping which is very helpful when defining the roadmap.

Such list is the cornerstone for further process of the estimation of business value and cost. Even if some items can be complicated or look useless, you should put them on the list. Try to start with a general description of the ideas. Next iterations are there to let you go into more details .

When your list of possible features is ready you can…

Choose business categories

or every business category you need to assign weight of this category. Then select the categories you find the most important. The number should be low, so pick only those that are strongly related to your vision of a product. If you have too many categories, it can be very distracting.

Categories should fulfill your vision of the app. I.e. if your vision says: socializing owners of cats – you can have categories like: socializing, fun, simplicity. You should not focus on the categories that are unimportant from your vision’s point of view.

You need to know which category is the most important, and which one is of a lesser significance . You can prioritize them by assigning weight to each category. Use the wisdom of the crowd to choose the weight of each category. These values can be picked by your team. People can vote on a single category weight feature in every category. This can be done by using a simple scale i.e. from 1 to 5 (or tee shirt sizes – don’t use Fibonacci numbers here) to decide how important is each category. The average of the sum from voting is the weight of single category. These weights decide about priorities of categories.

Estimate Business Value

Feedback from a group of people is much more valuable than just your inner feelings about any functionality.In this context, the crowd is your test users group or possibly your team. They can decide which feature is the most important. The best feedback is the feedback from your users. You can ask them which features are the most meaningful to them and what kind of functionality they expect.

The participants of this test can measure functionality in business categories you choose prior to the assessment. People can vote for each feature in every category using a simple scale i.e. from 1 to 5 (or tee shirt sizes, Fibonacci numbers – but you should choose only few values like 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 otherwise scale can be inappropriate). Voters give each category a score, the scores are averaged, and the result is a factor for every category. If you multiply this average voting factor by weight of category you will get business value factor in that category. These values can be used to prioritize features from the business point of view. But are you able to create all of them? How much time you need to finish? You need to take next step.

Estimate cost

Estimate cost (time and complexity) of every feature. Do it together with your team. It can be a regular planning poker session or a rough estimation in tee shirt sizes – depends how deep you can go into technical details. Avoid too much focus on the technical side – right now it should be more like a rough estimation than iteration planning. At the end, you should have a numeric representation of a cost, if it’s non-numeric value like t-shirt sizes assign every of them a number. Now it’s time to…

Prioritize features

If you divide business value by cost you will get the most important factor of your feature. It includes each of the most important aspects of your vision of the product and the cost. If you plan a roadmap using these factors, you can be sure that you included the importance of your features in most crucial categories combined with cost. A higher factor stands for a more important feature, while a lower factor – means a less important one.

Every feature will be assigned to a value which contains business value and cost. So think about the lean startup as of something where feedback is most important. Once you have the most important features on production you are ready to gather feedback from users. Of course, you can’t be sure if this is the best plan as it’s hard to predict every possible aspect. That’s why you need to…

Gather feedback

Test every solution with test users. It can be just a mock/design screens or ready implemented full solution. Gather feedback and try to reestimate next features or change business values after this step. You can recalculate factors and reestimate costs. Every iteration gives you another input to improve your backlog. Sometimes you can be surprised how the product is changing in a time period. The final shape of the product might be very different from you imagined at the beginning. That’s how wisdom of the crowd can drive your project.


Written by Lukasz Bancerowski
Published August 24, 2016