Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: Extracting Business Value from Feature Requests Posted in User Forums

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: Extracting Business Value from Feature Requests Posted in User Forums

Adarsh Kumar Kakar (Alabama State University, Montgomery, AL, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/JOEUC.2016040108


When making a decision to add features to an existing software product in response to feature requests posted in user forums, it is important to pursue only those changes that deliver value to both the user and the producer. But selecting critical user requirements expressed as features requests is a challenging task. While excluding a high value requirement may mean losing customers to a competing product, including a requirement that is unneeded increases time to market and introduces unnecessary costs and complexity in the product. Keeping these issues in focus, promising methods of feature selection were first identified from a review of requirements engineering, product development and quality literatures. An empirical study was then conducted to investigate the efficacy of methods in separating the vital few user feature requests from the trivial many posted in user forums without adversely impacting user satisfaction. The result of the empirical study demonstrates that the Kano survey method has potential in separating the wheat from the chaff. The reasons for this finding is empirically investigated and discussed.
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Involving users as active contributors in the product development process rather than as passive participants has been expressed in literature for a long time (Gardiner and Rothwell, 1985; Leonard-Barton, 1995; Rothwell, 1976; von Hippel, 1988; Witell, Lofgren and Gustaffsson, 2011). Collectively users constitute a source of massive amounts of product innovation (Vonn Hippel, Ogawa and de Jong, 2012). When users are viewed merely as recipients of innovation, the firm does not have access to user knowledge and experience developed through product use (Sawhney, Verona and Prandelli, 2005).

Users are co-creator of value (Vargo and Lusch, 2006) and useful partners in the innovation process (Kristensson et al; 2004). Magnusson et al. (2003) found that ordinary users were the best source for new ideas in terms or originality. Through their unique knowledge derived from use of the product ordinary users were better equipped to generate ideas that are relevant to customers than R and D (Research and Development) employees and engineers (Kristensson et al, 2004; Magnusson, 2003).

It has been suggested that the product evolution should be innovative in the users’ frame of mind not the developers’ (Fellows and Hooks, 1998). New product features that do not resonate with the users create wasted development effort, delay in time-to-market, increased complexity and operational costs of the product. Therefore to actively engage users organizations have evolved various mechanisms. Of these the use of websites for capturing and prioritizing user requirements is becoming increasingly prevalent. The websites include both forums and collaborative tools, and are designed to allow large numbers of users to participate in the requirements gathering and analysis process. The success of websites and collaborative tools that have been used to gather inputs from users, demonstrates that, given the opportunity, users too are willing to take the time to contribute feedback and ideas (Laurent and Cleland-Huang, 2009).

However, by actively engaging the users, more new feature requests are often elicited than are needed to build into the system. It is therefore as critical for organizations to identify non-value adding (or marginal value adding) feature requests as it is for identifying feature requests that add value to the users. While on the one hand excluding a high value feature may mean losing users to a competing product, on the other hand including a requirement that is unneeded creates wasted development effort, delays in time-to-market, and increased complexity, maintenance and operational costs of the product. Implementing non-value adding features has negative impacts for both producers and users of software products (Table 1). So how do producers of software products accurately identify from a given set of user feature requests only those features that add significant value to the users of the software product?

Table 1.
Implications of non-value adding product features
Requires investment in additional computing resources such as memory and computing power for non-value adding software features (Basili and Boehm, 2001)Requires investing in features that have no positive impact on business outcomes as upgrades of market-driven products are not funded by customers (Karlson et al., 2007)
Causes “Feature fatigue” (Thompson, Hamilton and Rust, 2005)Makes the software more difficult to maintain (Mens et al., 2005)
Increases software complexity with deleterious effects on product quality and reliability (Mens et al., 2005)Increases time to market for software releases

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