How to Plan a Feature

A Reusable Checklist for Software Engineers

If you find yourself in a position where you need to plan and estimate a feature or application, it's best to lean on a reusable template like this one. This checklist will help you ensure that you're considering all the necessary aspects of feature planning, from success metrics to risk mitigation strategies.

1. Do I have enough information to plan this feature yet?

Stop. Now read that question again. The simple act of asking yourself this question is often overlooked by most engineers when planning or estimating a new feature. It's easy to get caught up in all the excitement, or soul crushing pressure, depending on which company you work for. But, it's important to take a step back and ask yourself if you have enough information to plan the feature. If you don't, then it's time to go back to the drawing board and gather more information. This could be from stakeholders, product owners, business analysts, or end-users. It's important to gather as much information as possible to ensure that you're building the right thing.

2. What are the success metrics being used?

Every feature should have clear success metrics. These metrics should align with the overarching goals and objectives of the company. They can be both quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative metrics could involve user engagement metrics (such as active users, retention rates, or conversion rates), performance metrics (such as response times or system uptime), or business metrics (such as revenue generation or cost savings). Qualitative metrics may include user satisfaction scores, feedback from usability testing, or perceived value by stakeholders. Collaborate with stakeholders to identify and prioritize the most relevant success metrics for the feature, ensuring they provide meaningful insights into its performance and impact. If you don't know how this feature will be measured, then it's time to go back to the drawing board and gather more information. Don't assume that value is implied just because you built it.

3. What is the expected timeline?

Have you ever been tasked with planning and estimating a feature that's already been promised by non-developers? It's a tough spot to be in. Establishing a realistic timeline is essential for effectively planning and managing the development of the feature. The timeline should take into account various factors, including the complexity of the feature, available resources, dependencies, and any external constraints such as market deadlines or regulatory requirements. The only way to make this task manageable is to break down the feature development process into actionable tasks and estimate the time required for each task, considering factors like development, testing, integration, and deployment. It's important to involve the development team in the timeline estimation process to ensure accuracy and buy-in. Once the timeline is established, communicate it clearly with all stakeholders to set expectations and ensure alignment on project milestones and deadlines.

4. Who are the key users being targeted?

Understanding the key users or target audience for the feature is essential for designing and developing a solution that meets their needs and expectations. Key users may vary depending on the nature of the feature and the context of the project, but they typically include primary end-users, administrators, or other stakeholders who will interact with the feature directly or indirectly. Conduct user research and analysis to identify user demographics, behaviors, preferences, and pain points. Create user personas or profiles to represent different user segments and prioritize their needs and requirements. Engage with users through surveys, interviews, or usability testing to gather feedback and validate assumptions about their needs and preferences. By focusing on the needs of key users, you can ensure that the feature delivers value and achieves its intended objectives.

5. What is the best way to implement this feature?

Choosing the most suitable implementation approach is critical for delivering a successful and scalable feature. Consider factors such as the feature requirements, technical feasibility, scalability, maintainability, and compatibility with existing systems. Evaluate different implementation options, including build vs. buy decisions, choice of programming languages, frameworks, and architectural patterns. Conduct proof-of-concept experiments or prototypes to validate the feasibility and performance of selected approaches. Collaborate with the development team to assess their expertise and preferences and involve them in the decision-making process. Aim for a solution that balances functionality, performance, and maintainability while minimizing technical debt and future scalability challenges. Document the chosen implementation approach and rationale to facilitate communication and alignment among stakeholders and team members.

6. Have I identified the risks of this implementation plan?

Identifying and mitigating risks is crucial for minimizing potential setbacks and ensuring the successful delivery of the feature. Risks can arise from various sources, including technical complexity, resource constraints, dependencies, external factors, and changes in requirements. Conduct a thorough risk assessment by brainstorming potential risks, analyzing their likelihood and impact, and prioritizing them based on their severity. Common types of risks to consider include technology risks (such as compatibility issues or performance bottlenecks), resource risks (such as skills shortages or turnover), schedule risks (such as delays or scope creep), and external risks (such as market competition or regulatory changes). Once risks are identified, develop risk mitigation strategies and contingency plans to address them proactively. Allocate resources, establish protocols, or implement safeguards to minimize the likelihood and impact of identified risks. Monitor risks throughout the project lifecycle and adjust mitigation strategies as needed to adapt to changing circumstances.

7. What do I have in place to mitigate those risks?

Once risks have been identified, it's essential to develop robust mitigation strategies and contingency plans to address them effectively. Mitigation strategies may involve various approaches, including risk avoidance, risk transfer, risk reduction, or risk acceptance. For example, to mitigate a technology risk related to third-party dependencies, you might explore alternative solutions, develop fallback options, or establish service-level agreements (SLAs) with vendors. Similarly, to mitigate a resource risk associated with skills shortages, you might invest in training and skill development programs, hire additional resources, or reassign tasks to existing team members. Communicate mitigation strategies and contingency plans with relevant stakeholders and team members to ensure everyone is aware of their roles and responsibilities in addressing identified risks. Regularly monitor risks and update mitigation plans as needed to adapt to changing circumstances and emerging threats.

8. Does my plan work with the operational side of the business workflow?

Integrating the feature seamlessly into the client's operational workflow is essential for maximizing its adoption and value. Consider how the feature will fit within existing processes, systems, and tools used by the client and their end-users. Identify integration points, data flows, and dependencies between the feature and other components of the client's ecosystem. Collaborate with stakeholders, including operations teams, IT administrators, and end-users, to understand their workflows, pain points, and requirements. Document integration requirements and constraints to guide the development and deployment of the feature. Conduct user acceptance testing (UAT) and pilot deployments to validate the feature's compatibility and usability within the client's operational environment. Provide training and support to ensure a smooth transition and adoption of the feature by end-users. Monitor post-implementation feedback and performance metrics to identify areas for optimization and refinement.

9. Does this plan allow the work to be split up amongst the team?

Odds are, you're not building this thing by yourself. Breaking down the feature implementation into manageable tasks and distributing them among team members is essential for optimizing productivity and collaboration. Consider the skills, expertise, and availability of team members when assigning tasks and responsibilities. Aim to balance workload distribution to avoid bottlenecks or overburdening individual team members. Define clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations for each team member to ensure accountability and alignment with project objectives. Establish communication channels and collaboration tools to facilitate coordination and information sharing among team members. Regularly monitor progress and address any issues or challenges that arise during the implementation process. Encourage feedback and collaboration to foster a culture of continuous improvement and teamwork within the development team.

10. Does this plan work for the given timeline?

Validating that the planned activities and milestones align with the project timeline and deadlines is crucial for ensuring timely delivery. Review the timeline regularly to track progress and identify any deviations or delays from the original plan. Monitor key milestones, dependencies, and critical path activities to assess their impact on the overall timeline. Identify potential


If you need help understanding the best practices around feature planning, or if you need help planning a feature, get in touch with me. I offer personalized coaching and mentorship to help you level up in your software career.