How feature voting forums failed us
And why Productboard’s new Product Portal will save the day
Paralyzed, exasperated, disconnected…
Back when the main source of user input was email… when help sites were just static webpages with no way of collecting user feedback… when you couldn’t just ping a few dozen customers in your target segment to set up a round of user interviews via Zoom… It must have been extraordinarily difficult to get in the heads of your users and understand what they really needed.
The rise of feature voting forums
Now imagine the elation when the first feature voting forums arrived on the scene ? (if you weren’t around to experience it firsthand, that is). At long last, product managers could collect feature ideas from users at scale. Anyone could submit an idea, and others in the customer community could participate by upvoting and commenting on the ideas they liked best! It was PM heaven…
For awhile… Then something funny happened.
The fall of feature voting forums
As the months advanced, ideas kept streaming in. Hundreds, if not thousands, of posts accumulated in the forum.
☠ ︎️ It was painful to search for existing ideas but easy to post new ones, so users created duplicate threads, and feedback around similar user needs was scattered far and wide.
☠ Top-voted features were built, but went underutilized. As it turns out, everyone upvoting a feature envisioned it being perfectly designed to accommodate their own need… but maybe everyone needed something a bit different.
☠ Worst of all, so many feature ideas piled up that it was impossible to build more than a tiny fraction of them. As the years rolled by, users’ comments become increasingly venomous around certain features that still hadn’t been built. As a PM at a renowned San Francisco startup recently joked, “Voting forums? More like disappointment forums…”
☠ And finally, there was no end game. The forum just sort of sat there accumulating new feature ideas and votes forever. Ultimately, the voting forum was just one of several sources of user input, and it offered little to support feature prioritization apart from a pile of raw data.
Collecting user insights at scale
Feature voting forums were a good idea, but suffered from flawed execution. Standing on the shoulders of giants, we have the perspective to design a better solution to help product managers collect user insights at scale.
At Productboard, we recently launched the Portal, a complete re-envisioning of the feature voting forum. It’s a place where product managers can validate their most promising ideas, share their plans, and celebrate what’s been launched with colleagues and customers. They can even source new ideas from users, but in an environment entirely curated by the product team.
Have some ideas you’re interested in working on but just need a bit more feedback before you prioritize them? Add these ideas as cards on an Under Consideration tab.
When you share your Portal with users, they’ll be able to inspect the cards to learn more. If they like an idea they can upvote it, explain why it would be helpful, and indicate how important it is to them.
Here’s the coolest part. Any feedback that users provide on a card on the Portal is routed straight to your Productboard Insights board. Productboard automatically links that feedback to the feature (or component) in question, so it’s always on hand when you need it.
Card upvotes also automatically contribute to the feature’s User impact score, which you can use to prioritize features down the road.
If users don’t see an idea they’re looking for, they can submit a new one. But rather than appear on your Portal for other users to see, it will be routed to your Insights board where you can link it to related feature ideas or create a new one. Later on you can decide if you’d like to share any of these ideas publicly on the Portal.
We’ve often found we want to share our current and future areas of focus with colleagues and customers, but sharing the entire roadmap seems too granular and potentially overwhelming. The Portal offers the perfect balance. It lets you share a high-level plan that customers can interact with and provide feedback on. It’s a win-win: more user inputs, more engaged customers.
Start by adding cards representing ideas or features you’re planning on pursuing to a Planned tab. All tabs are customizable and behave the same way, so users will be able to upvote cards you’ve added here as well.
How specific you want to get with your plans is a personal decision, and if you’re in an especially competitive environment you might decide to only share your Portal selectively with a secret link rather than make it public.
Still, we’ve found that in most cases, it’s about how you execute on your plans that determines how you fare in the market. Sharing your intended areas of focus doesn’t amount to divulging trade secrets. For those who do make their Portals public, collecting better feedback and converting customers into fans is a worthy tradeoff.
Your team works hard on the new features they develop. Don’t forget to promote what’s new! Now when users are browsing your Portal to see what’s planned, they’ll also be able to see any recently launched features you’ve added to your Launched tab. With a bit of luck they’ll be impressed by your team’s velocity and renew their annual contract even if you haven’t built that dealbreaker for them yet. Meanwhile, colleagues on sales & support can check in to verify which new features are available. And with all the kudos you’ll be getting, your team will feel proud of all they’ve accomplished.
See the Portal in action
See for yourself how the Productboard Product Portal works, and how it improves on the age-old feature request forum.
Check out our team’s Portal!
Productboard’s new Portal is a whole new way to collect valuable feedback, align your organization, and engage your customer community. But before you get started setting up your own, check out team Productboard’s Portal for inspiration!? Thanks in advance for your feedback on our latest ideas.
Interested in setting up a Portal of your own? If you’re new to Productboard, get started for free at productboard.com.