Mastering the art of prioritization: how Hotjar decides what to work on next

November 24, 2015 by Robyn-Dale Samuda

Building a killer app is not a simple feat and requires relentless focus on what’s important not only for driving business but making our users happy. Our focus is on what will help them achieve their goals and eradicate pain points - their success is ours. With limited number of resources at hand, how do we build a product that keeps our users happy without getting carried away with projects and features that add very little value?

Making the right choice when deciding what to work on next is crucial. A bad decision now could have a huge impact on how quickly you are able to scale or pivot later on. At Hotjar we ask ourselves three simple questions when deciding what we want to focus on:

1. What's our vision?

The Hotjar Roadmap The Hotjar Roadmap

Hotjar has a very clear vision - we want to change the way the web is built and improved by democratizing user analytics and feedback. Since launching the very first beta version of Hotjar, we have released several new features that have helped us get closer to achieving this vision. To help us document what we feel is important to us, we maintain a roadmap which we use to list down all the features we want to work on within the foreseeable future. Having a public roadmap has the added benefit of getting users excited about new upcoming features and helps them understand why their highly requested features aren't being released straight away.

Every quarter our roadmap is reviewed and highly requested improvements which fit Hotjar's vision are added to it.

2. What do our users want?

Traditionally, the product manager’s role was to drive development based on upper management’s vision and directions. At Hotjar, we use our user base to influence the decisions we make on product development.

Let’s imagine a scenario where you’ve built a product or you’re offering a service you’re absolutely in love with. You have a clear vision of what it should do for your customers and a 5-year plan of how it will develop. Unfortunately, you slowly start to realize that most of your customers are requesting something your product does not do. What do you do? Stick to the plan, or build on something that makes your audience happy?

Intercom - The tool we use to receive user feedback Intercom - The tool we use to receive user feedback

Here at Hotjar we encourage and absolutely love feedback. It eliminates guesswork and provides insight on what users actually want, therefore helping us build the right relationships and features. Users who contact us via Intercom send us ideas for new features several times daily. All these ideas are tracked and organized in a Trello board making it extremely easy to see an overview of how frequently certain ideas are being requested.

Over the past year, we have collected and analysed over 10,000 instances of feedback. We have used this feedback to validate our own ideas, help us prioritize and in some cases, re-evaluate and change parts of our product roadmap.

Our Client Ideas Trello board

Once we've released an update that our users had specifically requested, we inform them individually with a personal message - even if months have passed since they requested it. Our customer success team builds and maintains relationships with users and acts as an advocate for getting useful features developed and bugs resolved.

3. What bugs and issues are critical?

Ideas are great but the road to fulfilling them is filled with issues, bugs and all sorts of anomalies. A dead focus on feature requests still lacks the balance to manage the challenges that come along the way. Successful apps and businesses are built to assimilate change and the sooner you realize this the more agile you’re able to become.

Our Bugs / Issues Trello board

How does Hotjar prioritize new feature requests versus bugs and issues?

a) We always prioritize frequently requested features.

Addressing requests that are frequently mentioned improves Hotjar for a much larger user base and increases the product’s value in the long-term. It also tells our customers that we listen to their feedback. When determining what features to prioritize, we also spend some time discussing their complexity. If a feature is highly requested but extremely complex, we split it into smaller stories and prioritize those based on what users requested.

b) Bugs and issues are only given top priority if they are critical or blockers.

These are issues that need to be addressed immediately because they threaten to compromize data integrity and the safety or stability of the app for a broad cross-section of users. When bugs cannot be reproduced by our team of engineers, they are considered edge cases and usually occur for specific users due to very unique conditions we cannot identify after a brief investigation. These are added to our bugs backlog and revisited only when they are encountered multiple times.

c) We make time for quick wins.

We allot a few hours every week to address a number of bugs in each iteration. The most common ones are tackled first followed by those that offer quick wins. In addition, when deploying new features, we typically also accommodate time for bugs which arise soon after a deployment that might have been overlooked.

We feel it is important to let our customers know when their bug will be tackled, even if that means telling them that they will need to wait 3 months. We’ve found repeatedly that most customers understand issues and limitations. Customers might be disappointed but are more likely to respect us for being completely honest with them. It is crucial to invest in developing a responsive customer success team which communicates not only product releases and victories but also changes, limitations and timelines - especially if there are delays.

Keeping Everyone in Sync

As a primarily remote team, we try to keep everything simple and to the point. Through quick daily scrum meetings, weekly demonstrations and other one to one calls, we discuss and plan what we need to work on and how it aligns with Hotjar’s vision and user satisfaction. It is important that the entire team is on the same page and shares the same goals.

Once a week, our scrum master gives oversight and benchmarks for development stories while the customer success team acts as the voice of all users to drive and qualify change. This gives us an opportunity to re-prioritize features and re-organize the developer backlog. We also dedicate some time every week to review the most common issues users have and identifying opportunities for quick wins through small tweaks and fixes.

The Importance of Being Agile

While the Agile Manifesto has evolved quite a bit over the years, its core theme holds true. You’ll never build the perfect service on the first iteration so why spend years developing and creating? Instead ship fast and get user buy-in for your vision for the future while collecting and sharing ideas.

Image credit: Sebadbz Image credit: Sebadbz

Here are some powerful tips on how to move quickly to topple competition:

  1. Work iteratively and never try to develop and ship big features. Develop a minimum viable product, improving it gradually based on user feedback and your own ideas. Focus on good instead of being great. This allows you to adapt changes quicker and identify unexpected challenges early in the development process.
  2. Don’t develop your products based on predictions of the future but instead build to change. Accept that change is inevitable and build your teams and processes based on that expectation.
  3. Leverage existing tools and don’t try to “re-invent the wheel.” Whatever you’re trying to accomplish it’s a possibility that someone else has done something similar. Find them and learn from them.
  4. Forget about the perfect business plan, it doesn’t exist. Instead, start with providing for simple needs and allow your customers to help shape the perfect products and features.
  5. Test quickly and often. This is where feedback tools and A/B testing comes in handy. Ask your audience for feedback on their experiences, what should be improved and record how users respond to changes in the product.

Remember, simplicity wins every time when prioritizing projects and solutions. From a pool of thousands of ideas the ones that are worth pursuing are the ones that obviously provide long-term solutions for your users. Collecting feedback makes these clear and helps to quickly filter out low value items. Publicize your journey and get attention from users and prospects by sharing what you have in store while making it clear that their needs drive product development.

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Robyn-Dale Samuda

Customer Success Agent at Hotjar - Focused on the real meaning of client success, Robyn is obsessed with helping users get the most out of Hotjar and seeing tangible results for their businesses. With almost a decade of experience in online marketing and web design, he helps users connect the dots and grow.

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