Three simple steps to focus your functionalities

Author
Bart-Jan Verhoef
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Functionalities. We all love to come up with them. Functionalities are tangible and feel concrete. It’s only natural that when we think of a new website or app, we often start by establishing a list of functionalities. I know I do.

The only thing is that functionalities in themselves don’t say anything about how well websites and apps are: They’re just means to an end. We all know this. Nonetheless it is still hard not to give in to our desire to start brainstorming functionalities straight away.

Which is not to say doing so isn’t good or that we should stop doing so: it’s just the order in which we do things that we might want to reconsider.

Putting result first

Goals, targets, KPI’s… All things that seem to belong to the domain of business analysts and the likes. Not so exiting stuff either and definitely not as much fun as thinking up functionalities. Or is it?

What I’ve come to find is that there is in fact a simple way to define and measure results. Which we can do ourselves and is fun to boot.

Whatever the goals of your project are; it’s the quality of the user experience that determines if users will use and enjoy your application. Ultimately it’s up to them if your goals will be realized or not.

Is it therefore essential to ensure your desired results are translated into results your users want to achieve. The good news is that it's not as hard as it may seem at first.

The Goals-Signals-Metrics process

The people who use your application probably have one or a few specific reasons for doing so. By summing these up in a SMART manner you can identify what your priorities should be. Following the goals-sginals-metrics process as defined by Google Ventures this is a pretty straight-forward exerices.

The three steps to take are:

  1. Define the (user) goals
    A clear goal will not only help you understand what people are expecting from your application, it will also help define clear metrics for success later on. So what’s the one (or few) thing users try to achieve using your thing?

  2. Find the right signal
    In order to make a goal measurable you need to find the right signal that will tell you if the goal is met or not.

  3. Define your metric
    Once you know what signal to keep an eye on you can define a metric to monitor. Doing so will help you make informed decisions.

An example case

Sounds a bit vague still? I can imagine. I had the same thing when I first came across this method. Let me try to clarify by giving an example.

Imagine you’re working at an issuer of structured products. You want to increase the visibility of your products and so you are planning to renew your website. You’re probably looking to attract more people, but more importantly even to increase return visits.

So how will you go about using these three steps?

  1. Goal
    Your main goal is to get visitors to return to your website. Translated into a user goal you might get something like:
    "Users enjoy our content and frequently return for more"

  2. Signal
    The signal that tells you if visitors do indeed find the content interesting enough to come back. Perhaps:
    "The number of users actually returning on the website"

  3. Metric
    Lastly. the data you’re going to measure to get insight. In this case something like:
    "The average percentage of returning visitors of the total number of visitors per day"

As such, you’ve captured one of your goals into a clear, measurable goal for your users. You can do the same for any other objective. Not that difficult at all right? Now that your goals are so concrete, your project is getting really tangible as well. Which is why focussing on the results can be as much fun as coming up with functionalities.

Saving the best for last

And now the best is yet to come: You can start thinking up functionalities. Now that you’ve established your goals and metrics they won’t just feel concrete; they are! Because you know exactly where they are intended for. And how do measure their success later. And if they don’t? Then you just invent new ones. Isn’t that just wonderful?

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