Features And Benefits – Clearing Up The Story

July 2, 2012

Features and benefits are easily confused. As a guy, it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in the gee-whiz specifications of a product. See if these terms ring true for you:

  • Retina display
  • 1080p LCD digital display
  • 320 horsepower
  • 64 GB RAM
  • 0-60 in 4.8 seconds
  • .364 batting average

We’ve all seen lists like this. They often show up on websites for a product and are touted as the specifications that make you want to buy the product over a competing offering. But what does it all really mean? When I hold up one laptop computer’s specifications against those of another, I can definitely see the differences – but why should I care?

When I went through my master’s degree studies, it became readily apparent of the differences between features and benefits. As my classmates would present their project or pitch, you began to understand which ones were compelling and which ones fell flat. The distinguishing characteristic, more often than not, was in the presenter’s understanding of features and benefits. Let’s look at this more closely.

Features are like the specifications on the side of the box or on the product website. Features are what distinguish one product from all others in its space. A feature-rich product is one that we think of as full of the latest bells and whistles, and is often what drives the price of the product. Features are what product and software developers get hung up on quite often, and are what the naive salesperson pitches to their prospects. Lots of product packaging and advertising is consumed by the list of features. See our page on Features of Scrum.

Benefits, on the other hand, are often not spelled out on a product’s label. Benefits, more than anything else, are what will compel a potential client or user to purchase a particular product. It is the overall value that they will derive from their experience with that product. For consumer-based products, the vast majority of manufacturers leave it to the purchaser to establish their own list of benefits. Quite often, all they have to gauge their assessment on is the list of features. If the consumer cannot understand what the feature does for them, then no benefit is perceived. The seasoned sales professional finds out what their customer wants and maps the features of their product to the benefits that the customer seeks. Check out out page on Benefits of Scrum.

As a product owner on an Agile team, if you do not understand who your customer is, then you will have a hard time connecting features and benefits to their needs. That is why it is vital to know your customer and know their needs so that you can decide what goes in the product. Fortunately in Agile, there is a tool to help us accomplish just that – the user story.

A good set of user stories make the connection between the features and benefits. User stories are in the form of “As a [role], I want [goal] so I can [reason].” For purposes of this blog, let’s rewrite this template as follows: “As a [customer], I want [feature] so I can [benefit].” This is critical to a successful product development process. You have to know why your customer might buy something before deciding what feature set to include in the product. Don’t overlook this critical component of the Agile process. Create good user stories and during your sprint reviews you’ll be able to connect features and benefits to the delight your customer.

If you’re ready to take a look at Agile, or to learn more about the methodology, Braintrust Consulting is here to help. We offer training and coaching on the Agile methodology leading to such certifications for your team as Certified ScrumMaster and Certified Scrum Product Owner. We have public classes or we can bring the training to you, customized to fit your needs. Our course offerings and services can be found in the Services link or click the Contact link to find out more.



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