How we choose what to work on at FutureLearn

In this post Laura Kirsop, one of our product managers, explains how we choose new features to add to FutureLearn.

In this post Laura Kirsop, one of our product managers, explains how we choose new features to add to FutureLearn.

choosing-what-we-work-on-futurelearn

Like any growing product, we’re not short on ideas about how to make FutureLearn better. We are constantly collecting ideas from our learners, partners and staff – right now we have over 600 different ideas on our longlist.

It’s great to have an engaged community with such brilliant ideas – listening to them allows us to make a better and more lovable product. But with so much feedback coming in, how do we decide what to work on? How do we make sure our 50-strong product team is working on the right things and having the biggest possible impact?

Managing the long list

Luckily some great products have been invented solely for the purpose of collecting and managing feedback — currently we use UserVoice to collect ideas from our learners and ProdPad for suggestions from staff and partners.

Our Community team and Product Managers are intimately acquainted with these lists and we routinely sort through them, respond to submitters and tag them to keep them organised. Tagging and categorising help us see patterns, which is important because often people suggest different ways of addressing the same need. When someone requests a feature, we try to look at what need the feature meets and think through all the ways we could meet it.

For example, our Community Support Associate, Anna, recently worked through 300+ learner submitted suggestions and performed a root cause analysis. She found that the suggestions could be put into roughly eight categories and that the thing that learners were most in need of was better ways of connecting to other learners through commenting and discussion.

Having a measurable impact

We can’t work on everything we want to. Like most other companies we are limited by our time and budget, so we need to be smart about deciding what problems to solve. When we do this there are a number of factors to take into account – generally speaking there are a few things we consider:

  • Does solving the problem fit with our company mission?
  • Is it going to measurably improve the user experience for a significant section of the learner community?
  • Is it going to help us meet our company targets?

Asking these questions helps us make sure we’re solving the right problems. But how do we decide what order to solve them in?

Creating our roadmaps

This is where product roadmaps come into play. At FutureLearn each of our five teams has a roadmap which details the areas of focus for the coming year. Creating this refined selection of things to work on requires lots of research, tests and prioritisation. Generally speaking we ask two main questions:

  1. What will its impact on the user experience and our metrics be?
  2. How long will it take us to design and build it? What is the effort involved?

If our research shows us something is likely to have a high positive impact then it will be at the top of the list. If it’s something we feel we understand well then the effort involved to build it will be lower so this is also likely to bring it nearer to the top of the list. The roadmap is constantly evolving as we find out new things – it’s not like a project plan, it’s flexible and can change.

We are hoping to start sharing our roadmap with the world soon, so watch this space.

Getting things out there is not the end

Once something is at the top of the list and we’re building it, it doesn’t mean it will become immediately and permanently available to all learners. For example, often we’ll roll out a new feature to a small(ish) group of learners to check it has the impact we want it to. We are also constantly improving existing features and sometimes take ones that aren’t working well away!

We always need your feedback 

We would love you to tell us your thoughts on using FutureLearn. What works well? What doesn’t? How can we help you find the right courses for you and make good progress with your learning? What other things would help you meet your learning goals?

Head over to our community feedback forum to read what other learners think and share your thoughts (you will need to be logged into your FutureLearn account to see this page).

Want to find out more about how to build FutureLearn? Check out Making FutureLearn. 

Category Making FutureLearn

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