Product Management: Needs, Features & Benefits


Last week I began General Assembly’s course on Product Management. Gopal Shenoy is leading the class as our instructor offering personal accounts, and lessons gleaned from many years as a product manager.  After each class our assignment is to write a blog post on the topic of the previous class. Given that the 10 week course meets twice a week this is my first of nearly 20 blog posts.

First up: Features, vs. Benefits. This post builds upon teamwork done in class, instructor feedback, and industry authority perspectives. In our first class exercise my team considered building a new photo sharing app. (I know, huge market need right?? *Sarcasm* ) We were able to generate a list of needs, features and benefits given a set of personas. What was the process we used?

Needs, Features & Benefits:

Begin by searching for at VERBS, that your prospects use when describing their situation.  These convey the actions that they are currently doing. This is a good way to separate needs from wants. If they are not taking action toward some goal you can assume that goal is not a need. Common verbs across testimonials are good indicators of needs. Given these needs, our photo-sharing app needed to offer specific features, which in turn provide a certain benefit.

For instance. Given that our users had a need to upload, share, and view family photos we looked for features that would convey benefits to certain groups of users.  Assume that a busy couple would use our app to share photos of their child a benefit they would receive would be being able to simplify their process for sharing. Such a feature that could deliver this benefit could be “One-Touch Share.”


Now I will repeat the exercise in the context of one of my favorite product/services: Hubway, Boston’s Bikesharing service. Consider my following testimonial:

“I wish there were a better way to get around town. Often I need to quickly get from one point to another… difficulty with parking and traffic often prohibit car travel. When I do drive, I’ll always pull out my iPhone to check for the fastest directions, but I generally combine public transportation and walking. I enjoy being active. I sit enough during most of my day and love to get up and get moving. The T is just too slow though, and can make me stressed out if I’m packed into a crowded car, or when the trains run late. I have a bike, but I don’t feel safe leaving it in the city.”


  1. Inter-city travel
  2. Be active
  3. Feel safe


  1. Network of ~1,000 bikes available for rental on-demand across > 100 locations in Boston
  2. Location-based mobile app displaying real-time bicycle dock location and bicycle station availability
  3. Front and rear lights automatically powered by pedaling.


  1. Easy way to get to and from where I’m going
  2. Opportunity to fit in fitness activity during my busy day, offering a little stress relief.
  3. No need to carry anything beyond my Hubway key and a helmet

Photo Credit: BU Today Sept. 2011

Finally, to understand product features vs. user benefits more deeply, I turned to Marty Cagan of the Silicon Valley Product Group and author of “Inspired. How to build products people love. Confusing Features with Benefits makes In his list of “the top 12 product management mistakes.” I’ve reproduced his advice on how to avoid this mistake below:

Top 12 Product Management Mistakes

–  Marty Cagan

It is very easy to get absorbed with the specifics of the features that make up your product, rather than the benefits that those features may provide. The product’s value proposition speaks to the benefits, not the features.

Your product simply must have a crystal clear, simple and compelling value proposition. Your target market must be deeply understood, and the people in that market must perceive that your product solves a real problem.

There are several possible reasons for poor value propositions. The most common is that the product is just not solving a significant enough problem. It may be that it is an interesting technology still looking for the right application, or it may be that the product is valuable and useful, just not to the people in the target market. It may also be that the product is simply too expensive relative to the benefits.

It is also possible that the product is ideal for the target market, and very economically priced, but the messaging is so complicated that the value is lost in the haze.

If you can’t go up to someone in your target market and in less than a minute explain what the product is all about and why the product is relevant to them, then you have a significant problem, either with the value of your product, or your messaging.

Thanks for reading! Leave a comment below to start a conversation


  1. gopalshenoy

    Great post Eli. I like how you wrote up your needs vs. features vs. benefits for Hubway. I live in the suburbs and typically drive into Boston, I did not even know that such a service existed in the city.

    One small nit picky thing – all verbs in the testimonial may not necessarily represent a “need”, could be a “want” as well. You need to make sure you dig a little more deeper to understand which is which.

    1. elimather

      Thanks for the comment! I appreciate the feedback and would love the chance to chat about it more. At some level I feel that all “needs” really should map back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and if one doesn’t then it is a “want.” I’ll catch you before or after class.

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