How we process feature requests

One day, I noticed a message on Facebook to Mail Pilot. Usually, these are handled by our support team, but this one caught my eye. I had to know more.

A potential customer asked if it was possible in Mail Pilot to have all sent messages copied to the inbox, instead of the sent folder. My mind was blown, I couldn’t fathom how that would be a good thing. Why would you want every sent message also cluttering up your inbox?

So I returned a nice message back explaining that while it was possible, I was curious to know, “why?”. In his response, the potential customer explained that they share a single email account among a team, and that in order to keep track of what emails have been replied to by other members of the team, they keep all sent messages in the inbox.

When someone requests a feature, we always ask “why?”. I think this is one of the most important things for maintaining well-designed software as it continues to grow once it’s in the hands of its users.

If we tacked every feature request onto our software as requested, we’d end up with a frankenstein; it would be a jack of all trades, master of none. I’m sure you’ve used software that has suffered this fate.

When we ask “why?”, we learn what the real problem is. The feature requested is the quickest solution a user thought of for a problem they’re having. In the case of the shared email address, copying all sent messages to the inbox is a horrible, but immediately obvious solution to an unstated problem.

We want to know the underlying problem. Once we do, we can almost always figure out a better solution; one that fits into the software’s intentions, context, workflows, and interface. Instead of 100 one-off feature requests, after asking “why?”, we end up with 10 higher-level problems that users want solved. Then we can solve those 10 problems in really elegant, compelling ways that help improve the application overall, without bogging it down.

In the case of copying sent messages to the inbox, I did let our follower know that with Mail Pilot’s threads, when you open any message in the inbox, you will also see any replies sent to it — a much more elegant solution that provides tons of other usability benefits. Further, I pointed him in the direction of Front App, a tool built specifically for teams that share email addresses.




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Alexander Obenauer

Alexander Obenauer

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