The Tonic Approach to Feature Development

“Every time we look at a feature or an enhancement… Our goal is focused on what problems we are solving with this feature.” – Tony Musacchia

Tonic’s unique approach to feature development prioritizes outcomes. Upon considering a feature or enhancement, identifying key factors that will contribute to its success is crucial. This includes gathering data from various sources such as partner feedback, industry norms, and emerging market trends. Every new feature is thoroughly evaluated against these diverse components.

“One of the things I think is always a challenge in the hospitality POS space is endless feature development.” – Rick Malthaner

Without a well-defined strategy or vision for a product’s future, software companies may inadvertently transform into feature factories. A “feature factory” refers to a developmental approach where the primary focus is rapidly producing new features at the expense of other critical aspects such as quality, user needs assessment, strategic alignment, and long-term value. Typically, the success of a software development team in this environment is often measured by the quantity of features pushed out, rather than the impact those features have on the user experience.

Avoiding the Feature Factory Trap

“How you become a feature factory is when you just start implementing changes and then all of a sudden before you know it you have three features that are all kind of the same thing.” – Tony Musacchia

Tonic strives to ensure that the system, solutions, and offerings are not overly complex. When feedback from partners or merchants identifies a missing or improvable feature, a careful vetting process is followed.

Firstly, we evaluate the request to ensure it’s a genuine need, not a result of familiarity with a different system or a terminology misunderstanding. Then we consult with various teams to determine if a similar feature or solution already exists within the system.

In many cases, you may find that the requested feature is already available in a different form or section of the system. This thorough audit process helps avoid creating a situation where our software solutions have multiple overlapping features.

The key to avoiding a “feature factory” is to carefully evaluate each request, ensuring you don’t introduce unnecessary complexities or duplicate functionality.

Prioritize Features with the RICE Method

When discussing features, many ideas arise from team members and industry trends. It’s crucial to have a methodology to assess these suggestions effectively.

“It’s called the RICE scoring method… That helps us prioritize a feature after we’ve identified that it’s something we want to do.” – Tony Musacchia

The RICE scoring model (Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort) guides Tonic’s prioritization process. Each criterion is assigned points based on its significance:

An additional criterion Tonic has added is Revenue. The products team aims to capture the potential revenue impact of a feature on both Tonic and the partner channel. This criterion is essential in evaluating the financial viability of a feature.

By combining these criteria and assigning points, a score is obtained for each feature. This score helps the team prioritize and make informed decisions about which features to develop first.

Balancing Reactive and Proactive Development

“It’s important to have a nice blend of being reactive and proactive and it’s easy to fall into the habit of just being reactive.” – Tony Musacchia

Striking a balance between reactivity and proactivity is crucial. It’s easy to get caught up in merely reacting to situations and requests. When presented with ideas from current partners or potential prospects, it’s tempting to immediately implement them to secure business.

However, this reactive approach can lead to redundant features and wasted time. For example, you might already have a similar feature that serves the same purpose, resulting in two separate options. Evaluating these duplications can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.

It’s important to avoid being overly reactive, but sometimes it’s necessary. The challenge is to allocate energy to both reactivity and proactivity.

At Tonic, long-term vision is a priority. They aim to add features that benefit their merchants, partners, and the entire ecosystem. Additionally, they strive to design and develop innovative features that are not yet available in the market.

Constant reactivity can hinder the ability to focus on these forward-thinking initiatives. It’s not about blaming anyone, but it’s a common observation, especially in product development.

“We plan for the future and we share that plan with our partners.” – Tony Musacchia

Tonic’s product roadmap outlines their current projects and future plans, which are transparently shared with Tonic partners. When updates are made, partners receive them promptly, which, unfortunately, isn’t very common in this industry.

Partner focus is crucial to Tonic, as it entails transparent communication and eliciting feedback from them. There is a feature request portal where partners can submit requests, and Tonic analyzes, communicates, and provides status updates. These processes, implemented in the last six months, have been well-received and have significantly helped differentiate Tonic from competitors.

“I’ve been involved in way too many projects where there weren’t feature review processes in place, and that only works for so long.” – Rick Malthaner

“Sometimes it’s important for us to just listen…That’s how we try to stay ahead of the trends.” – Tony Musacchia

Maintaining awareness of the latest trends and technologies is crucial. But it’s not just on an internal team. Communication involves collaboration with everyone associated with the product, including partners and industry experts.

When it comes to product development, it’s critical to listen to feedback from various sources, including industry publications, customers, and trade shows. Observe market trends and listen to industry feedback to stay ahead of the game.

While Tonic considers existing solutions, they don’t blindly replicate them. Instead, they evaluate, discuss, and enhance ideas to create unique and innovative solutions. This process allows Tonic POS to stay ahead of trends while incorporating valuable input from various stakeholders.

Listening is a crucial aspect of the product development strategy. By gathering information from multiple sources, informed decisions are made that meet the evolving needs of the market and customers.

“It’s so common with hot trends, like cryptocurrency or AI…Everybody wants to take that and bring it into their product immediately.” – Rick Malthaner

Many significant trends, such as AI, gain prominence for a reason. Tonic POS is actively working on incorporating AI but aims to do it their way. Prioritizing communication and collaboration with experienced partners to exchange knowledge is crucial. It enables Tonic to leverage AI effectively to address real-world challenges in the restaurant industry.

Tonic focuses on leveraging technology to resolve guest-facing issues. Restaurants are rightfully concerned about functionality and the potential impact of AI on their guests. The industry knowledge Tonic members have helps overcome these challenges. The goal is not merely to implement AI for the sake of it. Tonic aims to provide tangible value to its partners and merchants

Conclusion

Tonic POS’s deliberate and methodical approach to product development sets it apart in a landscape often dominated by the relentless output of features without substantial value. By integrating the RICE method, Tonic not only prioritizes the features that are most impactful to partners and merchants but also ensures that every addition to their system is a strategic enhancement that supports long-term success. This balance of reactive and proactive development, coupled with a strong focus on listening and adapting to market trends and feedback, empowers Tonic to innovate responsibly. As Tonic continues to navigate the evolving technological demands of the restaurant industry, their commitment to meaningful innovation and partner collaboration remains a cornerstone of their strategy, promising continued growth and leadership in the POS market.