Written by Brian Cray on March 30th, 2010
A big downfall in the IT industry is
fixing inventing a problem that doesn't need fixed. "Problems" are fabricated and "fixed" because we're too eager to use new technology. This eagerness manifests itself as a superfluous new feature, an implementation that is stimulated by a common misconception that adding more features is a market advantage. This couldn't be further from the truth. This downward path usually ends in a stupid piece of shit that doesn't fucking work, and none of us want to be that guy who built it.
Lack of features, but not lack of success
Look at products like the iPod and the Flip. They are industry icons because they removed features and focused on simply solving the single, most important problem in their respective categories. For the iPod, Apple focused on the experience of listening to your own music. For the Flip, Pure Digital Technologies focused on the experience of recording movies. Every feature that didn't address those problems directly was removed from the end product.
Benefits of removing features
Simplifies strategy translation
Each person on your team—from your product manager to your web developer—must apply a consistent strategy to their own roles to ensure that everybody is creating the same thing. If your team can't easily define what that strategy is, how will your customers?
Simplifies marketing communications
Why does every brand try to encapsulate its differentiated value into a single slogan? Because users don't have time to figure out complicated products or cryptic messages. To say "We solve XYZ problem better than anyone else" is the clearest and most compelling message possible. Feature lists on the other hand require that which a user is not willing to give: time to find the few features that apply to their own scenario and read the explanations of unknown features.
Features are easier to cook up than they are to implement correctly, which requires not only resources for implementation, but a critical look at how new features will impact the architecture of the whole product. Just a few feature diversions and you may find yourself far from the original idea.
Decreases time to market
Simply put, features take extra time to build. Are you letting your competition get ahead?
Decreases support costs
If you've ever worked in customer support, you know the dread of being asked about a new or forgotten feature. Features add training costs and resource costs associated with handling additional call volume.
How to be a problem solver, not a feature inflator
Talk to your customers
Run your ideas by potential or existing customers. Get their feeling on your ideas. Find out whether they think your feature would help them solve a problem. Focus the conversation on their problem and not on your solution, which may falsely seem viable because they think it "sounds cool." Look for an "a-ha" moment on your customer's face.
- Survey your users with Survey Monkey or survey.io
- Run some usability tests with UserTesting or Silverback App
- Get design feedback with Usabilla or fivesecondtest
- Go to online forums, industry networking functions, and other places where your customers are talking about themselves.
Start with a minimum viable product
Minimum viable products contain only the features required by users to solve their problem. Everything else is trimmed off.
- What is the minimum viable product?
- 10 examples of a minimum viable product
- Minimum Viable Product: a guide
- The iPhone as a Minimum Viable Product Archetype
An actual user problem is a launch pad for innovation. Identifying and solving an actual user problem is the quickest path to a marketable product. But adding features because the technology looks shiny leads to product bloat and complication. To make sure you're on the path of product enlightenment, talk to your customers, and concentrate on giving them the best solution to their biggest unsolved problems.