More Features Won't Save Your Product
(source: http://dilbert.com/2013-02-25 )
Mondays Dilbert strip is a perfect illustration of something that happens so often in app development: a collision of design by committee and feature creep that takes a product so far off the rails from its original vision that it becomes a complete trainwreck.
Its hilarious when it happens to Dilbert. Its devastating when it happens to you.
How does it happen?
Of course, everybodys own idea for a feature is the best one. For lots of reasons — usually some combination of politics, people-pleasing, indecisiveness, compromise and insecurity — the developer ends up incorporating everyones best features, and a product that was built to be simple and elegant becomes a bloated Facebook/Twitter/Google+/Pinterest/LinkedIn-integrated, geolocation-targeted, pop-up-notifying gamified mess.
Minimum Viable Product is a hugely popular concept, especially among seasoned founders, and its for good reason. Building a successful app is as much about what it doesnt do as what it does. Thats something all of us (the development community) need to take very seriously when were tempted to add a new feature.
On a high level, its easy to say stay true to the products original vision and youll avoid feature creep. But the reality is, it doesnt work that way. Every member of your team can interpret that vision differently, as well as how that vision should be delivered.
Here are a couple of the methods weve found that actually work:
An Undisputed Product Owner
This could be the founder, it could be an executive within the organization, or it could be the product manager (your in-house PM, or that of the firm you hire). The buck stops with this person, and no changes are made without their approval. You want your product owner to be a disciplined member of your team whos willing to stand their ground, as theyll have to say no a lot more than theyll say yes. People may get mad at your product owner for shooting down all of their feature requests, but when your team launches a focused product with a streamlined UX that brings value to the user without confusing them, everybody wins.
In many companies, for the reasons I discussed in the first few paragraphs, an Undisputed Product Owner is hard to come by, especially when there are conflicts of interest; it can be hard to say absolutely not to the person who signs your paycheck. The solution? Test it with your users.
Now, theres an important distinction between testing features conceived by your core team — people who are intimately aware of the product vision and goals — and letting your users dictate the product that you build. DO NOT simply build every feature that you get requests for from your users. As Jason Fried suggests, this can be a recipe for disaster, as frankly, users are not the best builders of products.
"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." \~Henry Ford
You should still have a product owner, and you should still diligently nix any new features that dont offer a clear benefit and an even clearer alignment with the product vision. Use testing as a method to vet features that pass those tests, not as the primary driver of your product roadmap.
Along the same lines, another trick you can use when youre questioning the value of a proposed feature is to fake it till you make it. Add a dummy icon or button touting the feature youre considering, and observe how your users interact with it; if its getting a lot of clicks, it may be worth pursuing.
Use an event tracking tool (like Google Analytics) to see how many clicks your test is getting. Of course, when a user clicks on it, youll have to explain that its in the works.
Bonus Marketing Tip: Tell them their account will be one of the first to get this feature when its ready.
This way, you dont spend time building features your users wont use, and you can turn the test from a frustrating this doesnt work! complaint into an opportunity to show your users that youre putting them first.
Everyone, founders and developers alike, have their own horror stories about situations like Dilberts and their success stories about how they have staved off feature creep and design by committee. Lets hear yours!
-Nick Kishfy (@kishfy)
If youre building a web or mobile app MojoTech might be able to help. We turn ideas into products, build full-featured applications, mentor and accelerate development teams, rescue stray projects, and help our clients make smart decisions that pay off. Lets build something youll love.