Building New Features ≠ Creating More Value

Having built and shipped many digital products the past 10 years taught me at least one thing: adding more features doesn’t mean your product becomes more valuable. I would even state the opposite; less features will make your product more valuable. Hence my design mantra ‘weniger, aber besser’.

It is a common fallacy that when you build a digital product you need to pump out new features to make it ‘better’. This is nonsense. It’s human nature to always want more; more money, more stuff, more power, more features. But let me be the digital product buddha that says more won’t make your users happy.

Focus on the Core

A product always has a core functionality, that one feature that is the reason of its existence. For Gibbon it was collecting the best articles, for Invy it was sending out different date options to schedule a meeting, for MyTaxi it was booking a taxi. That core functionality is what makes people want to use your product and it is the functionality that describes your product. Ask the following question about any product: “What does the product do?”, “It lets you do Y”. Boom, that’s your core. Instead of building features A,B,C,D,E and F, spend all time on making Y super awesome.

The Productivity Fallacy

Focusing on improving core functionality is incredibly hard, often seemingly tedious, work — but it is required to make something truly great. It feels very unproductive because a lot of time needs to be spent on analyzing user behavior, data and running tests before anything can be built and shipped that makes that core functionality truly better.

While it feels productive to pump out new features, so each sprint you can say “Yay, we build feature A and B 🎉”, in reality you are often just diluting the core of your product.

Something that causes ‘feature pumping’ is a wrong use of the backlog. When you treat the backlog as your feature roadmap, inevitably you will soon be building features that are not really necessary and only requested by a handful of people. Make sure you are only building a new feature when a majority of the users need it, and it truly improves the core of the product.

Metric Focussed Instead of Feature Focussed

To avoid the productivity fallacy it is essential for a product team to be focussed on the key metrics of their key functionality. All effort should be focussed on boosting those numbers. When you measure productivity and success not by the amount of features that have been shipped but by the height of your most important metric(s), the dynamics in a product team will change. Testing, analyzing data and usage, and improving micro interactions will become a bigger and more accepted part of sprint cycles. Resulting in a simpler product with a greater user experience 🎉.

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