Product Philosophy #2 — Focus

This is the second note I sent out to my company today on our way to a major relaunch. We’re making some changes that make folks uncomfortable, and I want them to know WHY we’re doing what we’re doing.

In my last note I discussed SIMPLICITY as a foundational product philosophy.
The second philosophy is highly related to the first, and that’s FOCUS.
As products grow they start to have the room to do MANY things, not just ONE thing. In many cases doing more is a good thing! When Facebook started you could really only post text and photos. Then videos. And links. And notes. And those things were completely natural extensions, and they caused you to use the product MORE.
But even for Facebook they reached a point (many times, in fact), where some features didn’t get as much usage and started to be in the way of the main FOCUS of the app. Do any of you remember when they made Facebook Notes less and less discoverable? Or more recently they actually split Facebook Messenger out as its own product?
The point is that there are cases where the product can’t do all things equally well, and doing too many things puts the first product philosophy of SIMPLICITY at risk. That’s when products have to FOCUS. For a product to succeed it has to choose what the PRIMARY purpose of the product is, and make sure that nothing gets in the way of that.
For POPin 3.0 we chose to FOCUS on three PRIMARY activities within the product. The first is answering a question as a first time participant directly from an email. The second is to make it easy to answer a question from just launching the product. The third is making it simple for a participant to become a hero. If we succeed at those basic interactions of the product, our engagement will increase AND so will our audience.
So what about features that don’t help those move forward? They are effectively product-debt. They aren’t free. They cost time and effort to keep moving them forward, and more importantly, they DISTRACT users from the things we want them to do. We want the user to be unbelievably successful as those critical activities above all else. A good rule of thumb is that if something is getting used by less than 1% of the audience, then it should be removed.
Does this sound extreme? It is. In practice there are features that are important even if they don’t move the main activities forward. They may support secondary activities that are important, but not AS important. But it’s easy to assume that we should keep ALL features because we have them, and that’s wrong. We take the extreme approach to really challenge ourselves to find the things that truly matter, and the ones that cause drag.
So how do we do this? How do we find out if something that is secondary is still important (and important enough to create friction for our primary activities)? One of the most useful techniques in modern Product Management to achieve this kind of FOCUS is to REMOVE items to find out if they really mattered. If they really mattered, removal will cause a problem. You’re all familiar with Minimum Viable Product. This is the same concept, but in reverse. It’s like cleaning barnacles off a ship so you can go way faster. Which is great as long as you don’t break the hull!
In the process of removing things we may find that something we’ve removed will cause an uproar. Some of you are roaring already! And we’re listening, because we’re trying to find what is critical and what is cruft, so we can go FAST.
So if a customer has a question about a favorite feature that may be missing, now you know how to answer. First, we simplified the product to its most critical components so that it’s BETTER at what they want to use it for. And second, if they miss it, we want to know about it, and why! We might bring the feature back, or we might introduce something that solves the same need, but does it even better!