6 Powerful Reasons to Remove Features
We’ve all experienced that moment when we open a familiar app or website, only to discover that a favorite feature has vanished. For me, that moment came with the discontinuation of Google Reader. It’s easy to take feature loss personally and assume that the product managers are clueless.
For those of us who work in software product management and product development, we know that removing under-performing features is necessary in order to maintain the health of a product. There are numerous excellent reasons to do so, which I outline below. However, it’s surprisingly difficult to remove features. First, there is an inevitably oversized backlog of new features waiting to be built, with the potential to help the company grow. Removing features rarely causes near-term growth, and consequently won’t be found on a product manager’s list of goals. Even more significantly, removing features can be painful for anyone who works directly with customers. Sales, customer success, and product marketing have to deal with the backlash from the small but vocal group of customers who came to rely on an obscure feature. Plus, it’s one less bullet for the sales sheet! So the zombie features are allowed to survive: not living up to their expectations, but definitely not dead.
Removing features is particularly challenging for businesses where certain personas (power users) are particularly valuable or influential. This is the case with User Generated Content (UGC) businesses where a small fraction of the audience contributes the lion’s share of content from which others derive value. I’ve posted on Quora about what motivates consumers to contribute UGC based on my experience as CEO at Urbanspoon. UGC contributors are remarkably different than other site visitors, and they value different features and tools. So as a product manager in a UGC business, you need to carefully look at feature usage by persona or segment before resolving to cut features.
Despite the inertia keeping zombie products or features alive, I believe that the argument in favor of simplicity is compelling. If you are trying to champion simplicity and feature removal, but facing pushback, here are 6 reasons to support your cause:
1.Simplified customer experience. Additional modules or menu items or settings make it difficult for new customers to find what is important. Even for experienced customers, every additional option adds “cognitive load” and makes a service feel less delightful, and more like work.
2. Reduced “load time” and increased speed of the service. Sites with fast page load have higher conversion rates and more love from Google for search ranking. Most importantly, fast sites and apps respect our customers’ valuable time.
But, you may say, why not just hide the features for new or casual customers, or move them somewhere that only power users will see them? Unfortunately, doing so wouldn’t accomplish these other benefits:
3. Improved stability and reliability. Features introduce bugs unless they are regularly tested. The funny thing about software is that it often is intertwined in ways that make the consequences of changes difficult to predict. A decade ago, software companies would have employed armies of QA testers to do end to end tests on an app before releasing changes. The world is different now: we leverage test automation in addition to focused QA testing, and we move faster and introduce more innovations to market. However, despite best efforts, unintended consequences pop up, which take time and effort to diagnose and resolve.
4. Improved ability to innovate. Features add to code (software) complexity, and thus slow our ability to build or fix what is most important.
5. Ease of hiring and training new developers. Simpler code results in a lower learning curve.
6. Lowered cost of technology upgrades. When companies upgrade their underlying technology, features often need to be rebuilt. While I was at Urbanspoon, we upgraded the website to be responsive (so that our pages resize gracefully for tablets and phones). This required many if not all of our website features to be rebuilt.
Here are some tips when you’re getting ready to remove features:
- Make sure to segment your usage data to understand if there are particularly important segments and personas using the features in question.
- Inform your most vocal and loyal customers at least a week or two beforehand. You probably don’t need to broadcast feature deprecation to everyone (most people won’t notice), but reach out to people who are most engaged. Even better, see if your metrics systems can isolate the people who have recently used the features that are slated to be sunsetted. Give these engaged customers an opportunity to provide feedback. When we did so at Urbanspoon, we were alerted to surprising uses for obscure features, and were able to provide more direct and valuable paths to accomplish those tasks elsewhere in the product.
- Make sure to test thoroughly, and monitor your site or app closely after launch, including seemingly unrelated areas of the product. The intertwined code complexity that I mentioned above can result in unexpected impacts.
- Remove features in groups rather than one by one to reduce the impact on customer-facing teams. It’s easier to communicate to engaged power users, and update marketing collateral once rather than trickling it out over time.
Ultimately, cleaning up your interface and removing low-use features helps you to offer a more attractive and innovative product.
Learn more about Product Management best practices with PM Loop’s online product management training courses, including Product Management Fundamentals.
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The post above is an update of an article I wrote that was published in Northwest Innovation.