The Misconception of Product “Hygiene”

It’s another (tech) product jargon day.

“Hygiene.”

Apparently, “hygiene” in product management means getting all the basic things functional and error-free or as much error-free as it can. It depends on the type of product you manage or design. If it was a mobile banking product, these could be hygienes:

  • View your balance
  • View latest transactions
  • Send & receive money
  • Pay bills

Anything other than the basic functions are considered added values or features that are unique or nice to have.

Honestly, I am not a big fan of the term itself.

“Hygiene” often feels like something that you have for the sake of function, and that you don’t have to do them well, just okay enough. It’s one thing to be able to wash your hands for hygiene, but it’s another thing to do a proper hand wash with a good soap.

When a product guy presents that we should take care of hygiene first, then “innovate” later, it implies that you can’t really innovate on the basics. Here lies the problem, in my opinion. Many product teams just want to add more “innovation” on top—or in addition—of the “basic” layers. They will just have the basics functioning then being impatient to add more features like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, chatbots, and Internet of Things.

In my opinion, product hygiene is more than making the basics right. It’s about making the basics delightful. It’s also innovation.

Take for examples the above banking product once again:

We should consider advancing product hygiene to the next level, instead of just adding new features

More often than not, leveling up product hygiene is not considered a “sexy job” for product managers, but they’re one of the priorities by product designers. This is often the miss between product managers and designers. Leveling up product hygiene is also not always considered the “money maker” because a good experience often does not have a financially-measurable output. It’s only proven when it’s done and tried out.

I’ve been in situations when we need to pitch for new ideas for the company, but it’s always ideas that add something on top of hygiene that won, particularly even more with ideas that have the real money shot, e.g. “premium accounts”. What about we elevate the basic accounts so that more people can be delightful and convert more?

In this case, I agree with Emirates on how it mocks other airlines selling better services on Business or Premium Economy to make customers pay for more, while they can provide something extraordinary even in Economy:

Upgrade your airline, not your class of service!

So, the next time you’re pitching ideas for your company or product, vote for ideas that actually enhance the hygienes!