Overcoming Feature FOMO

‘We just can’t launch without [feature x].’

‘Nobody will download this if we don’t have [feature x].’

‘[Competing product x] has [feature x] and everyone seems to love it.’

Any of this sound familiar?

There’s a fear among many product owners (or designers or managers) that leaving out a seemingly critical feature diminishes the value of the product. This fear is based on the misconception that users somehow draw a direct relationship between feature quantity and product value. It also stems from the habit of comparing concepts to competing or benchmark products that have been in-market for years.

Clogging products with features results in a longer time-to-market, higher production costs, higher support and maintenance costs, and competition with products not originally on your radar.

Being ruthless with feature inclusion is hard, but it must be done. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Critique and test before you copy. 👀

Subjective product comparison seems almost unavoidable, but it’s dangerous. Here’s why:

  • There’s a good chance you have zero insight into why a feature was added in the first place. You could simply be replicating the outcome of someone else’s Feature FOMO. 😬
  • The competing product may have a different target customer with different needs.
  • You’re likely unaware of the real customer value provided by the feature(s).

If your product vision (see the third idea) necessitates a feature you think is well done by a competitor it’s never a bad idea to run a usability test. Watching your customers use something similar to what you plan on implementing may help your team generate new ideas while preventing the replication of things that are difficult to use.

Do your research. 🔎

‘We completed a design sprint and people were able to use our prototype with ease.’

Well done, but how many of the features provide real value? Do these features (or does this product) solve a problem that actually exists?

Usable and valuable are not the same thing.

Products should be informed in large part by what we know about customers. Without conducting generative research we’re making assumptions, attempting to address a need that doesn’t exist, or solving a problem for ourselves alone.

Using one or more of the following methods will ensure you’re ‘building the right thing’ (or including the right features):

  • Interviewing customers
  • Spending time with customers through contextual inquiry
  • Diary studies

At the very least, start by looking at the data you already have. Things like analytics and customer service data need to be qualified, but they may point you in the right direction.

Create (and stick to) a product vision. 🗺

All-too-often the description of a new product starts with a feature list. We don’t talk about users, needs, benefits, or differentiation. It’s easy to jump to design exercises while hoping a vision starts to take shape.

It won’t.

I like facilitating a very brief workshop where team members diverge to complete the following before converging to (eventually) agree on a vision:

  • Who the product is for
  • Their need or opportunity
  • The product benefit
  • Competitive advantage and differentiation

This exercise is made easier when the first two components are shaped by insight from the generative research I mentioned earlier.

And don’t worry, time spent discussing (or arguing over) vision is not time wasted. Sorting vision out during design, or worse, launching without one, costs much more.

— —

Fear thrives when we imagine the worst, and Feature FOMO is no different. Our imagination is helpful because it allows us to plan for and expect the positive. On the flip side, we’re also quite capable of visualizing things going wrong, like a product completely failing in the market. The knee-jerk reaction to this fear is often to load up on features.

Understanding customers through research increases confidence and helps steer us away from imagining the worst. A customer-centric product vision gives us a north star to follow. Testing competing products objectifies their performance and/or suitability.

Collectively, these measures go a long way in quelling the fear that results in feature rich, er, severely bloated products.