Spring Cleaning for Your Product
The flowers are starting to bloom, the temperature is rising, the sun is showing through the clouds for the first time in months, and here in D.C., the Cherry Blossoms have already fallen from the trees. Spring is here.
Spring Cleaning is a tradition that originated thousands of years ago.
It’s time to start a new tradition: Spring Cleaning For Your Product
Why Spring Cleaning for Products?
Admit it. Over the last few months you’ve been so focused on building new features for your product, you’ve completely ignored existing functionality and the holistic experience you offer your customers.
It’s very easy for a technology product to quickly become bloated and buggy.
When you’re focused on building new features without regard for maintenance, bug fixing, and tech debt, a few things happen:
- The quality of your product deteriorates. While new features may drive more users to your product, they’ll find the overall experience less satisfying and their retention will be lower.
- It becomes more difficult for developers to work in your codebase. Tech Debt is a sludge that progressively slows down development. The more debt, the more sludge that gets in the way of product improvements.
- You’re poorly positioned to take advantage of new technologies. Without continuous “cleaning” and refactoring of your product, removal of retired features, and updating of languages and frameworks, you’ll find that it’s very hard to take advantage of new technologies. The barriers to entry will simply be too large and you’ll fall farther and farther behind.
Your Spring Cleaning List
- Tech Debt
Maiz Lulkin does a great job writing about the cost of Tech Debt here: https://medium.com/@joaomilho/festina-lente-e29070811b84
Tech Debt is just that, a “debt” that you need to pay back. The longer you wait to pay that debt back, just like real debt, the bigger it gets.
“Interest” accumulates over time and the debt gets more and more difficult to rid yourself of. Act now and kill the most dangerous debt in your product.
2. Bug Crush
Your bug backlog has gotten longer over the past few months, hasn’t it? It’s time to prioritize that list based on impact, severity, and the future vision of your products and company.
What parts of your product do you need to be “bulletproof”?
What features do over 25% of your customers use or your most valuable customers depend on?
Start there, start with the bugs that break your product experience, and set a goal for improvement tied to a trackable, related metric, like Net Promoter Score.
3. Tear Down and Rebuild
If your product is functional/profitable/successful today, this one will be the hardest.
But take a minute to think about this:
If you could build your product again, knowing what you know now, what would it look like?
For most companies, that product would look very different than what they actually have today. That’s because we build incrementally and rarely tear everything down and start from scratch. But if the only way to the “best” version of your product is to start from scratch, why not start today?
Think about what parts of your core product you’d want to rebuild and test first and how you could launch a new version of your product in a test against your current one.
Focus is the key here. What could a new version of your product do that your current product simply can’t today? Start there.
4. Develop a New Perspective
Spring cleaning for your product isn’t just about cleaning up tech debt, crushing bugs, and refreshing your product lineup, it’s also about developing a new perspective.
Here are a few ways you can build that new perspective:
Schedule 20 in-person or phone interviews with your customers
Get out of the office and share your product with your target audience (wherever they may be)
Push yourself to do something you’ve never done before to learn about how people use your product
Spring Cleaning Benefits
It should be clear at this point, but going through a Spring Cleaning of your product will not only improve your product today, but will also position your company and product better for the future.
Spring Cleaning today is your path to exponential, rather than incremental, growth.
Spring Cleaning All-Stars
Looking for companies that are “Spring Cleaning All-Stars”?
The company responsible for products like JIRA, Hipchat, and Confluence is uniquely positioned to not only track their own development and product practices, but to also learn from thousands of other technology companies. See how they approach keeping their products and technology in good shape: https://www.atlassian.com/agile/technical-debt
Airbnb’s engineering team experienced incredible growth over the past few years. It’s easy during this period of hyper-growth to lose sight of tech and product debt, but they didn’t.
Here’s a great post from one of their engineers on how to maintain quality as you scale: https://medium.com/airbnb-engineering/maintaining-quality-at-scale-a3b0ffa03ef9
A lot has changed at the company since it was founded in October 2010. But one thing that hasn’t is the company’s engineering motto: “Do the Simple Thing First”.
With this motto, Instagram Engineering highlights an important point with Spring Cleaning for your product. Don’t just clean and optimize for cleanings’ sake.
Clean up things that matter. Make improvements that are noticeable and impactful.
See more on this approach with their Android app: https://engineering.instagram.com/instagram-android-four-years-later-927c166b0201
So what are you waiting for? Start cleaning your product and code today (where it matters) and position yourself for faster and more nimble growth in the future.
How do you keep your product “clean”? Let me know at @amitch5903!
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