Why The Best Product Managers Delete More Than They Add

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The product was falling under its own weight.  It was bloated and didn’t really solve a key problem for the customer.  I talked to the lead product manager about some of the issues with the product, and he relayed that the previous product manager pushed the team to add these features.  He was looking for the “one magical feature” that would make the product take off and make him the hero.  Unfortunately, this approach of “Throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks” is an incredibly poor way to manage a product.  In reality, product managers should deleting more features than they add.

 

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Most features are never used

You can probably think of a common software product you use, and the percentage of its features you use.  Most of us, even power users, use only a small subset of the features of a product.  The Standish Group reports that “only about 20% of a software product’s features are used ‘Always or Often.'”  This means that 80% of the features in the product are never touched.  However those features still need to be supported by the company, debugged by the teams, and pumped up by marketing.  Unfortunately, its the natural state of inertia that as a product is on the market longer, it becomes more and more “feature rich.”  If these features don’t add any value to the user, then they are wasteful.

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Effective product management = the art of saying “no”

When a product is first envisoned and built, its easy to manage.  You take an idea and iterate on it with your customers.  However, after a product gets traction, managing it becomes more difficult because there are more outside influences.

  • Certain segments of customers want to see features added to a product that might not be part of the overall strategy.
  • Executive leadership wants to see other features in a product.
  • Competitors are adding features that you need to react to.
  • Product management has their own vision and roadmap.

All these factors combined makes it difficult to decide what goes in and what goes out of a product.  Weak product owners say yes to everything, and simply add it to the list.  Strong product owners stay true to the vision and strategy and say no to most requests, keeping the proposed feature list in line with the overall strategy.  This is, in essence, the root of effective product management.

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Removing features creates simple and elegant products

All complex products evolved from simple products that worked well.  Its just along the way, these products lost the original focus, leading to bloat.  Simple products have a much higher chance of inspiring customer passion and delight.  Ask any serious hunter if he would ever use a Swiss Army knife.  He will laugh.  A Swiss Army knife is a tool that fulfills many functions in a mediocre manner, while a knife made for the purpose of skinning animals performs beautifully, even though doesn’t have a nail clipper attachment.  What kind of products do you want to make?  Swiss army knives with nail clipper attachments?  Or highly functional simple, effective tools that customers find indispensable?

To take products back to their simple, elegant, functional roots, remove extra features that don’t add any value and, focus on the core “brand promise”, and create a limited yet necessary feature set.

Until Next Time,

Stay Agile, My Friends

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