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Friday, December 25, 2015

Do Less So That You Can Do More

7:46 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , No comments
Tech industry has been going through a transformation in the last few years, particularly in the area of product development. Terms like "lean startup", "UX" and "user focus" have taken over the industry. It surely is a good change; however, while this approach to product development is being followed and discussed by almost everyone involved in making tech products, it is being executed by only a small subset of people.

This problem is especially true in the enterprise world, and there is a good reason for that: FOMO. Just like FOMO affects user behaviour and drives them towards more consumption of apps & information, FOMO affects companies as well, driving them to build more features in to their products in the fear that they might miss out on the demands of prospects and customers, driving them away.

Let's be clear here - having a lot of features is not a bad thing, especially in the enterprise world where "a few more features" can make the difference between winning or losing a deal. What's bad is having a lot of features upfront in the anticipation that users are going to use them. This is not just a problem for startups but even for mature companies. I am not going to go into the whole "lean product" rant, as there are a lot of awesome articles and books written on this topic, but I will list down three reasons why building a lot of features upfront is a bad thing:

  1. You do not know your customers yet - This is straight from the pages of "The Lean Startup" and is more suitable for new products. While building a new product, you bring in a lot of assumptions with some knowledge and probably some experience; however, the fact remains that you do not know your customers well enough yet. No matter how much knowledge and experience you have of the business domain, remember that you still are in the student mode, and just like a real student there is only one way to get your Masters degree i.e working your way from the lower levels to the higher ones.
  2. That's a lot of effort wasted - This one stems out from the first reason. There is no point in putting a lot of effort building a solution when you have yet to figure out the problem. Instead, you could have used this engineering bandwidth in enhancing existing features and improving user satisfaction.
  3. Removing features is hard - Every product manager worth his salt would tell you that all products require removing features occasionally. It's kind of a necessary evil, because on your way to learning about the customers you realise that some of your assumptions were wrong and that users actually do not need those features. So in the interest of not making your product bloated, removing features becomes a necessity. However, removing features is not easy - some customers might complain, others might even leave, putting you under pressure. The more features you build upfront, the worse the situation becomes. On the other hand, if you decide to play safe and not cut the features, you risk having a bloated product.

Okay, so now that we have established that we should "do less", how can we ensure that we execute this approach?

  1. Treat every major feature release as an MVP - Do not forget about the MVP approach after your first release. Every tech product has two kinds of work streams: minor enhancements and major features. Use the MVP approach for every major feature release. Build a minimal viable product for that new feature of yours and then add onto it through enhancements, based on data and user feedback. This will also help you in getting that much needed time for enhancing experience for that feature.
  2. Always be learning - No matter how much experience you have in the area or no matter how established your company is, always be in the learning mode. Drop your "Steve Jobs complex" and start learning about your customers through constant iteration and user testing.
  3. Err on the side of doing less - When in doubt always err on the side of doing less, because it is always faster, easier and better to add features, than to remove them.

You might be wondering that "doing less" goes against all product advise and can make you lag behind your competition. Bear in mind, though, that doing less is not the same as going slow. The whole idea is that rather than building all the functionality upfront (and losing your agility), you move fast and progress iteratively. While it is counterintuitive, the fact remains that when it comes to making great products, in order to do more, you have got to do less.