Mar 26

Product Management: Features are Your Enemy

Kill Features

I have been reading the 37 Signals Book Rework. While I don't agree with everything, the overall messages in it are dead-on. Every entrepreneur who has dreams of being the next Techcrunch traffic spike should read it; BEFORE they start.

No one thinks about product management when they start building an application. The entreprenuer assumes the role because it is their idea. What they don't realize is that over time the idea evolves and they are no longer suited to manage it from inception to execution. Features get added daily in response to the proverbial "What If..."

Let me tell you from experience, having seen the demise of a startup with $1M+ invested, features are your enemy. There's a section in Rework called Progress. Read it. Own it. Live it. Here's the index:

  • Embrace constraints
  • Build half, not half-ass
  • Start at the epicenter
  • Ignore the details early on
  • Making the call is making progress
  • Be a curator
  • Throw less at the problem
  • Focus on what won't change
  • Tone is in your fingers
  • Sell your by-products
  • Launch now

You don't have to read the book or be a product management genius to get the point. Here are a few words of wisdom that I share with our clients:

  1. Create Your Yardstick - Define The Core. In 2 sentences (MAX), define what your application is and does. That is your yard stick. Every feature should be measured against it. If it doesn't add value to the core, it's just noise.
  2. Launch with 3 features, not 30. Get Feedback. Until you launch your application and have real users plugging away at it, what you think people want is just that. What YOU THINK. What you would want isn't always what everyone else wants.
  3. Evaluate Features Objectively. Use a product matrix to list features and evaluate them against business goals. Uploading pictures to a profile page is great, but does it directly increase your revenue or build a bigger community?
  4. Features are Put on Hold. Just because you strip out something today, doesn't mean it can't be added back in tomorrow. Chances are when you actually do add it back, it will be twice as good.
  5. Users Need Simplicity. The more options and choices you give someone the more opportunity you create for confusion, frustration and ultimately abandonment. Keep it simple. Let the 5% of people that want 25 configuration options suffer, not the 95% who don't care.

Bottom line is this: keep is simple. Evolve over time. Add features based on feedback and actual requests, not based on guesses. Guesses cost you time and money. You aren't Facebook or Twitter. When they started they weren't "Facebook or Twitter" either. Be smart, agile and successful.