Features Schmeatures, Build for Value!

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hammer with toothbrush

Are you building a product with a focus on features or on value? A simple question with a not-so-simple answer. Obviously, features and value are not diametrically opposed, but it is always a helpful exercise to think in terms of pure user impact when building something that will resonate with your customers. One study done shows that as much as 64% of a software application’s features are rarely or never used. What if you knew which of those features were crap and could cut them from your roadmap?
You would not only reduce development costs but also reduce the complexity of your product which usually means significantly improving the user’s experience. Culling to remove those bogus bits would also allow you to more quickly build additional things with true value. It’s like if someone takes the lima beans off your plate, you will get to the pudding faster!

Outcomes Over Output

There is no doubt that shipping a product, or even a small update to a product, feels really, really, super great! It fills us with a sense of accomplishment and it gives us things to point our fingers at during our next performance review or quarterly shareholder meeting. This is why you will add an already-completed task to your to-do list just for that satisfying feeling of crossing it off—don’t even pretend like you haven’t done that!
We need to be careful that we don’t let the mere act of shipping something—anything—become the measure of our success. People don’t use a particular product because it has 52 features—they use it because it provides them with value—It does a job that needs being done. So, we need to find ways to measure the value of what we are making instead of simply measuring the volume of our output.

Love is a Battlefield

It is easy to fall in love with our ideas, and our initial designs, and our detailed roadmaps, and our 18 month strategies—because we spend so much time creating, socializing and defending them. We have to fight so hard and so often for what we think is right that this emotional investment in our own point-of-view can create a bias—a blind spot. Are you sure you’re serving the best interests of the end user and not your own ego?

Grab Your Shovel

We must do our due diligence and really dig into the underlying drivers of those features on our product roadmaps. This value assessment has multiple benefits. The obvious one is that having a clear understanding of why we need to build something can help decide between multiple potential solutions. Another reason to dig deeper into the ‘why’ is that you may discover your solution to the challenge at hand only addresses the symptom and not the underlying cause. For example, people in the 80s were asking for longer phone cords. There were some companies that responded to the request for longer phone cords by giving people longer phone cords…makes sense, right? Well, other companies not only heard the request but also understood the underlying ‘why’, the desire for flexibility to move around the home, and created wireless phones. Which type of company do you work for?

Is Your Baby Ugly?

It’s time to get real. Let’s take a step back to look at this thing that you are making. How do you know if you are building the right product or adding the right feature? Easy. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have any evidence, hard data and/or human insights, that tell me I’m solving a real need?
  • How many users have seen *some* iteration of the thing I am about to build? Hint: the answer cannot be zero.
  • Have I identified an ideal outcome from my user’s perspective—What does success look like?
  • Have I considered the “opportunity cost”—what are my users NOT getting because I’m building this?
  • Will this feature add more value than it erodes due to the additional complexity or the potential confusion it introduces?
  • Is this feature driven by my company’s HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion)?

The Internet of Toast (IoTo)

Let’s have some fun. Suppose you and I work for a toaster manufacturer who wants to take advantage of the booming IoT trend. We put a chip in our toaster and call it the SmartToaster 3000(tm)! Now, when someone visits their neighbor for that weekly toast party, both of their SmartToaster 3000s can communicate and automatically share each other’s toast-darkness preferences. No more of that pesky manual darkness adjustment when you’re away from home.
This is perhaps an overly-ridiculous example. The point here is that just because we have the technology to connect a toaster to the internet doesn’t mean we should. And also, we don’t need the added stress of worrying about the day that ToasterNet becomes self-aware!

Value is the Goal (aka The Conclusion)

We need some checks and balances to ensure that we are basing product decisions on what will provide the most impact for the end customer and not worry so much about “vanity metrics,” like the amount of features shipped this quarter. This isn’t an easy thing to do since things like efficiency and productivity are most commonly measured by volume of stuff produced, new features, app screens, lines of code, etc. If you want to build something valuable you need to understand what “valuable” means to your users. Duh!, right? I don’t think anyone would argue with that statement…so why do so many products suck?!
Because those that build the products either don’t truly understand what equals value for their users, or they just did a poor job of designing and executing their ideas.
Ensure you are building for value by completing this to-do list:
[ ] Do whatever it takes to understand what would be valuable for your users
[ ] Identify how you can measure for that value
[ ] Build towards those metrics
[ ] Measure and adjust
[ ] Finish reading this article (go ahead and check this one off!)