Avoid feature bloat and deliver your product strategy

Even the best products including your favorite product (can) suffer form feature bloat. In my last article Measuring Feature Adoption – I talked about measuring feature adoption. Tracking feature adoptions will help you avoid feature bloat.

A product filled with non-performing features causes

1. accumulation of technical debt,
2. increased maintenance costs,

leading to a lower customer satisfaction (NPS score) and a lack of market differentiation.

Features too have an iceberg problem. They may seem to be small features but turn out to have huge costs. This can happen when you decide to ship a feature for a specific customer or a use case instead of shipping new products.

Avoiding feature bloat

One way to avoid feature bloat is to have a strategic approach on the bigger picture. Focus on outcomes instead of output.

Avoid focusing on shipping features. Product teams should focus on the number of problems solved and the positive impact on their customers – this directly results in a better NPS score.

When you focus on the outcomes, it allows you to gather feedback from customers, talk to them more often to test your hypothesis for a new feature. Tracking your feature allows you to decide if you should either iterate or pull out this feature.

Finally, doing a feature audit will also help understand how features are being used. Looking at your feature adoption and usage metrics will allow you to decide to to kill an underperforming feature or work on increasing adoption.

Delivering a Product Strategy

As your product evolves and becomes mature, typically in the growth phase – you attempt to serve everyone. In this phase, products can be disrupted by the one big customer’s specific needs or by smaller niche markets.

Segmenting your product based on customer needs, jobs and personas will allow you to bundle your product to different tiers at different pricing options and avoid feature bloat.

It’s Roadmap season

The (fiscal) year is coming to an end and most of us are recharged coming back from the holiday season. It’s the time of the year when product managers are the busiest, emotions run high and frustration sets in. It’s time to make the roadmap for the next year.

Within the organization Roadmaps are a fearcly debated topic. It’s not the principle of a product roadmap; it’s the misunderstandings they bring.

Google “What is a product roadmap” and you will be treated with a variation of definition (classic):

1. A high-level visually summary that maps out vision and direction: What is a Product Roadmap?

2. A high-level, visual representation of the direction your product offering will take over time: What is a Product Roadmap? | Customer Success Software | Gainsight

3. Plan for how your product is going to meet a set of business objectives: Product Roadmap Examples and Definition | Aha!

I like to call product roadmaps as a strategic document or in Gibson Biddle words “The roadmap is an artifact — an expression — of your product strategy”.

Reading Gibson Biddle’s artilce on The Product Roadmap

When I share a roadmap, I express confidence about the next quarter’s projects but highlight that the content and timing of the subsequent quarters are highly speculative. There’s lots of near-term learning that will cause plans to change.

This is extremely important. The classic mistakes we all make is try to set the roadmap in stone at the beginning of the year or if you are flexible enough we try to put in delivery dates for each item.

Having such a roadmap is important. Keep in mind, its the one thing that you can share with your customers to let them know if the direction your product is headed works for them and how by how much.

Remember, a product roadmap is NOT a project plan, its not permanent and most importantly its not a list of features or requirement.

For your product roadmap to express your product strategy focus on outcomes, understand your audience (your stake holders), keep it simple and stupid (KISS), state your product vision and most importantly keep it updated.

I personally follow Gibson Biddle’s quarterly format for my roadmap. Focus on themes its always helped me in aligning teams behind a common goal. It allows for healthy discussion and alignment and it helps to keep the teams focused.