Enter Feature Hell

Denying feature requests and staying popular

Product Management Prioritization
By Ferdinand Vogler 04.10.2019 5 min read

“The ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order.” Steven Pinker

What seems to be true for “life, the mind and human striving” also applies to Product Management. Those “carved-out refuges of beneficial order” are about reducing the areas where you suck and figuring out where your efforts are best placed. You can’t apply the Pareto principle to everything, like if 80% of your product’s value comes from 20% of your features. You need to be truly excellent somewhere. When it comes to solving a problem, somebody should point into your direction and say “these people are 10× better than anything else on the market”. How do you get to that unique position? By loving the discomfort of saying “No” and still remaining popular enough amongst your co-workers.

Picture description
Slide from a presentation of Jared Spool at AOL Design Summit 2007.

How did this land in our product anyway?

You might think, that adding a little feature doesn’t hurt. You can just make it optional, right? Whoever feels like it can just activate it and start using it. This leads to a thousand deaths by preferences, resulting in a cluttered interface with loads of conditional design. Everything is connected somehow. The result will be all kinds of different states that influence each other and the user has no idea what effects what. Every innocent feature you agree to weakens your product position.

“We’re a calendar management app with automatic invoicing, where you can print your best meetings as motiviational posters, which then get you local discounts at selected coffee stores… soon.”

Taming the beast

Ever wondered why people give away their dog into an animal shelter? Why did they even get one in the first place? Most owners underestimated the time it takes to care for a dog.

Although code can be a beast, of course it’s not comparable to an animal. But the same principles apply in software too. Agreeing to something is easy. Ideas are free and easy to generate. Coding is hard, but maintaining it, marketing it, educating Customer Support and Sales… if you want it now, will you still want it in the feature after considering these aspects? Quality software has no small changes. Even if they are small, most of them will come back to haunt you. The hotfix, that should’ve only taken two minutes will mutate into a two-hour code battle.

Finding the sweetest fruits

As a Product Manager, seemingly good ideas will be brought to you all the time. It’s your job to see through the jungle and find the sweetest fruits — even if you have to march months to get them. More features look good in an itemized feature comparison chart, but if you’re being compared on that level, your product doesn’t communicate what it actually helps people with. If you fall for outputs over outcomes, you’ll end up with a repository of features — not a product.

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