“Is My Product Too Fat?” 5 Ways to Avoid Feature Bloat
Even if you work with a great product team who cares about the customer, chances are you might be building another Frankenstein product with lots of stinking features. How come?
Product teams deal with new feature requests every day. But it doesn’t mean saying “yes” to all of them! Some pieces can make sense individually but when combined, become a recipe for disaster.
For instance, you got a machine that makes the best quickest coffee. It has 5 settings for temperature, 10 options for froth consistency, 12 alarm tones to tell you when coffee is ready. It also tells the time, weather and streams 40 radio stations.
The manufacturer of this coffee machine may have listened to all user requests. But is this what the customer needs? Yeah, a few users may have asked for 5 temperature settings and 10 alarm tones, but fundamentally the majority of customers simply wanted good coffee done in the quickest way possible.
In other words, the coffee machine makers put capability over usability. They added features with little value that created confusion and only wasted the customers’ time.
You may have already recognized this issue known as “feature bloat” or “feature fatigue/creep/overload.” So, why do so many products become feature bloated over time ?
According to Marketing Science Institute: “Because consumers give more weight to capability and less weight to usability when they evaluate products prior to use than they do when they evaluate products after use, consumers tend to choose overly complex products that do not maximize their satisfaction, resulting in ‘feature fatigue.’”
When you overload the product with features, you may “buy” some early users. But later on, the confusion around your product among the customers and the product team leads to catastrophe.
The biggest challenge is to decide what features your customers really need and what features seem to be essential but turn out unnecessary and excessive over time.
Let’s take a closer look at feature bloat and it can be avoided.
What is Feature Bloat?
Feature bloat is the tendency of a vendor continually to add unnecessary features to a product that are not of any value to most users, use more system resources than necessary, and often unnecessarily add to the cost of the product.
Why do we have feature bloat?
Every team wants to build a great product and have lots of happy users. And improving the product with new features is a common way to do that.
But as Rian van der Merwe points out in his article How to avoid building products that fail, product managers sometimes mistakenly believe product features and customer needs are the same.
“Have you ever used more than one or two of the preset cycles on your washing machine? And how many different ways do you need to toast your bread? The evolution of household appliances is a perfect example of what happens when features are equated with value. We don’t need more ways to wash our clothes. We might need faster or quieter ways, sure. But as we know, more isn’t necessarily better.”
More isn’t necessarily better. In most cases, less is more, and simplicity is king.
Another problem is that while adding new features, we rarely take any of them out. It’s simple arithmetic. We add more than we subtract.
Adding features is easier than removing them because it’s hard to justify why we take them out. Many people send requests asking to add features. And I bet nobody has sent you a letter asking to kill a feature.
You never know for sure whether removing a feature is worth it. Some people use it. Some love it and bought the product because of it. Some may leave if you take it out. So how do you choose which features to add and which ones to kill?
1. Determine feature relevance
Users often ask for features but there’s no need to “fit” them all into an existing product. Before adopting any new feature, ask two questions:
- Why do users need this functionality? What do they expect to gain by this functionality (save time, work faster, etc.)?
- What percentage of users will this feature positively impact?
These questions help estimate the overall relevance of the feature. Just because you’re getting bombarded with requests from a small group of your users (the vocal minority), it doesn’t mean all of your users are thinking the same thing.
2. Ensure features align with your goals
Check whether a new feature fits into your short or long-term goals. Anything that doesn’t clearly fit into one of these two sections should be set aside until it makes any sense for the business.
3. Prioritize usability
Look at your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It has the essential basic function – one thing that your product does extremely well. This function should be enhanced by features – but it should not rely on them.
Too often, in their eagerness to add more functionality, product managers forget about the product’s basic function. Remember the coffee machine with 12 alarm tones and 40 radio stations? Features are important but they shouldn’t be your number one priority.
4. Learn to say “No”
If you mindlessly implement every feature request, your product will “get fat” very quickly. Stay focused on your product vision, and your product’s purpose. Sometimes, it means saying “no” to customer feedback if it doesn’t serve your long-term goals or the product’s basic function. And you have to get comfortable with that. Period.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “Perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Get rid of dead features as often as you can. Users don’t have time to scrape through piles of features and read endless guides to figure out how to use your product. If customers try your product and leave quickly, this is a telling sign you need to clean up.