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Product obsession is killing the customer experience

Only 20% of product features are always or often used, leaving 80% of product features are seldom or never used.

Published on
October 3, 2018

"The biggest waste in software development" [1]

When delivering digital products, it's easy to get so caught up with shipping features, you may forget why you're developing them in the first place. For many companies, an obsession with build team burnup charts, release burndown graphs and development velocity has led to people tracking the wrong metric altogether. The key factor in decision making needs to be, above all else, the value your customers find in the features that make up your product.

Place focus on the value you are delivering for those that will use your product by shifting your obsession from output to outcome. The adage of quality over quantity has never rung so true. While it's hard not to focus efforts on showcases, CEO check-ins or board meetings, remember, these critics are not the ones that will dictate the success of your product. That right alone lies with the customer.

To design for the customer, you need to know the customer

Before jumping into build you need to understand what it is your customers really need and how what you are developing will offer them a differentiated solution. Conduct research to truly understand your customers. Identify their pains and gains to understand how they are actually using solutions already in the market, and follow by mapping how well your competitors fulfill these customer needs. Finally, decide where and how you will play. Not every feature needs to break new ground or introduce new behaviour. Make sure that your approach to building specific features both fills a need and a gap. This will allow you to deliver value sooner, and with less effort as you'll spend less time developing features for already overcrowded markets and put effort where the most value can be found.

Use clearly articulated customer value propositions to guide your team

Being able to articulate what your customers value and clearly demonstrating how your product will deliver that is the key to truly powerful Customer Value Propositions. The purpose of creating unique Customer Value Propositions (CVP) is not to try convince customers of the value of your products. Rather, identify an important job a customer needs to get done and propose an offering that fulfills that need better than any alternative in the market. Generally speaking, the more important the job is to the customer, the lower the level of satisfaction with current alternatives [2].

Great CVP's like Spotify's "Soundtrack your life" or Evernote's "Remember everything" give everyone in the company a mantra they can use to make decisions. Day in, day out, these statements help orient the experience a company is trying to deliver through their unique product and service.

Test for market appetite

Home in on one or two key pain points to build a focussed ideal customer experience that turns these pains into customer gains. Then, using a series of Minimum Viable Products (MVPs), you can test different ways that you could deliver value or test elements of your solution with the market to gauge appetite. Use these learnings and build up to a Minimum Marketable Product (MMP). Different from an MVP, an MMP is the minimum you are happy to go to market with under your brand. Creating a clear distinction between the two will allow you to test more radical solutions at much less risk earlier on in the journey. Building incrementally and iteratively will drastically reduce the risk of releasing features that don't deliver the intended value while helping you develop a system with as little unintentional technical debt as possible.

Create value with AGILE delivery

Prioritising outcome over output is essential in breaking the product obsession. To increase the value customers find in your solution (as well as reducing your build costs), you need to decide how your product will be released in a way that uncovers both customer and system knowledge. This is a critical step. Properly prioritising your product backlog will reduce time and cost, as effort will be invested in the right places, helping you get to that release date sooner and start seeing value.

Create collective conversations

The ability to interpret, extrapolate and realise the requests of all stakeholders is a daunting tasks for many product owners. From our experience the conversation around a product roadmap and feature priorities is best achieved through a tangible solution that can be used to guide conversations around trade offs and help make informed decisions that compliment each other to build a more well rounded solution.

Don't dilute your offer - Make the most of your product features

Agile delivery relies on quick iterative cycles focussing on incrementally delivering product features and then testing them with real customers to ensure value in the solutions being developed (otherwise known as sprints). This build, test, learn process focuses on acknowledging both the good and the bad to ensure that as the product evolves, not only are you adding value, but simultaneously shedding technical baggage.

If you want your product to stay nimble and evolve with market demand, you need to only hold on to the features that are being used. Avoid becoming too invested in features that you should let go. Stripping legacy features is hard but I can guarantee you that a user of your product is only becoming distracted by everything they could do and not focussing on what they really need to do. Making sure that you don't dilute your offering is the best thing you can do to break the product obsession and stay true to delivering your best customer experience.

In summary

Strategy, vision and innovation are great. They let you understand the future landscape of an industry as well as identifying the role your organisation plays within that space. However, translating these lofty ideas into a tangible solution for customers is a completely separate skill set. Designing the operating models, delivery mechanisms and feedback systems that support the continued delivery of a successful solution is where many projects run aground.

Being able to produce the greatest amount of customer value for the least amount of effort is the holy grail for product development. So if there's one thing to take out of this blog it's this: Break the product obsession and organise yourself and your company to focus on outcome not output.

  1. Standish group study reported at XP2002, Jim Johnson, Chairman
  2. Harvard business review 'A New Framework for Business Models'

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