Feature Fatigue

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Feature Fatigue

We have a dilemma.

Prospects (the people you’re selling to) base purchasing decisions on perceived value, typically interpreted as “more is better.”

Customers (people using your product) make customer satisfaction opinions based on usability, where “less is better.”

How does a product manager serve both sides of the dilemma? Entice the prospects and satisfy the existing customers?

How do you as a shopper make decisions based on what’s good for your long term satisfaction rather than your miss-perception of value = more?

Virtually every software product development cycle I’ve been a part of in the last two decades has centered on a single topic; add more features. Our efforts resulted in two outcomes; short term sales (the sales team could continue to say “yes” to more features), and a long term decrease in our product’s overall usability.

Every single feature you add to a product, even if nobody ever uses it, adds complexity and could potentially get in the way of someone trying to accomplish something. This is why documentation and online help inside software applications has ballooned to 1,000s of pages. Who has the time to commit to this level of learning curve? What product is worth this much work?

This isn’t an easy dilemma.

I have some suggestions. Instead of thinking about your product or service offering through the single lens of “add more” let’s add two more views into how to make your product/service more appealing.

1) Simplify

2) Remove

What could you re-factor, clean up; improve, simplify to decrease the complexity of your product?

What features could you outright remove?

Blasphemy – I know, removing features, are you crazy Jennifer? Do you want me to put that in a press release? We removed 40 features! Back in 2006 Mercedes-Benz removed more than 600 features from its cars because they realized more was getting in the way of what was really important.

I believe we are seeing a shift in buying habits; no doubt that Apple has been a huge influencer in this area. Usability is coming into the buying discussion. I recently bought a heart rate monitor; I searched Google for “simplest heart rate monitor” and found one that bragged about how little it did! I had two goals in my purchase, buy a heart rate monitor that monitored my heart rate accurately during exercise and did not require me to read a user’s manual to figure it out. Here’s the irony, I would have paid MORE for it to do less in a more usable fashion.

Apple has spoiled us with beautifully usable products; I want Apple to design the following: home/office phone, alarm clock, car, bike computer, home alarm system, camera, essentially every electronic device I use. I don’t own a TV, if Apple comes out with one I might have to join the rest of America and plug in.


  1. Ryan McAbee on March 7, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Hi Jennifer,

    You have delivered another great talking point. Most products are too feature laden which is why those who master simplicity often get the rewards.

    I think most companies struggle with simplifying products for several. The product designers might love their features more than their customers. Marketers might want a bigger feature list than the competition. As more departments or interested parties get involved, the complexity usually increases.

    The only real difficulty is being able to admit to yourself and to your prospects that a simple, focused product may not be the jack-of-all-trades solution the customer is after. 37 Signals (listed in your blogroll) is a company whose products focus on solving one problem. If you need more than that, they will recommend another vendor. I think there is a lesson to be learned through their approach.

    Thanks again,

  2. Kevin Keane on March 8, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Another great post Jennifer, thank you!

    Feature creep has meant we have feature rich but function poor tools all over the graphic arts.

    Tis true of Digital presses, and w2p software ‘bundles’ and even off the charts complex colour mgmt.(heresy to be sure)

    I had an 84 year old estate planning client call me the other day and ask “do I need a trust?” one word answer “No.”

    “But someone at church said I did”….. no, and here’s why……

    She has a small estate, a plan in place that avoids probate and accomplishes her goals. To sell her on a trust would be unethical, she simply doesn’t need all the complications that the undeniably feature rich construct of a trust seemingly offers. You are so right, sometimes less is more!


  3. Ben on March 8, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Jenn –

    Insightful, intersting and thought provoking. In the interest of “simplicity” I’ll leave it at that.


  4. Paula on March 8, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Love it! Jennifer, you are right on. My husband and my self have this discussion often, from the overcomplicated dishwasher to the cell phones. I love simplicity, life is complicated enough already.

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