Product Managers Need To Learn That Less Is More

by drjim on January 21, 2013

Product Managers don’t have to add more to make their product a success

Product Managers don’t have to add more to make their product a success
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If you got a chance to sit down with another product manager and share with them what you thought that they would have to do in order to be successful, what would you tell them? I’m thinking that a lot of us would tell them that they needed to make sure that their product had as many features as was humanly possible to cram in there. This is considered to be part of the product development definition. It turns out that this just might be the worst advice that you could give to a product manager…

Why Product Manager’s Quest For More, More, More Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

As product managers, we are always highly aware that our potential customers have a lot of other choices on what they can spend their money on. It could be one of our competitors’ products or, even worse, our potential customers could decide to not buy anything at all. Every day that we come to work we struggle with this problem and we are always looking for ways to solve it.

The classic solution is to add more features to your product. This all boils down to a sort of “arms race” with the competition – whoever can create the product with the most features will win the race, right? If you win the race then you’ll have something to add to your product manager resume.

It turns out that this approach is really the wrong way to go. Look around you, you can see the results of it everywhere. The products that we are faced with everyday are simply too complicated for the average person to use. My favorite example is the TV remote control that you use – it’s got a lot of buttons; however, how many of them do you really understand what they do? This is clearly a case of information overload.

I almost hate to tell you this, but the right thing for a product manager to do is to actually do less. If instead of trying to add more and more bells and whistles to your product, you spent your time trying to make your product more usable, then you just might have found a way to win the race to capture more customers.

Where We Go Wrong & What To Do About It

It’s easy to just go back to your product development plan and throw away half of what you had planned on doing and say “see, now we’ve reduced our product’s complexity“. Easy, but wrong.

Instead, what you need to do is to take the time to define in detail the problem that you are going to want your product developers to solve. If you do this correctly, then you are going to be able to ensure that your development team has a clear understanding of just exactly what their goals are. This means that they’ll be able to create hypothesis about what your customer wants and they’ll be able to test them long before the investment has been made in creating a product.

As a product manager we are justifiably proud of our product. However, all too often this results in us making sure that all of the products features are displayed and easy to get to. This often results in overwhelming confusion for our potential customers as they are faced with a sea of buttons, levers, pull-down menus, etc.

Here’s a novel thought for you: spend some time thinking about what product features you could omit. That’s right – this may be a better use of your time than worrying about what features to include. By thinking about what to remove, you’ll be playing the role of your customer and working to make your product more usable and this can only be a good thing!

What All Of This Means For You

Creating a new product is one of the most important tasks that any product manager does – it’s almost a part of every product manager job description. All too often we can spend our time trying add more and more new features to our product. This is never a good idea.

My classic example of products with too many features to be useful to the end user has always been the implementation of the big SAP enterprise software package. This package always comes with screen after screen of features; however, the user interface is poorly done that it can be almost unusable. Clearly this is a case of a product that has too many features and not enough consideration of the end user’s needs.

What this means is that you need to be constantly looking at how to remove functionality from your product in order to better meet the needs of your potential customers.. Keeping product features at a manageable level is key to being a successful product manager.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of any test that you could use to determine if your product has too many features?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you got a chance to sit down with another product manager and share with them what you thought that they would have to do in order to be successful, what would you tell them? I’m thinking that a lot of us would tell them that they needed to make sure that once they came up with a development plan for their product, they needed to make sure that their team stuck with it. This is considered to be part of the product development definition. It turns out that this just might be the worst advice that you could give to a product manager…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy January 22, 2013 at 10:28 am

We have a mantra in Product Developement: “One trick only”. Plan our business than “work our plan”! It works everytime!

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Dr. Jim Anderson February 3, 2013 at 9:52 am

Cathy: Great manta to have! The challenge, of course, is sticking to it…!

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