Usability vs Features – Product Management’s Role

There was an excellent post recently at the Product Management Tips blog by Gopal Shenoy that discusses how the usability of a product is severely affected when you add a lot of features.

Gopal compares his stand-alone GPS unit vs the built-in GPS unit in his new Toyota Camry car, and poses a question:

The system controls not only the GPS, but also my bluetooth telephone via speed dial, phonebook etc, the four disc CD changer and a bunch of other things.
It sure does meet all product functionality requirements that it was set to achieve, but it falls well short of usability requriements – thanks to product integrations. Do your products suffer from this same problem?

The question of “Should we keep adding features requested by various stakeholders even though it may drastically affect usability?” is one of the important questions faced by Product Management teams at many companies. Here are our thoughts on this.

Balance is the Key

balance.jpgThe key thing for product managers to keep in mind as we ponder this question is the difference between:

  • Purchase Criteria, and
  • Usage Criteria.

The most common argument to keep adding new features, especially for B2B products, is that buyers prefer products with more features. This argument is usually made by Sales teams.

In our experience, this argument is often true. Many vendors use Feature Matrices as one of their key sales tools. These matrices are used to convince prospective buyers that the vendor’s product has more features than products from their competitors, and hence is better.

As a result, there is a lot of pressure on product managers to keep adding new features. Adding new features eventually leads to loss of usability – and if left unchecked, ultimately makes it very hard for users to achieve the single main task that they bought the product for!

Here are some ways product managers can ensure that their product remains easy-to-use even against the pressure to add new features:

  • Only add features that are requested by many customers. Do not implement one-off feature requests.
  • When adding new features, always keep usability in mind. A trick you can use is to make one usability enhancement for every new feature.
  • Educate key stakeholders that adding features is not always the best way to go – use recent successes like the Apple iPod as an example that focus on usability can win in the market too.
  • Create spin-off products rather than adding features to current product.
  • In the battle of Usability vs Features, champion Usability – odds are your company already has many champions for Features!

In Summary:

We think Product Management teams should carefully balance Features with Usability – and never lose sight of their product’s Raison d’être (“reason for being”), the one thing it must do very, very well.

If you just keep adding requirements and feature requests from every stakeholder, you just might end up with a product like this! 😉

Editor’s Note:
Interested in an affordable, enterprise-quality software to help you manage requirements in a better way? Check out FREE 30-Day trial of Accompa or Sign Up for a Demo.

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