Why Product Managers Should Avoid Product Complexity

I recently came across a blog post by The Cranky Product Manager about product-line complexity. It’s an entertaining post. More importantly, it makes good points regarding the pitfalls of complexity. In this post, I will share my thoughts on this.

Product and product line complexity happens when we add too many features or when we add overly complex features. Often this happens over time as a product “matures”. It can also happen because of lack of rigor when writing requirements. When it happens, both your customers and your company suffer.

Here is a short list of… the negative impacts of complexity, followed by a few tips to help product management teams avoid product complexity.

Negative Impacts of Product Complexity

  • Lost Customers/Revenue
    • You can lose a customer before they have a chance to look at your product or learn about your organization by overwhelming them with too many choices.
    • After the sale, if your product is complex and the learning curve too high, adoption will be low.
  • Productivity/Internal Cost
    • Complex solutions often take more time and effort to design, code, test, and document. This results in higher initial costs both in time and dollars.
    • Complex solutions require more maintenance and support. They’ll have higher costs throughout the life of the product.
  • Opportunity Costs
    • When everyone is dealing with product complexity, whether the product manager, engineering, sales or marketing, you have opportunity costs. Complexity can rob you of the time and effort that could have birthed a “game changer” idea or solution you never had time to think of.

4 Quick Tips for Product Management Teams to Avoid Product Complexity

  • Set Simplicity as a Goal
    • First, everyone in the team needs to understand the value and goal of keeping the product simple. Simple does not mean “Less than enough”; it means “Just enough”.
  • Empower Simplicity
    • Empower everyone in the team to speak up about complexity and to continuously look for opportunities to simplify solutions. Be rigorous. It will pay off in the long term.
  • Redesign for Simplicity
    • Don’t be afraid to redesign when you realize something is overly complex.
    • Recently, I was 80% of the way through a requirement for a new feature when the VP of products, in response to a technical question said “This is too complicated. Start over and see what you can eliminate.” The result was a significantly less complex, and ultimately much better solution.
  • Maintain Product Focus
    • Always ask yourself and the team if a desired feature is something that most of your customers will use regularly. Be rigorous in your assessment.
    • You may sometimes hear from prospects and customers that if the product just did “X” they would buy (insert large number here) licenses. The problem arises when feature “X” is not in alignment with requests from the vast majority of your customers. In such cases, offer an alternate solution or work-around, rather than adding the feature.

Those are my thoughts on this.

Editor’s Note:
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