Stop The Feature Creep: 3 Strategies For Smarter Product And Service Design

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The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One of the key challenges in product and service design is deciding how the parts can come together in a way that optimizes the overall experience. Deciding on what features can strengthen your competitive advantage, satisfy user needs, while simultaneously being well-designed and technically feasible can seem like a monumental task of prioritization and collaboration. It’s also difficult to avoid feature creep, or adding so many features that they actually detract from the experience or delay a launch.

By taking a process oriented approach, you can increase the likelihood of assembling a combination of features that truly optimizes for both user experience and business goals. A great resource that goes into the strategies below in great detail is Product Design & Development by Karl Ulrich and Steve EppingerA little process goes a long way. 

Strategy #1: Identify and Prioritize Experience Specs Based On User Insights

Discovering both latent and explicit user needs requires data-gathering and primary research. Once you have synthesized user research, translate statements from your users into product experience requirement statements.

As detailed in Product Design & Development, translating a user insight into requirements should focus on what the product should do, not how it should do it. The goal here is to avoid imposing unnecessary constraints or biases for engineers and designers during the problem-solving process for design. Be as specific as possible with the requirement to avoid losing key information present in the customer insight (Ulrich, Eppinger, 2011).

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Using this framework, the team can aggregate, assess and define key insights to translate into specific product specifications. By integrating both user feedback and technical requirements into one frame, the importance of each becomes much more clear, enabling better feature decision-making and prioritization.

Strategy #2: Select Product Features Based On Competitive Advantage

First, identify what your unique competitive advantage is, or what unique value you can offer to your customers. Once you have nailed down your core competitive advantages, rank product feature ideas based on their relevance and ability to advance or potentially pivot and build upon your competitive advantage leveraging existing pillars of business strength. For example, after gaining market share and acquiring a strong base of users in the U.S., Spotify opened up an Artist side to its platform, providing listener analytics and allowing Artists to give updates to their followers. These new product features leveraged Spotify’s core competitive advantage: unlimited streaming of user-selected music (as opposed to Pandora’s more passive radio streaming model), which uniquely provides Artists with data they normally don’t have access to about user demographics and listening behaviors.

Strategy #3: Build Features That Evolve Your Business Model

Once a startup has successfully mastered delivering its core value proposition through its product, adding features that grow its user base and advance its business model are key. For example, after Facebook launched and had a strong user base, it opened up its platform for games, launched Facebook Connect and Open Graph, allowing it to reinforce its position as the primary social network. Uber, on the other hand, has already established itself as a dominant ridesharing service internationally, and has begun leveraging the incredible amount of data it has accumulated from driver routes to launch Uber Fresh, a delivery service for meals to advance and expand upon its current business model.

By keeping these core strategies in mind, identifying and prioritizing key product and service features will lead to developing the best possible user experience while strengthening core competitive advantages.