When in Doubt, Leave It Out

October 28, 2014 Greg Gentschev

I’ve rarely regretted cutting a feature, whether working with clients at Pivotal Labs, as an in-house product manager, or as a startup founder. However, I’ve often wished I left a feature out, even when it’s estimated as only one point of work. At the time, it’s easy to tell yourself that the extra story won’t matter. Your team is cranking through 20 points a week, and just adding the feature will eliminate the hard work of prioritization. Does it really deliver value to customers or mitigate product risk? Maybe. Let’s just do it

The problem is that it never ends with one point. What happens to the feature after it’s done? It goes into the nebulous state known as maintenance. At this point, you might say the feature is so simple that it won’t require any maintenance. The problem is that maintenance isn’t something generated by features, it’s something that happens to them. Here are a few of the unfortunate events that might befall our little feature:

We need to reskin it as part of our redesign.

Feature B has to play nicely with it.

Feature C also has to play nicely with it.

The interaction of our original feature, B, and C creates a bug.

Users don’t understand it, so we need to redesign it again.

New developers don’t understand it, so they create regressions.

We need it to work on IE8.

It breaks our UI testing automation.

The mobile version of the site shouldn’t show it, so take it out on mobile.

Actually, we need it on mobile. Put it back in.

It should be included in our new iOS app for parity.

We need it to look good on an iPhone 6+.

A big customer wants to integrate with us, so we need to include it in our API.

We need a Mixpanel event for it.

User engagement has dropped off. We need a better visual indication that the feature’s there.

They’re still not using it. Let’s take it out.

I recommend trying very hard to leave those tempting one point features out unless they’re tied to the core job of the product. Four out of five users won’t care about the nicer form validation you want to include because it’s incidental. Take the time to focus on their primary needs and avoid as much nice to have functionality as you can. Part of the art of product management is prioritizing only what you can most effectively address, rather than trying to do too much at once.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, here are some more reminders that there are no simple features and no small changes.

 

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