Inspiring features are not “nice to have”

If you want to be a bad product manager, include only those features customers have identified as necessary on your “must have” list. It’s hard enough to get all of the necessary features into your next release, so you can’t clutter it up with things that may be neat but are really not necessary. If customers haven’t asked for it, then it must not be necessary. Focus on providing those pieces of functionality that really must be included in the next release of your product.

If you want to be a good product manager, include some “inspiring/exciting” features on your “must have” list even if they may not be “necessary.” There are a few reasons to have non-requested and non-“must have” features in your list of top items to add to your next release:

  1. Just because a customer did not ask for a feature does not mean it may not be a highly valued or used feature. There are many great examples of good additions to products that came from a need that was not articulated but observed by a user researcher, or a “crazy” idea from a brilliant engineer.
  2. Including just the “must have” features puts you in perpetual firefighting mode. By the time a customer asks for a change to your product, they and many others have likely already grown frustrated. Focusing just on the features that customers ask for is a reactive strategy and gives you no opportunity to get ahead in the market.
  3. Some of the best features to have in your product are ones that are not “necessary” but can generate an emotional reaction from customers. These exciting, inspiring features are what generate loyalty and goodwill, and can pay dividends as they so often spur that much sought-after “viral marketing.”

In his great article The Top 12 Product Management Mistakes And How To Avoid Them (PDF), Marty Cagan explains that these inspiring features are not “nice to have”:

One of the most neglected aspects of product definition is the emotional element. Put bluntly, it is hard to get excited about a boring product. Yet when products are being specified, inspiring features and ideas are almost always the first to get cut in the near-constant negotiation to develop a product in the desired time frame. It is relatively easy to come up with a product with a solid list of functional and practical features, but not have one that creates the desired enthusiasm or loyalty. Without that enthusiasm and excitement, it is much harder to build a community of loyal customers, which makes it much harder to sell and support the product.

With constrained resources, tight timelines, and a long list of desired features, it is always difficult to put some inspiring features in to a release and leave out some that may be of higher priority. However, those inspiring features may cause so much excitement that users forget about the “must have” features that are missing.

There will always be high priority features that need to be added, but adding inspirational features needs to start somewhere. At first it may just be one feature or dedicating a small portion of the release to these types of enhancements. This small addition of inspiring features will be significant and will hopefully be the first step towards a product that does not just satisfy but truly excites and delights customers.

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5 thoughts on “Inspiring features are not “nice to have”

  1. I frequently hear that such-and-such a feature only has “perceived value” rather than “true value”. In other words, it’s just a “cool” feature rather than something users will actually use day to day.

    My usual response is that “perceived value” is still “value”. So what if only a small percentage of your users actually use your “cool” feature? It’s made your product newsworthy/different from the rest of the competition, and you’ve lured them to your product straight from launch day. Plus you come across as a company that innovates, meaning that customers have a reason to stick with you.

    Great post Jeff. We worked a little together on StudentConsult at Elsevier but only found your blog recently. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for the comment Stuart and glad to get in touch with you again!

    There’s a challenging balance that needs to be kept in product development — you don’t want to include too many “cool” features that may not have high usage, but you need to include enough to create that excitement. The key is finding the right exciting features to include and not just including “cool” things for the sake of “cool.”

  3. A good rule of thumb that I think is appropriate for this discussion is the following:

    If everyone that you present your idea (or feature) to likes it – you have a LOSER on your hands!

    If only 10% of the people that you present your idea (or feature) to love it, and enthusiastically have to have it – then you have a WINNER on your hands!

    I think the message here is you need customers that have an emotional and enthusiatic reaction to your products. It is not enough to have satisfied customers, you need delighted customers!

  4. @Jeff

    In my experience, “wow” features that don’t have at least one customer or executive sponsor behind them frequently find themselves on the chopping block.

    I have run out of fingers and toes to count the times I have heard the following comment in response to a “wow” feature in an MRD–

    “Is there a customer asking for this?” or “Will this generate additional revenue?”

    This is a legitimate question, but the subtext is really “how important is this?” For the most part, features cannot really be quantified in terms of revenue, but there is a qualitative effect, such as adding a particular feature puts your product in a better stance against a higher priced competitive product.

    As the Product Manager, you have to be prepared to counter this argument with data such as examples of prospects asking for or deals compromised for lack of this feature. Additionally, the PM has to think beyond just feature-by-feature comparisons and product parity and consider what it will take to leapfrog into a position of competitive advantage.

    The PM also has to be prepared to chop features that they cannot defend. If you added it to the priority list because someone on the Sales or SE team mentioned it to you in the hallway, but you don’t have anything to back it up, then it truly is “nice-to-have”.

    Development is not free and just because you can add something doesn’t mean that you should. The Product Manager has to be both the bean counter and the evangelist.

  5. Great comments — product managers need to walk a fine line between putting in too many “wow” features and not enough.

    On the one hand, you don’t want to be spending a lot of time/resources on functionality that won’t be used too much.

    On the other hand, just because something isn’t used a lot doesn’t mean it’s not valued.

    One problem is that product development teams often get very excited about the “inspiring” features, and focus too much on them at the expense of the core and necessary parts of the product. Then you end up with “cool” but bloated products that don’t really solve any problem and whose purpose is questionable.

    As with so many other things in product management, it’s about finding the right balance — neither extreme is appropriate, and it’s often a challenge to find the right spot in between.

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