Product Overshoot

Have you ever owned a Swiss Army Knife?

Tonight I want to talk about product overshoot. But to do that I have to start with a question: have you ever owned a Swiss Army Knife? If you've ever stepped into a store to buy one, then you know the options are endless. In fact the only real limit to your selection is how heavy you want your pocket to be.

But who exactly designs these things?

And how do they decide what goes in one? Scissors? Magnifying glass? Saw?

In product development, whether it's Swiss Army Knives or software products, it's easy to get excited about putting one more thing into the product.

As technology makes more features possible, strong product management is crucial to ensure that you don't overshoot the market.

What is Product Overshoot?

It's the result of adding more and more features to a product with the assumption that adding functionality will have a corresponding effect of adding value.

We know it's not true, but when we're hip-deep in product development it's easy to want to add more. And the guys who are thinking about a return on investment are more than willing to make the assumption that more feature means a higher price.

But that's not always the case. In fact, here are some things that happen when you add features:

  • The product gets more complicated.
  • The point of your product may get diluted.
  • The product has more places where things can go wrong.
  • Your product costs more to maintain.

Now, imagine all that happening while, at the same time, revenue isn't increasing because your higher price tag is now alienating the market. What happens next?

Simpler solutions at lower prices start stepping in and taking away customers. Now you have less market share than before you added the feature.

Dealing with Product Overshoot

Here are four things to do if you find yourself in this spot.

Start collecting usage data

I've probably told you the story once or twice about the software company I joined years ago that had 412 reports. Updating all of them to the latest version of the reporting platform was going to be a massive project.

So before we did anything, we adding some instrumentation to collect utilization rates – so it could show us which reports were being used, and how often.

Within a quarter we were able to eliminate hundreds of reports. And in the second quarter we knew that we really only needed to upgrade 50 reports. It was 80% less work than we expected (and everyone was happy).

Evaluate where the market is going

Some features in your product are old or were creating to compete with someone who isn't really a competitor anymore. So do you still need them? It's worth evaluating by doing a deep evaluation of your competitors and your market. Then you can determine where the market is going, which may give you a list of features you no longer need.

Eliminate features that no longer make sense

Now comes the hard work – start eliminating features that no longer make sense. ProductPlan gives you a framework for knowing when it's safe to remove functionality. It's worth reading.

Also know that you need to communicate things clearly with customers and with enough lead time. You may lose a few customers but you're likely also losing a number of support tickets, and surely saving money from regular maintenance.

Get extra clear on your value proposition

Finally, think critically about the essential nature of your product. Every feature you're thinking of adding should be checked against this. Is it really required? Make sure it's aligned with the value prop of your product. And make sure your value prop is tight and focused.

In the end, you don't want to build a Swiss Army Knife

The challenge with product overshoot is that you end up with a lot of folks unclear about which direction you're heading. I'm not just talking about your customers. I'm also talking about your team. Alignment is everything in product development and that's hard to have when you're trying to be everything to everyone.

The worst part of all of this is that you'll end up building a product for a non-existent customer. And that's not a formula for success.

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