Will adding new features ruin your product?

Be selective with customer requests to ensure product strategy fit

A woman at a buffet stares at a plate of desserts.
Photo by Mike Jones on Pexels

The last time I went to a buffet, I stuffed my face and then some.

Even after I was full, I kept going back for more. Plate after plate, my stomach grew and my pants got tighter.

The discomfort lasted all night and I immediately regretted eating that much.

I was bloated.

This happens to products all the time.

I’m not talking about food. I’m talking about feature bloat.

Feature bloat (also known as feature creep, feature fatigue, or software bloat) is when you can’t stop feeding your product features.

Companies often fall into the trap of constantly adding more features into their products. Product teams tend to add features to satisfy customers or stay competitive in the market.

The Featuritis Curve shows the relationship between features and user happiness.
The Featuritis Curve shows the relationship between features and user happiness. (Source: Plutora)

But adding features may not necessarily make your product better. It can actually be detrimental to the product’s success if the features don’t align with the overall business strategy or solve a real problem.

Your customer success metrics will suffer. Usability will go down the drain.

Luckily, there is a way to stop feature bloat from ruining your product.

Receiving customer feedback is vital to delivering a great experience and improving it over time. Customers will often provide suggestions or feature requests, but that doesn’t mean they should be implemented.

Customers are not designers. They don’t know what good design is. But they do know their pain points. These hinder them from having an optimal experience.

By gathering insights, you can gain a better understanding of their problems and design a better experience for them.

A comic-style image of a buff devil in a suit yelling “I shall not allow you to ruin my design!” at a smaller corporate worker in a suit. The background is yellow with black streaks coming from behind the devil.
Stand up to clients that try to take over designs. (Source: Smashing Magazine)

The next time you receive a feature request from a customer, don’t blindly start adding it into your product. Instead, validate it by considering the following.

1. How frequent is this feature requested?

Are multiple customers constantly requesting the same type of feature?

If so, it might be worth conducting further research to understand the underlying problem that’s driving the feature request.

2. What is the real problem?

Conduct user research to investigate the gaps that exist in their current experience and uncover the problem they’re facing.

By getting to the root of the user’s frustration, you can better understand how to address it, whether it be with their feature request or a different solution.

Or perhaps they don’t have a problem at all, but the feature would help users achieve their goals more efficiently. You could categorize this as a “nice-to-have” if the roadmap contains higher priority features to develop.

3. How relevant is the request?

Another factor to consider is the customer’s history with the company.

  • How long have they been a customer?
  • What is their satisfaction level with your product?
  • How much revenue do they bring in?
  • Is their request for a specific use-case or industry?

By understanding the type of customer behind the feature request, it can help your team determine how relevant it is to your product roadmap.

Now that you’ve gained an understanding of the problem behind the feature request, ask your team these questions to decide whether or not the feature is worth pursuing.

  • Does the feature solve an actual problem or address a user need?
  • Does the feature align with our product strategy?

If the requested feature has a case for alleviating a user pain point or helping users achieve their goals, then it may be worth considering.

However, not all features will fit into your product strategy. Ensure that each feature in the product is aligned with your company’s vision and plays a role in supporting your business objectives.

Designers should brainstorm with their cross-functional teammates to figure out if and how a feature can fit into their strategic roadmap. Perhaps adding the feature will open up your business to new opportunities.

If you answered no to these questions, then it’s probably best to put that idea to the side.

The same way managers are selective of the people they hire, you should be selective of the features you add to your product.

For both new and existing features, use instrumentation to measure their overall success.

Instrumentation is a process that uses research instruments, such as interviews, tests, or surveys to collect data. The data is then observed and analyzed to extract insights and calculate metrics that can be used to measure the product’s success.

How to instrument your features

  1. Identify the key user flows or features in your product that you want to instrument.
  2. Determine your business goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) to track. Companies use KPIs to measure how effectively they are achieving their business objectives.
  3. Use a data analytics tool like Pendo or Amplitude to perform instrumentation.
A screenshot of Pendo’s analytics tool.
Gain powerful insight into user behavior across web and mobile. (Source: Pendo)

If you’re not sure what metrics are good indicators for measuring your product’s success, here are some examples of usability and business success metrics that you can keep track of.

Usability success metrics

Usability metrics answer questions like,

Are the features discoverable and learnable?

Are users using your features end-to-end?

  • Success rate (or task-completion rate) — measures the percentage of users who were able to complete a task in a study
  • Abandonment rate — measures the percentage of users who terminate an intended task before completion

Are users completing key tasks in the product? How long do users spend using each feature?

  • Feature usage — a category of metrics that include measuring total number of uses, total number of unique users, and percentage of feature users out of product users
A bar chart showing the number of unique users per month for three categories.
A bar chart showing the number of unique users per month for three categories. (Source: Chartio)

Business success metrics

Business metrics answer questions like,

Are new features helping you land new customers?

  • Trial conversion rate — measures the percentage of users that convert to a paid account during a trial period

Are customers sticking around?

  • Churn rate (or attrition rate) — measures the percentage of customers that stop doing business with a company over a period of time

Is your business generating more revenue from adding new features?

Are customers recommending your product to new customers?

  • Net Promotor Score (NPS) — measures customer loyalty to a company and is considered the gold standard in customer experience metrics
An image of a quote that says “How likely is it that you would recommend [Organization X/Product Y/Service Z] to a friend or colleague?”
NPS measures customer perception based on one question. (Source: Qualtrics)

By measuring success through usability and business metrics, your team can develop a holistic picture of which features are working for your business and which aren’t.

Sometimes, the hardest part is letting go… of underperforming features.

This is due to the sunk cost fallacy.

Sunk cost fallacy is the phenomenon whereby a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial.

Teams invest significant time and resources into designing and developing a feature, so they often feel committed to keeping it in the product.

An area chart with Cost and Time axes showing high initial cost which turns into ongoing cost as time goes on.
An area chart with Cost and Time axes showing high initial cost which turns into ongoing cost as time goes on. (Source: HubSpot — The 5 Whys Of Feature Bloat)

When decisions are grounded in emotions rather than data, decision-makers tend to hang on to underperforming features, due to guilt or reluctance, even if removing them would improve usability or attract more customers.

Revise features

If your metrics show that a feature is underperforming, think of ways to improve its usability. Conduct further research to gain a better understanding of its poor performance.

  • Is it difficult to use?
  • Is it discoverable?
  • Is it easy to understand?
  • Does it help users achieve a goal?

Test different changes to your feature based on research insights. Continue tracking its performance to see if it improves. Ideally, delivering the revised feature will result in happier users.

Remove features

If a feature is not contributing to the overall product strategy or not helping your company bring in new business, then perhaps it’s time to remove it from your product.

  • Do customers find the feature useful in their workflow?
  • Would removing the feature lead to an increase in potential business?

Another consideration is the usage of the feature and how it affects customer retention.

By setting a “minimum usage” for each feature, you can measure the number of users or usage time to determine whether it should remain in the product.

  • Does the feature meet the minimum usage (ie. number of unique users, usage time)?

Feature bloat will ruin your product and cost your business a lot of resources.

Not only could you lose out on potential customers, but existing ones might start to look at competitors. In addition, features can be expensive to maintain.

Be mindful of the features you put into your product. Focus on delivering quality over quantity.

By validating feature requests and ensuring that all features align with your core product strategy and business objectives, your customers will thank you for building a product that is focused on meeting their needs without all the extra bloat.

Thanks for reading!

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