Have you figured out your Product Strategy? Top 3 Mistakes toAvoid!

30th Mar 2012
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When you're building a product or an app or a website, it is very easy to get carried away and cram more and more features into the product. It is really important that you have a coherent product strategy that guides your decisions around what features make it into the product and what don’t. Here are the top 3 pitfalls that you should be weary of when thinking about your products and its features.

Why will the user use the feature?

Before any feature goes into the product, you need to ask why the user is going to use the feature and how she will benefit from it. When you phrase it this way, many product features don't make sense.

The most common example of this is the gigantic forms that most websites make you fill when you're registering. Your email, password, home address, phone number, mother's maiden name, whether you like to eat radishes, etc… etc… Why should the user fill in this data? The user gets absolutely no value from entering this information, and neither does the product get any better.

I've seen many websites that offend this rule. Jetairways.com makes you select the country and language on the first page. Really? Can't this be automatically figured out? The rediff.com website has 10 fields, 2 checkboxes and 2 buttons for registration.

Is the user really going to benefit from having two layers navigation tabs on the top ? Or categories of products 4 layers deep? Make sure you're not pushing your problem (collecting demographic information, organizing your website or products) onto the user.


Is it a "negative" feature?

Sometimes, you'll add features that a small but vociferous subset of your users are asking for. When you do, make sure you're not annoying the majority of your users that are quietly happy with your product.

I feel like the comments section of most websites fall into this category. Only a small subset of users (usually < 5%) will leave comments. And even when they do, most comments are irrational, angry, confused or simply off topic. Just go to youtube.com or any of the major newspapers websites for an example. Comments work only in a focused blog where a single area is being discussed, and that attracts a particular community of users. (Like yourstory.in with its focus on entrepreneurs). Comments are just a bad idea for a newspaper website.

Another common area where this happens is when there is more than one way to do something, and you can't decide which approach to go with. The temptation here is to say "Lets make it a setting, so the user can choose". This is almost always a bad idea.

You'll find many examples of this on prominent Indian travel portals when you're booking air tickets and hotels. The portals could not decide how to package the two, so they've pushed the problem to the user. By my count, there are 4 different buttons/menu bars for flights, 4 different buttons/dropdowns for hotels and 3 ways to do flight+hotels on a very popular Indian travel website.

On my Windows Vista laptop, there's 15 different ways to shutdown my windows laptop (shutdown/hibernate/sleep/hardware buttons/Fn+power keys, just closing the lid etc… etc…)

Why do YOU want the feature?

This is the most overlooked question. While making sure that the feature is needed for the user, it also really important to understand why you need the feature. Is it something that adds value to your product or to your company?

The answer is usually obvious, but a mistake here can come at a huge cost. The worst blunder of this kind in recent memory is eBay's acquisition of Skype. The thinking was that eBay will offer a "contact seller" button which will initiate a Skype call between the buyer and seller. Great feature for the users, right?

And so, eBay paid $2.6 Billion for this "feature". Turns out, this feature was not really something eBay needed and after many failed attempts at making it work, eBay gave up and took a $1.1 billion loss on the acquisition.

The PS3's "Other OS" feature had a similar problem. Sony spent an enormous amount of time and money to make the PS3 compatible with Linux. And when it launched most users completely ignored the feature, but the pirates loved it, and started using it to hack the PS3. Sony got annoyed, tried to fix the problems, which didn't work, and finally yanked the feature remotely from all PS3s.

That, of course, didn't go down well with ALL users causing Sony massive headaches, including a class-action lawsuit and a huge intrusion on its servers that took down thePlaystation Network for almost a Month!

Product strategy is hard, but attention to detail and making sure you know exactly why a feature is going into the product will make everyone's life easier.

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