This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.
When a product reaches maturity, meaning it works as designed (mostly), the ugly bugs are resolved and you’ve got a good number of users, inevitably, as a product team, you begin planning for new features.
Most of the time, your initial release doesn’t include everything you wanted, so that list probably has a number of “Phase 2″ items that are important but somehow didn’t make the first release. You’ve also probably got a list of strategic features you want to build, and a list of truly innovative features that you know will benefit your users.
The (good) problem is that you have more people using the product now, and they’re providing you with lots of useful feedback. If you’re lucky, the feedback matches up nicely with your lists, and having user feedback validates your strategy.
If you’re not, you’ll have to scramble and reprioritize the lists to account for user demand.
Go through a couple releases, and you’re likely to have one or two really innovative features that you want to build, but that keep slipping due to incremental enhancements and bug fixing.
As a product team, you’re responsible for the product and those using it. You oversee the strategic direction of the product, and you know what your users want and need. Unfortunately, wants and needs don’t always correspond.
So, how do you make the decision to do something innovative?
Connect, now in its fourth release, has this (good) problem. It’s mature and has several thousand people using it each day, and I have a short list of incremental enhancements that we should get around to building because people keep asking for them, most notably email integration and OraTweet group integration.
While both these features would benefit users and drive further adoption, we’re supposedly an innovation shop, and neither feature is terribly innovative.
Let’s be honest, social isn’t innovative anymore; it’s mainstream. Maybe it was when we debuted the IdeaFactory a couple years ago, but even then, you could correctly say we were following Digg, Facebook and any number of other consumer apps.
So, we yearn to push the envelope and experiment with new technologies, but all our users really want is incremental improvement. For instance, today I had a call with a guy to chat about future integration with email and OraTweet; at the end of the conversation, I tried to drop a nugget about some plans we’re cooking up to do something really cool.
He didn’t seem all that interested.
Once users find value in a product and come to rely on it, they want it to be better in controlled ways that don’t disrupt operations. If you need an example, look no further than Facebook, and the backlash over their redesigns.
The challenge for product teams is finding a balance between keeping users happy with incremental updates and cajoling them into accepting truly innovative features. Another argument for “the future is good enough”.
What do you think? Should product teams push the boundaries of technology, or should they put more value on incremental improvement? Maybe there’s an easy way to balance these that I’m missing.
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