Working on a feature factory is a common complaint of many Product teams. We spend a lot of time understanding our customers and adding features to our backlog. We prioritize features with our Executives and Engineering teams so that, no matter what, when a new release starts, we have a new batch of shiny features to add to the product.
The feature factory approach might work for very early stage products. But depending on your product and on its place in the overall technology adoption curve, adding new features (a.k.a working on a feature factory) might not advance the overall goals of the company. That’s why in my IoT courses I strongly emphasize that a Product Manager’s role is not just to add new features, but to add value to the company.
The Development team is one of the most expensive assets in any company, and as Product Managers, we’ve been given the responsibility to give direction to that resource. As a result, Product Managers need to be business-savvy and understand the cost/benefit of any use of development time.
To get the biggest ROI from our development investment, we need to clearly understand the company’s strategy, goals, and metrics…and to be strategic and think more broadly about all the ways you can advance your company’s goals.
Here are five ways in for Product Managers to rethink the feature factory and actively think about adding value, instead of new features.
1. Focus on Stability
Accumulating tech debt is a natural part of building a new product. But at some point, you need to go back and pay that debt. Otherwise, your whole product might fail. Having a stable product is very important to avoid churn and ensure customer success. No amount of new features will ever make up for a buggy, unstable product.
2. Plan for Scalability
Early stage products usually don’t focus on this area. But just as with stability, if your product doesn’t scale, then you won’t be able to meet customer demand, and you’ll start to see your churn go up.
The key is to define the metric(s) you want to target based on your understanding of your product’s growth patterns, your pipeline, etc. It is not enough to say, “Our product needs to scale.” You need to be specific. For example, my product need to support 10,000 concurrent users with a page response time of under 1 second.
Recommended reading: An IoT Primer for Product Managers.
3. Contribute to Sales Enablement
If you work on B2B products, chances are you have a Sales team hitting the streets selling your product. As Product Managers, we need to do everything we can to support them. Sales is the lifeblood of every organization.
In many cases, you don’t need new features to get more sales. If you’ve done enough customer development, you might know that your current MVP is enough to close sales and keep customers happy at this stage of the product. But if sales are not picking up, maybe the problem is that the Sales team doesn’t have the right tools to showcase the product.
In this scenario, working on tools to help Sales is a better investment than adding new features. You can work with your team to build a better demo, or a demo for a particular vertical that is hard to crack. Not only will this improve your bottom line, but it will strengthen your relationship with Sales.
4. Invest In User Experience
It’s easy to think that adding just that one extra feature will save the day. But in reality, adding features on top of features could be the problem that’s causing your customers to churn.
Take the time to evaluate your overall user experience, including onboarding, navigation, visual design, etc. You might discover that your application is not intuitive and that’s what is causing high churn rates. You might even discover that your overall experience could benefit from removing some features. Don’t be afraid to do that as well.
Recommended reading: Why It’s So Hard to Create a Good User Experience in IoT
5. Share Your Developers with Another Team
The idea of giving up your Development team to another department or project can be very scary. After all, if you don’t have a team to build a product, then what is your value? Well, this approach speaks to your maturity as a Product Manager and to your understanding of the company’s big picture.
In companies with multiple product lines or multiple scrum teams within the same product, oftentimes one area is under more pressure than others.
If your analysis shows that you won’t move the needle by adding new features to your product in the next release or two, and you identify that other teams are struggling to meet their deadlines, then this is a great opportunity for you to shine.
You can offer your developers to those teams, and in the meantime, you can work on more customer development, additional design, etc.
The Bottom Line
Product Management maturity consists of looking at the big picture and figuring out where you can have the biggest impact on your company. Next time you feel the inertia of the feature factory and you automatically start reaching into your backlog, take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself, is that where you can add the most value?
PS – I originally wrote a variation of this article as a guest post for the Aha! blog.