product is not all about features

Published on May 20, 2020

Product work is not all about coming up with features.

When you hear the word “product,” what comes to mind? For me, at least when I got started, what came to mind was features. What could you build? How could you add new functionality to an existing product?

Over the last few weeks, I have been contributing toward an existing product. This is the first time that I have been working on building out a product that already exists, rather than creating something from scratch.

As a product lead, one of the things I have been learning to do is stop making lists of features. When I first started, I was tasked to come up with ways to improve conversion on a product. This was an excellent opportunity for me to dip my toe into product work, and expand my knowledge of the fundamentals of product.

In the first week, my work was all about figuring out ways to improve conversion, then implementing those changes. That gave me the impression that product work was all about features: the more features or changes you make, the better.

Since starting, I have found that focusing only on new features is not a good idea. You need to track the changes you have already made, see if they work, and optimize accordingly.

Adding new features to a product is only appropriate when there is a clear user demand for a particular feature.

One change I made to the product I was working on was related to the content that showed up on the website sidebar. The content was not relevant to the user’s intent, and after evaluating the user’s journey, I decided to propose an alternative piece of content to display in that area. Since then, conversion has increased.

Despite the fact those changes were initially discussed a few weeks ago, I am still talking about them. I am still thinking about those changes.

This week, for instance, I worked with my team to come up with new ways to improve the sidebar. We knew that our work was improving conversion, but we still were not seeing the results that we wanted. So we discussed more optimizations, and made them to the site.

I expect that, over the next few weeks, I will still be making optimizations to this same project.

What I have discovered is that product management work does not work well for people who enjoy being in a state of flow, and who like to have consistency in their days. When I am writing content, I have clear expectations for each day, and quotas to meet. Product work, on the other hand, is more ambiguous.

Making this one change to a product involved many different tasks. I needed to plan out how to track metrics, and delegate the work of building the systems that tracked those metrics. Then I needed to wait for data to become available, and see the impact our changes made on the website. This was a multi-week process.

When you are building product, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to focus on adding as many features as you can. The number of features you have in a product is not indicative of success; what matters is if users are interacting with those features.

For every new feature you add to a product, you need to measure how that change is received by users. Do they like the change? Are they interacting with the change in the way you intended? Have they even noticed the change (and if not, was this intentional)?

Don’t make long lists of features to implement. Instead, think about which features will have the highest value if you build them, and then bring them to fruition. As soon as you have added those features, measure, then iterate.

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Made by @jamesg_oca. Code on GitHub.