Myth: Complex Problem with Complex Solution Equals Great Value

If you come to a technical background, you are more likely to think that customer only value things that you did that are very complex. For example, if you create a calculator application, people might not value as much as a spreadsheet. After all, a calculator will have only a few thousand lines of code, while a spreadsheet might have hundreds of thousands or a million lines of code.

So, the other day I saw this startup make a big deal to its customer about shipping this new “feature”. The feature was nothing more than a bunch of extra design elements they could use on the service. It probably took zero or very little “development time” (it certainly took a lot of a designer time). This same startup sometimes releases some amazing technically complicated features that doesn’t get as much announcement as the extra designs get it. Why? Because this startup understand the cost involved with creating a feature is not necessarily the value it brings to a customer.

More often than not, we think that a feature that took 3 weeks is way more valuable to our customers than a feature that took 2 days. If we stop believing on such correlation, we would never write features that take longer than we think the immediate value to a customer is.

If you dig deeper into this symptom you’ll see that the root cause is that we use “customer value” in lieu of “business value”. A 3-week feature might not bring any tangible value to a customer, but as long as it brings real business value it’s worth talking about it.

There are features that are purely strategic so we can sink a partnership, there are features that are purely “infrastructure” (like a better backup) that is very hard to explain why it’s important, there are features that will allow you to support another customer feature in the future (like changing the schema of a database).

Although I’ve been trying to cure myself of this plague (“lines of code = customer value”) sometimes I still fall under that trap. But I found a solution! The best way to see the real value of a feature is to tell your customer about it and see their reaction (not email, not IM, not Twitter, but face-to-face). An alternative is to talk to some blogger or someone on the press. Do they say this is great, but don’t write about it? Well, it wasn’t that great then.

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.