Which feature you’re going to remove next?

We have a problem. We think that more is better. We say that less is more, but we don’t act on it. We say we want less, but we pick the product with more. We say we’ll build a simple product, but we keep adding to it. Have you ever heard an entrepreneur pitching an idea by saying “I’ll be competing with product X by removing 50% of their features”? Yes, that happens once in a blue moon and turns out some of those products are widely successful, so why aren’t more people actually doing less?

I have a very simple theory about “more”. It’s easier to justify adding things than removing them and once you add them it is sunken cost and the idea of removing makes feel you like “wasted” time or money.

Evaluating Less

The problem with that approach is that your product gets bigger over the years and harder for a beginner (and even for a veteran) user. Case in point: Google AdWords. If you were using AdWords back in 2001 or 2002, it was a bare-bone product that was extremely easy to use. Now it has so many options, reports, screens, hints, tooltips, indirections, concepts, and features that it’s overwhelming for a new user. Part is bad UX, part is the inability of the Google AdWords to bite the bullet and remove things, even if some customers are going to complain about the removal.

Yes, removing things always causes complaints from people who love that one feature. But again, if a product keeps evolving and all that you do is add features, how does it become a better product? How many features does Microsoft Word has? 1,500? 2,000? It’s ridiculous. 

I committed that crime on my first startup, Sampa. At one point we counted about 650 features. That’s a freaking startup with 650 features on its product! Not OK. The only solution was to reevaluate everything that we had and ask some serious question about the value of each feature and how it relates to the value proposition we want to bring to the end user.

At EveryMove, a health startup I founded in 2011, we started with the right frame of mind. Just a couple of ago weeks we invited a few friends and family to join EveryMove. We removed at least two big features just before we invited friends, and we removed one just a week after they signed up. Those two features were not ready — as in value prop to end-users — or they were “noise” (but cool). Cool but not noise is OK to keep, but once the cool takes away from other focus point on the product, nuke it.

An analytical minded person is just going to decide based on the popularity of features, and that’s a very dangerous approach. If nobody used a feature in the last 30 days, that’s an easy cut. If 50% of users used a feature over the last 30 days, that’s an easy keep; but what about the dozens or hundreds of features with meager usage? Most of that could go, and they are undermining the value of each other. Remember, your users have a task to accomplish (even if it’s for fun) and a limited time to spend, so diluting that engagement over a long list of features is probably not the right thing.

Cut Day!

What if every quarter (or month), you dedicate an entire day to enumerate all the features your system has (basically reverse-engineering from feature to user story) and ask which ones are aligned with the value proposition of your product? What if you commit to each quarter to remove at least one thing? Maybe three? It’ll be a much, much harder decision than what to add to the product, but it’s likely to create a more focused product on what’s important.

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

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