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Don't bog down software product development with too many features

software developers in an office
(Image credit: Getty)

Packing light is difficult for a lot of people. Even for a short trip, there’s a fair amount of pressure to remember everything you might need. 

You start asking hypothetical questions and questioning your decisions: Do I need more than three sweaters? Did I bring enough socks? What if it rains on the hike? What if it's cold all week? Should I bring a blazer just in case we find a nice restaurant? Do I dare leave my swimsuit behind?

In many ways, packing for a trip is like designing software product features. 

The items in your house represent all your product ideas. You could bring a million things, but you're limited by the constraints of your suitcase (or budget, time, etc.). Logically pruning your choices is a necessity. 

When packing, you account for the weather and activities you'll experience on your trip. Likewise, when planning your product road map and backlog, you have to think about the jobs to be done, user journeys, and user environment.

Thoughtful planning is simply part of the software product development process. The good news is that it can reduce your risk of wasting time and money. 

Consider the 1:10:100 rule (opens in new tab) in quality management: For every dollar you spend on prevention, you’ll save $10 on correcting errors and $100 on failures associated with subpar preparation and analysis. Effective product design requires proper preparation.

Related: Technical debt is the enemy of innovation. Address it now (opens in new tab).

The problem with overpacking

woman over packing a suitcase

Think of software development like packing a suitcase: you may regret taking too much. (Image credit: Getty)

Over-packers who cram suitcases full of "just in case" items often fail to realise the cost of their decisions: paying high baggage fees, lugging around heavy suitcases, and struggling to find what they really need in the mess. Feature creep in project management has similar downsides.

If you try to pack too many software product features into the overall design, you'll experience the pitfalls of bad software design. The costs will add up, the functionality will become muddled, and you'll quickly lose sight of your original goal. Suddenly, you'll find yourself dealing with the design, development, and delivery of low-priority features that do little to enhance the user experience.

When the software product hits the market, it’ll be received poorly. Users will need to hunt through novel nice-to-haves just to find the important capabilities promised by your enterprise. (Needless to say, this isn't the best way to instil trust or loyalty in customers.) In fact, a study by Cornell University and Qatalog (opens in new tab) found that technology is causing modern office frustrations. Nearly 45% of workers spend too much time bouncing from one tool to another to get their jobs done.

With software product development, it’s important to be aware of feature creep before it becomes a serious problem. One of the best ways to stay focused is to let the essentials guide your direction.

How to prioritise features in software product development

From conceptualisation to rollout, software product development is no small feat. That's why it's best to avoid complicating the design process with unnecessary features. You'll want to do everything within your power to ensure the final product works as planned. How? By closely following the four-step software product development process:

1. Understand

Before you create a software product, you need to understand end users' pain points, needs, and journey — before and after product availability. Only incorporate a feature into the software product if there's a clear need. The initial version of your packing list (backlog) should only be the first draft. Once you've laid it all out, start getting rid of unnecessary items until you can't possibly remove anything else without compromising the product's core design and strategy.

For those unknown needs or pain points, conduct additional research to resolve the lack of information and clarity. For any items still left unresolved, build decision points and flexibility into your product plan to account for any shifts that may need to take place prior to building.

2. Build

Once you have a better understanding of the end users, you can focus your attention on the design and development of a working prototype. Even here, you may find yourself tempted to add more features to the product. Resist the urge and stick to what you’ve learned about the intended customer.

3. Test

Once you’ve got working software, get it in the hands of users. Let them try it out, and then start gathering feedback on what they like and dislike about the software product's design. Ask for their opinions and suggestions. You may be able to answer lingering questions you've had from the beginning.

4. Adapt

Obviously, you’re gathering feedback for a reason. Use those assessments to adapt and adjust your product to make it even better.

Going through each of these steps can provide direction on how to prioritise features and ensure the final software product is sleek and efficient. It’s well worth the extra effort.

Following the essentials in practice

woman on holiday looking at the sea

Travel light when it comes to software development: you'll have a better time. (Image credit: Getty)

Vacations are about having fun experiences in cool places, not about lugging overstuffed suitcases around. This analogy can serve as a good reminder of how to approach product design and strategy. When designing and developing products at Frogslayer, I always keep the user experience top of mind — well before features, widgets, and dials. Being united in this goal as a company has resulted in better experiences, better products, and better outcomes.

Companies and customers that need software products are looking for ones that are easy to learn and adopt. The future will be even more tech-driven than the present, at least according to Pew Research (opens in new tab). As a result, you can’t chance adding features outside of the essentials that could damage the user experience. Plus, people spend time comparing products before making a technology investment. If your product has too many cons and not enough pros, it won't be considered.

When all is said and done, you can always run to a store for that forgotten tube of sunscreen. So the question is: What would you consider essential and unessential when it comes to your software product's design and strategy? What would you do if you left an important feature behind? Let me know. I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

Tim Scott is Head of Product Strategy and Design at Frogslayer (opens in new tab).

Tim Scott
Tim Scott

Tim Scott is Head of Product Strategy and Design at Frogslayer, a custom software development and digital innovation firm. Clients partner with Frogslayer to rapidly build, launch, and scale forward-leaping, industry-shattering software products and digital platforms that create new revenue streams and sources of competitive advantage.