Featuritis and Innovation in Software Products | Targetprocess - Visual management software

A lifecycle of a software product looks similar to that of a human. In the beginning, products are like toddlers as they can do very few things. Then they learn to walk and to talk, then adolescence comes and then maturity. Who is a parent to this child, then? Who helps it stand up and walk, who provides the support? Which environment is needed by a software product to thrive and to grow from a toddler to a teen, at least? There's one answer to these questions: a vision that the product's masterminds share with the rest of the world. No doubt, parents are supportive of their child. But the rest of the world might be completely at odds with the product's idea, and no matter how great it is, they will not appreciate it fully if they're not able to comprehend how it helps them.

A striking example of such a gap — though unrelated to software products— is the story of rocket science and its founder, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. This man had a vision of cosmic aircrafts flying into the outer space as early as at the end of the 19th century. Back then, hardly anyone could have believed that it's possible at all. It took a better half of the 20th century for the rocket science to get a sufficient pool of followers, as space missions turned into a fascinating reality.

Something similar stands true for software products. If they are born and grow up in a soil fertilized by a mainstream vision, they are lucky. I've written before that Targetprocess, the project management software that we develop, was planted in the agile methodology that has been on the rise in the mid-2000's and continues to live now. However, with time the vision behind Targetprocess has been transformed. We were restless, and sticking with agile forever didn't seem a rewarding thing, so we forged ahead and now our product has another vision behind it. It still fits into the Procrustean bed of Scrum, XP, Kanban and other agile methods, as we're paying our dues to the school where the product has spent it's infant and adolescent years. However, now Targetprocess has graduated and became Targetprocess 3, the visual management software. This baby has moved so far away from the shores, that it finds itself solitary in the challenging waters of the raw ocean now. Agile is a more familiar vision, and most vessels stick to familiar shores, while we are out in the ocean largely by ourselves. Now we are trying to bring the rest of the world up-to-date with our vision of how amazingly helpful and simple the visual management can be for any project-based work in software development or in any other domain.

Now, as with any sailing in dangerous waters, there can be risks, or, if we continue to compare products with humans, there can be diseases. It appears that the gravest disease that can be acquired by a mature product is called featuritis (akin to arthritis, a disease that immobilizes). This disease might befell an innovative product or a device if its creators forget that the rest of the world haven't yet fully grasped how cool their baby is. Pasting their subjective creative reality on potential users is a common cognitive bias with products' parents. I wish we lived in a world where new visions and concepts could be shared telepathically, but this reality is a bit different. If users do not see this awesome vision, this awesome new way of doing that thing they need to do, they'd stay alienated. Here's the diagram (source) that illustrates this phenomenon:

Featuritis and Innovation in Software Products

It's easy to fall prey to the insidious featuritis. Just as with individuals, who carry their vision about themselves inside and don't bother (or don't have enough time) to share it with others, the unspoken vision behind a product could be a potential source of insecurity for products' creators. The relentless inner pursuit is not enough, another essential piece is to share the vision. Look at how people live. More often than not, instead of being confident about their unique purpose in life and sharing this vision with others, they think that something is innately wrong with them, so they want to add more "features" to themselves, especially if everyone else seems to have these features. It's not the features that others would buy into, though, neither in fellow humans, nor in software products. People pick up and stick to a shared vision and purpose. On the graph above, the part that goes prior to Happy User Peak is in line with the vision that a user has. The descending part of the curve shows how users fall behind with the vision of a featuritis-stricken product.

There's no better cure than prevention. For featuritis that might befell an innovative product, this prevention consists in building new islands, or even continents of the shared vision, where users would find their safe harbor, just like the Pilgrims, and stay for good. Another reason why it's so easy to catch featuritis is that the development team is eager to deliver more new features, as they tend to mirror a product's image on themselves. It's not about features and the development team, however. It's about those inhabitants of the old continents that need to be guided to the new lands. This whole process of other people picking up on the new vision can be quite lengthy, as was the case with Tsiolkovsky and the rocket science. Fortunately, things seem to happen faster with software products. Slow or fast, what matters most is bringing people up-to-date with the vision and letting them see that it works.

Related articles:

Why People Don't Understand How to Use Your Software

Help People Understand How to Use Your Software

Why People Are Reluctant to Upgrade

Product Development: Drive or Hitchhike?

Innovation and 3 Levels of Product Ownership

Product Owner's Dao: Innovate and Refine