It’s absolutely true that you can have too much of a good thing.
Whether you’re talking about your favorite foods or your favorite apps, there always comes a point of diminishing returns.
In the context of digital products, this phenomenon is known as feature bloat.
Feature bloat can be frustrating for a user who just wants to get things done, especially when the product they’re using used to be simple.
Here’s how to do it.
Feature bloat happens because companies always want their products to be better, to solve more problems, and encourage new users to try it. Over time, though, this can lead to a team drifting off target and delivering products that look very different from what was decided on during or following product discovery.
Why is feature bloat bad? Here are some examples of feature bloat so you can decide for yourself:
App feature bloat happens when developers try to solve for too many use cases — casting too wide a net can mean you do no one workflow excellently.
Software inefficiency occurs when a product is bloated to such an extent that the additional features compromise the functionality (speed, load times, etc.) of the product.
Overengineered products are simply more complex than they need to be. What was once a lightweight web browser might become a slow-to-load, feature-laden liability over time.
Now that you’re familiar with feature bloat and its many guises… how do we address it?
The first thing to note is that avoiding bloat is a conscious choice to be made by a development team. Whether it’s the product owner or the product managers themselves, everybody must commit to preventing bloat creeping in over time (hence the name ‘scope creep’).
One effective way to do this is with feature-based planning by understanding problems instead of focusing on "building new features”.
With this methodology, the team focuses on outcomes rather than output. It’s the digital equivalent of quality over quantity, and it’s a natural fit for combatting feature bloat.
When thinking of outcome-based planning product teams should begin by asking certain questions:
What is the problem we are trying to solve?
Why are we trying to solve this particular problem?
By asking these questions at the roadmap planning stage, product teams can essentially force themselves to confront the reality of whether solving a particular problem (be it an improvement, new feature, or a new product) is really needed — or whether it’d just be a fun or impressive addition.
These types of questions are sometimes known as a ‘product problem template’, and are very useful for keeping a development tightly focused on customer needs. The best thing about this approach is it enables product-thinking across the organization, and forces everyone to focus on the problem rather than the shiny object at the end of the road. This means more attention to detail, more attention to intention, and more attention to helping customers reach their desired outcomes.
Prioritizing usability is one of the best ways to keep any product roadmap honest.
Why? Because the problems associated with feature bloat generally present themselves through usability issues. These might be:
Slow loading speeds
Overly convoluted user journeys
Needlessly complex UI elements
By prioritizing usability, a product team can effectively build the product around what the users want (and use) within the product, rather than the other way around.
Consider the concept of the MVP, Minimum Viable Product. This design ethos suggests that, in order to take a product to market quickly, a development team need only add the absolute basic features needed to solve a customer’s problem. All killer, no filler.
The concept of the MVP doesn’t need to be abandoned once a product is off the ground. In fact, when it comes to combating feature bloat, it’s an idea which can help avoid this entirely. That’s because, when ideas and suggestions are tested against real-world scenarios — the asking ‘why?’ — if they don’t deliver immediate value and solve user problems, they shouldn’t be included.
Of course, one of the cornerstones of usability as a tool to avoid feature bloat is customer feedback. Keeping the lines of communication open via regular customer experience surveys and looking at your product analytics is an excellent way to ensure your team always knows what your customers want — and what they don’t.
Want to know more about avoiding feature bloat? Or how to keep your users delighted with the power of airfocus? Book a demo or start your free trial today.