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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second I realize the product death cycle can become viral. I wrote in a moment of frustration. I’ve been working with innovation teams as I had enterprises for the last five or six years. And I feel like they get stuck in this loop especially with project managers. They end up adding features to a product and then they add more features. And they get stuck in this loop where they keep adding more features but the product doesn’t get better. And sometimes it even gets worse and it’s not really what their intent is.

Skip to 0 minutes and 30 seconds They’re trying to make this amazing experience that solves a real problem and unfortunately, they have this backlog of features and they’re almost incentivized to keep it stuff with features so the teams can keep working on features. And what I was really trying to convey with that in a somewhat satirical way is to focus on outcomes. So you can’t just go to a customer and kind of ask what they want, especially in an enterprise setting, and then just build what they want. Customers don’t always know what they want. You almost have to infer it. And you have to observe, and you have to see it qualitatively and quantitatively what’s going on with the product.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 seconds And make investment decision in where you want to take the product. And just focusing on features, I feel it’s almost like the easiest thing to measure. So a lot of times executives want you to focus on features. And if you look at a roadmap it’s usually chocked full of features and dates and we have to launch this feature by this date. And I think because it’s easy to measure that. You can say, you’re productive because you’re completing these features. However, when you shift from a feature, which is more of an output to an outcome, then it becomes more interesting to measure, right, because you’re looking for what’s the impact of that feature on real customers’ lives.

Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds And as a product manager that’s what you should be focused on, not the features themselves, but the problem they solve. So that cycle, really, it was just a drawing out of frustration and then it went viral. Everybody started writing articles on it but to avoid it, what I’m trying to convey here is just not, go to customers, ask what they want, and then build a list of features, and burn them down. But actually try to find out what are the outcomes you’re trying to achieve. And it’s really, that’s where design comes in, that’s where product comes in. You have to actually design something that will fulfill that need.

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 seconds And so If you’re going to avoid that loop and kind of just keep adding feature but we’re not moving the needle but numbers aren’t getting better no matter how many features we add. Take a step back and say what kind of problems we’re trying to solve here, what are the outcomes we’re trying to achieve, and then let’s focus on those. You may actually even end up removing features in that regard. So if you want to avoid the product cycle, you really have to focus on outcomes and outputs. And think beyond just adding features to your product as a measure of progress.

David Bland on avoiding the product death cycle


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Digital Product Management

Darden School of Business, University of Virginia