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The trouble with new features

Watch Alex Cowan explain the troubles an organization may encounter when launching a new feature.
There is a kind of fault in our wiring when it comes to building new features. Just like the old days of old, there’s a part of us that just wants to build a monument of software and I won’t try to unpack why that is, it’s complicated, but your product manager or your area lead is much more likely to say, “all right, we have this idea, let’s go build this thing,” rather than to say, “all right, let’s think about what needle we’re trying to move and carefully unpack this and use product proxies to test this out before we generate a lot of waste. “ That’s just the way we are when it comes to incrementing features and building new products, too.
But, it’s easy to get hung up on the idea that, well, the product has been successful so now we can do anything we want and it’ll work. That’s not true. You still have to be very careful in incrementally innovating and making sure that you’re keeping your product relevant and you’re, you’re creating whatever driver is going to make your product more successful. So, I have been this guy. I’ve gone out and built things prematurely. Why did I do it? I think, really, it was both before Lean Startup and a lot of these things that we’ve, I’ve certainly internalized and I. It’s interesting.
When you internalize this idea that, you know, when we’re going to invest money in software we should really unpack our assumptions and carefully test them out. When you really get there, it’s a very internal result. So, for example, I do this in my landscaping. When I, when I moved to our new place in Northern California, we have crazy, crazy weather. It gets super cold and wet in the winter and it’s hot and dry in the summers and so we planted a few lavenders in this one spot that I thought we might want a whole bunch before and I left them there a year to see how they did before we planted a whole bunch of them.
So this idea that it’s good to unpack things, understand what result you’re looking for, and then incrementally update. It’s a very powerful result. All right, let’s take an example. Let’s say Enable Quiz has been very successful with their skills audits for screening new job candidates. Now they’re an infrastructure business. They want to drive more volume in these quizzes because they have that asset and they decide well, maybe we can do a version of this whole thing that’s a skills audit for internal purposes to help plan career development.
And, they think, all right, well, should we spend, we should spend a year, we’ll make this really wonderful thing and then we’ll launch it in this huge surprise party and everybody will love it. And the reality is instead of this happy surprise party, those often turn out to be really sad parties. And the product instead of encountering this wild applause, it encounters an echoing silence or maybe quite a, sort of quiet whimper, where a few, you know, sort of tangential customers use it for reasons that are unclear. And that’s not the result I want for you, dear learner. We want to launch something and have it be really awesome, have customers like it.
The way to do that though is to think through it sequentially in a disciplined way, make sure we have, a, we know who we’re selling this to, we have a problem that matters, and then we test for value early on before we spend a lot of money building software.

In this video, Alex talks about problems an organization may encounter when launching a new feature. He says that a product manager may think, “the products have been successful so now we can do anything we want and it’ll work.” You may look at Alex’s message as a warning to remember what you’ve learned so far about product management. Can you think of an analogy, like Alex growing lavender in Northern California, to describe a situation where you did or didn’t embark on a project before you were ready?

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