Product Capability?

Is it better to build a powerful, flexible product with lots of capability? Or is it better to build a simple product which can be used to its fullest potential by most of your users? This is a tough decision. I have not seen it said any better than this.


According to Are your users stuck in “P” mode? we have to keep asking ourselves:

  1. Are we focusing too much on the tool rather than the thing our users are trying to do with the tool
  2. Is the product just too damn hard to use even if a user does know what they want to do with it?
  3. Do we encourage/support a user community that emphasizes mastery of the thing the tool is for?
  4. Do we train our users to become better at the thing they use the tool for, in a way that helps make the need for all those other features seem obvious?

It is a great read. I definitely recommend it. The scope question is a difficult one.

1. There are rarely any clear profile of the user for software. As Matt mentioned in WordCamp2006, “Software has no single killer feature. There are hudreds or thousands of them and each user has his own set of 10 or 20″

2. Even if you start with a version of the software that is like the picture on the right above, over a period of time you tend to have a large circle (feature list) with several smaller overlapping purple circles. Each purple circle represents the needs of a single class of user.

3. We know that products get more complex before they get simple. Take Microsoft Word for example. After adding features over 5+ versions, the product team did something very different in the latest version. The simply made the access to features better. Someone mentioned in one of the Professional Developer Conference that this was because there were users asking for features that already existed in the product.

4. I think there are a spectrum of users from a casual user to a professional/expert. Their needs vary. There is enough overlap across these users/needs to make a product that looks like the figure on the left with a twist. Instead of one little purple circle, there will be many.

For example, our product InfoMinder’s use varies. About 80% of the users use about 20% of its capabilities. But there are a few, probably less than 5% that use most of the features.
What is your experience, working with products and/or building them?

3 thoughts on “Product Capability?

  1. Cliff,
    Thank for the comments. Would you like to share your experience here? Or blog about it somewhere and point us to your blog?

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