Focus Starts With Saying No

02 June 2014 by Mathias Meyer

Every product out there is riddled by a thousand customers' requests for a thousand features. Every single one of them has an idea on what would make your product better, what would make it more suitable for their purpose, for their daily work.

As a business, even as an open source project, it's too easy to get swamped by feature requests. But even worse, it's too easy to fall into the trap of feeling the need to implement all of them, or at least as many as humanly possible.

After all, the customer is always right, aren't they?

When you want to tackle a thousand little feature requests, it's very easy to lose focus. Even worse, with a small team, they'll all be busy fixing and improving small and big things, but may be missing working towards a bigger picture, a broader mission.

Look at the Leatherman, it's a testimony to tools with multiple functioning, doing a somewhat reasonable job at every one of them. Ops people and roadies swear by it for their every day work in data centers and on stage.

The Leatherman is a prime example of lots of features molded into a single tool that's useful to a broad audience. It's even sold at a premium for the purpose.

Now look at an Opinel knife. It's the mark of a simple knife. It has one blade, and depending on which one you buy, it even rusts when you don't take care of it.

One blade, nothing more. But that single blade is incredibly sharp, and it stays sharp, is easy to maintain. It's a tool with a focus, to give you the best knife you'll have at hand, something the Leatherman won't be able to achieve.

It has a very narrow focus, but it excels.

Your product probably isn't as narrow in scope, but you should ask yourself, what's it closer to, a Leatherman with lots of options or an Opinel, solving one problem in the best and simplest way possible?

Getting there unfortunately involves saying no to a lot of those feature requests you're getting. Figuring out what you don't want to do is just as important as thinking about what you want to do.

It gives you focus, it helps to stop thinking about the features you're not going to build. It helps you to instead focus on what you want to build.

A product is defined by what it can do just as much as it is by what it doesn't do. If a feature turns out to be important enough, it'll bubble back up later. Saying no now doesn't close doors forever.

Tags: featuritis
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