TBM 27/53: The Lure of New Features and Products

Quick note of gratitude as we roll into the second half of 2020. This year has been so incredibly hard. I feel so lucky to have this outlet. Thank you.

Here's one of the key incentives for running a feature factory (especially in B2B):

Shipping shiny new features is easier than fixing underlying product issues.

What do I mean by easier?

New features (and products, even) get everyone excited. Customers will get that new thing they've been requesting for a while. Greenfield things are fun to work on, and to market, and to sell. And they are actually easier from a product development perspective. New stuff is less complex, less intertwined, and easier to wrap your head around.

When I ask teams to list their flops/misses with regards to new stuff they struggle to come up with examples. We have a way of making sure the new stuff "wins" (at least from an optics perspective). The same is not true for optimizing existing parts of the product, and addressing underlying issues. That's hard work. It's messy work. Misses abound.

We equate innovation to the new, not to improving the existing. Even when improving the existing is harder and more challenging in many cases.

So we have incentives to keep adding and adding, while avoiding fixing and optimizing. It is way easier to ship 5 "MVP" features than to make sure the first one works.

So what? If it makes money, this is a fine strategy, right?

In my belief mapping sessions with teams, I've noticed a pattern. The team will often point to a big elephant in the room with regards to product strategy. There will be a puzzle: a core adoption issue, customer outcome issue, or value prop question. Everyone acknowledges it, and acknowledges it is valuable. But you can tell they are stuck.

I remember asking a CEO what problem they'd solve if they could. They immediately pointed to a thorny outcome problem. "THIS is the core problem. If we could crack this nut, everything would come together!" The issue? Nothing on the roadmap or in progress was addressing that core problem. "It is a hard problem, and we have a bunch of customer requests!"

So it isn't about money, exactly. You could argue that there's actually more money locked up in addressing the elephants. Rather, it is about opting for the path of least resistance. It is also about optics and incentives. We want and incentivize visible wins. And new stuff is easier.

Is this fixable? Is it even a problem?

I'll tackle that in a future post. My goal here was more to dig into the myriad of incentives that hold this all in place. There are many of examples of B2B companies that pull off the shiny object approach, at least for a couple years. They don't reach their full potential, but you can't flat-out dismiss the approach. To plot a different course, you need visible progress and wins to shift incentives. And it helps to have stubborn leaders who are willing to take the road less traveled.