Most product people often struggle to know when they’ve added the right mixture of features and complexity to make a product that customers like. Far more often, they wind up in a situation I call “Feature soup.” The soup has everything you could want, yet isn’t a soup you enjoy.
I like cooking, so I use a lot of food-related analogies. In this case, I’m choosing to use the idea of soup to explain how many products are built. My description is particularly appropriate for what I’ve seen in many enterprise and B2B companies.
Soup is one of those interesting foods where you can add things to it without much risk of going wrong. You can add more spice, more liquid, more veggies, more whatever. This winds up looking like many roadmaps for products. The other interesting thing about soup is that you can’t remove something once it goes into the soup. Consider adding a piece of chicken to the soup. Even if you remove the piece, you can’t remove the flavor that spread throughout the soup.
The idea that many groups fundamentally have no capability to take something away once added is why it is very soup-like. Even if it were small, like a button, very few groups would take the time to remove it, and when they do, they will often find a trail of breadcrumbs leading to many other parts of the system. It’s easier to leave the button or chicken in the soup.
Most soups that people love have very few ingredients. Most Americans run to chicken noodle soup when they feel sick. At it’s core, that soup is:
You can add vegetables and season how you’d like, but that’s the basic soup that people use for comfort when they feel their worst. Good soups benefit from a few key ingredients instead of dozens.
So, when starting a product, it is fine to hear all the things that everyone thinks would be great. After all, in their head, this soup with all the stuff they like can’t be bad. At the end, a chef decides which and how much of those ingredients to use in the soup. The chef, in this case, is the product person.
Many people know the principle of YAGNI or You Aren’t Going to Need It. This is especially true of product scope. Many features are built on good intention and wishful thinking. Can you have a solid product without it? Almost always. Would your soup be inedible or ruined without that one person’s ingredient? Probably not.
So when you collect all the ideas for features, step back, and think like a chef. People must eat and enjoy soup, just like they must use and enjoy your product. If that means not using some things, then that is the right call to make.
The funny thing about making a delicious soup is that you can taste it as you go and find out how to adjust. Consider how you might do this more as you build products.
If you’re leveraging scrum, look at how you can engage more customers in your reviews. Then look at how to engage them outside of those events as well.
In what ways can you get a hint at the reception of your creation? Can you send short videos for feedback? Can you schedule a call once a week with one new person to watch and hear how they respond? Can you deeply empathize with your people where you make the call yourself with some accuracy?
Chef’s taste as they go, and so should product people. Otherwise, the dish they send out may go untouched. Not many chefs stay employed if their food is gross, and many product people find themselves nudged out of positions if they habitually fail to deliver something useful.
Putting this together, if you keep the ingredients few, and you taste regularly, you make informed choices on what things you need to add or adjust. After all, it’s easy to add something to a soup. Starting with something simple and adding is the easiest path to take. Even if you are certain you need a more robust product in terms of polish or features, can you build a simpler version of it as a taste? Adding salt to a soup is one case where almost every soup needs some, but you go a little too far, and then it’s inedible. Can you find a way to make that next feature a pinch of salt that precedes the teaspoon?
A restaurant-goer may believe they know what would make an excellent dish, but the practiced hand and discernment of a chef is what does it. Some chefs are bold with their experiments, but they taste and build up to things.
This is a sound approach to building products as well. If every customer that went into a restaurant listed all the ingredients they want and a chef accepted it as a requirement, most of the meals would be strange and dissatisfying. The chef looks at making a delicious meal, and then every ingredient and flavor profile is weighed against that goal. They taste, correct, and try again.