The risks in releasing product features too often

You downloaded that new productivity app a few months ago. You’re getting new features every week it seems and well, you’re kind of addicted. You even started hoping on their feature request page to suggest some of your own ideas and up voting others. Suddenly, the updates stop. A couple of months go by, nothing. You’re paying the annual subscription fee, the app has become a mainstay of your workflow. You go to some sites you follow where users talk about the product. It’s a mixed bag. Everything from the company is going under to others saying a huge overhaul is coming. You think a bit about this and you kinda feel like others do; too many features now and the product seems to have lost some focus.

This happens a fair bit in the world of digital products. For some startups and even those who’ve closed a good round of financing, adding features on a constant basis seems to be part of their strategy to make the product sticky and seem new. To a degree, it works. It hits our dopamine receptors and makes users feel like they’ve got something new and something to look forward to. Agile product management makes this approach fairly easy to do. Except it can also be dangerous.

For the product company, it keeps teams going. Product managers are always busy, the marketing and sales teams stay motivated because they’ve got new things to shout about across social media and to prospective enterprise or multi-user clients. The gold is these types of clients. Their churn rate is less and the cost of acquiring them is much lower with a higher return than single or two seat licenses unless you’ve got a super sleek inbound program working.

This approach however, can have long-term challenges that can cost business and defer technology debt costs to a later date when they can be harder to fix. This is especially so when a digital product starts to see serious growth and has to rapidly scale causing strain on engineering and DevOps teams. To the point where it can also hamper the product roadmap. It can also impact customers who become used to a constant stream of updates. Suddenly you find yourself dealing with a customer service issue, disillusioned customer base and scaling problems, including having to address the core of the product.

Here are some the impacts of releasing features and updates too often;

  1. It sets an unrealistic set of expectations with users
  2. It hurts the core of the product in the long-term (that’s bad technology debt)
  3. It hurts the user because it hurts their workflow
  4. It is unsustainable when done too fast
  5. It hurts churn rate over the longer haul
  6. It can impact the customer experience, especially support services. Even more so if you’re trying to automate support.
  7. When you have to stop and overhaul the core, you will antagonize reviewers and hurt your brand
  8. Enterprise clients may shift away due to complexities dealing with such products in workflows
  9. Your DevOps and engineering teams want a break and have to step back
  10. Your competitors will eat your lunch at some point

A startup might argue that adding new features and functionality on a speedy basis helps with uptake and loyalty as you need to get users into the funnel to become paying customers. Plus competition. They’re doing, so you need to as well. Basecamp didn’t. They’re worth $52 Billion and one of the most successful project management software tools to this day. is it about your product or your competitors product? Is it about a loyal, paying base that’s sustainable or constant churn?

Adding a constant stream of new features, UI and UX tweaks can seem enticing and get people riled up for a newly launched product, but it can cost you later. Instead, focus on building the core base of users. Engage with them, get their feedback, build a roadmap that sets a steady, calm pace. Give sales and marketing time to build the funnels. Hype only works for so long…just like coffee and sugar…the buzz wears off and we fade away.

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