We live in an age of user-centeredness, which means that user experience is key to the success of virtually any software product. Whether the user is a client, customer, employee or associate, their input is essential to the development of meaningful and useful software features. In order for your business to remain successful, continuous and comprehensive audits of software performance must give way to dynamic and perpetual upgrades that address needs without wasting resources or alienating users.
The addition of new software features can become difficult and problematic as your user base broadens and diversifies (as can the elimination of old features as well). Two common issues that threaten to alienate users exist on opposite sides of the same usability spectrum - feature creep and feature starvation. The former refers to excessive features rendering software bloated and inefficient, while the latter refers to delays in feature upgrades that lead to a decline in software’s usefulness and/or relevance.
To be clear, these terms are not necessarily dichotomous, and might even coincide with one another. But whatever the case, the prevalence of either feature creep or feature starvation is often an indicator of company culture and development practices that should be corrected in order to better meet the users’ needs.
The causes of feature creep can be quite diverse. Anything from over-ambition to disorganization and unclear focus can lead to an overabundance of features, which end up hurting user experience more than helping it. One common cause is the excessive influence of outside stakeholders by way of the committee design process, which can dilute the original vision of a product and expand its scope detrimentally. The effect of this is usually an early death of the product.
Even the best and most popular software products can fall victim to feature creep. In fact, one of the earliest known uses of the term was in a 2006 TED conference by New York Times columnist, David Pogue, who famously displayed an instance of Microsoft Word with all of its toolbars open, completely crowding out the program’s main workspace and rendering it unusable.
Feature starvation can also result from a number of different things, including poor planning, flawed research or just a lack of vision or ambition. Results of this issue can include dramatic user or customer drop-off, as well as a loss of reputation for the organization, business and/or personnel.
While definitely hazardous to business, feature starvation isn’t quite as common as feature creep. Nevertheless, it is still a difficult problem to address, as it is usually indicative of deeper problems within the organization or development process.
The best way to strike a balance between too many features and not enough is to audit your development pipeline, and especially, to close gaps in communication where they affect workflow the most. Consider the following methods:
Component-Based Development (CBD)
This is a software engineering method that divides systems into their independent components. This approach makes releases easier to maintain and roll out. And with stable interfaces between components, deployment cycles are simplified as releases aren’t necessarily synchronized.
This approach to the software development cycle is team-based and emphasizes customer and developer interaction in order to solve problems effectively. It is largely a response to the more traditional “waterfall” method, which is much more linear and not as dynamic when it comes to releasing and improving the software.
Whereas Agile development bridges the gap between customer and developer, DevOps does so between the developer and IT operations. The purpose of this is to minimize manual processes and to automate building, testing and releasing as much as possible in order to meet customer/client needs in a swift manner.
When assessing which methods best fit your business, it is important to fully understand your development pipeline, to begin with. Focus on the problems that affect the value of your product the most and work your way out from there, and avoid over-compensation so you don’t end up either depriving or saturating your product with features. Companies like Aloha Technology can help you perform audits and optimize your development process in order to best meet the needs of your users.