Grow Then Cull


Mon Dec 08 23:50:50 -0800 2008

Evan Williams says that new products can be created by removing features from an existing product. Twitter is a blog, but without titles, formatting, comments, or a 141st character.

I agree, but I’ll take it even further: the early life of a good product is a continuous cycle of feature growth followed by aggressive culling. Product designers, myself included, like to belive that product development is a deliberate process: a slow-but-steady march toward a final destination which was envisioned in exact and perfect glory at the product’s inception. The product’s development is thus all about implementation, and nothing about discovery.

The reality is that product development is a branching and web-like path, an explosion of features and functions and styles and purposes sprouting out in random directions. 99% of these directions turn out to be dead ends; the features that came with that direction wither once the dead end is abandoned in favor of more promising paths.

But the remaining 1% of those experimental features could strike upon a need that exists in a market that has access to and knows about the product. The effect will be immediate and dramatic. A good product designer notices this, and seizes on it. Throw resources behind this direction, to strengthen and expand down that path. Cut everything else, much as it may hurt to let go of directions that the team is emotionally attached to.

Good product leaders have the vision and balls to be bold with experimentation, and equally bold with cutting all but the very best features and functions. A mature product is a phoenix which has burned to the ground and reformed hundreds of times. Each time it grows a bit closer to being the ideal solution to a real problem that users need solved.