min read ·
March 8, 2021

The art of eliminating features while making the competition irrelevant

The craft of building successful products relies on the art of eliminating features. As ironic as it may sound, it is this trick that helps ace product people build highly gripping and engaging products.

This blog is a guide on how to put this trick into practice for your product.

Rarely have I met a stakeholder who did not want to give his customers all the possible features that he could envisage or that already existed in alternative products. The rationale is seemingly obvious:

  • The competitor’s products have it, why should our customers miss that experience
  • Let’s add more features and outgrow the competitors
  • The old proprietary software has it, so it is a 'must-have'
  • And the most common of all, we’ve already committed to it.

These, however, hinder more than help in building a compelling value proposition and an irresistible product. Flooding the product with features has many counterproductive effects on the success of the product:

  • It makes the product overly complex
  • Seriously hurts the uniformity in its value proposition
  • Results in poor user experience
  • Makes scaling hard, if not impossible
  • Significantly raises the cost to build and maintain it.

Deciding which features should be eliminated is not an easy task though. There are quite a few prioritisation techniques but prioritising simply may not give your team the sense of confidence unless there is a sound understanding of the area or zone in which your product must build the strong value proposition or create its "blue ocean" as W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne called it in their work around blue ocean strategy. Blue ocean or market is basically the area(s) in which a product or service can produce an irresistible value proposition while tenaciously differentiating itself from the competition (harnessing the untapped potential).

In this blog, I will walk you through the blue ocean strategy framework considering the example of two very commonly used agile project management tools - Atlassian's JIRA and Pivotal's Pivotal Tracker (PT). We shall employ the blue ocean strategy framework to identify new initiatives on Pivotal Tracker that will help it: 

  1. create its own niche
  2. eliminate vast chunks of features 
  3. keep its competition at bay (Jira).

To begin with the blue ocean analysis, one should start with identifying the competing factors for comparison. One or a couple of these factors eventually become the focused zone of your product, the blue ocean. Reading product reviews, analysing marketing initiatives or campaigns of competing products and interviewing users are solid sources for identifying these factors and user benchmarks.

I’ve conducted user surveys and interviews as a baseline for the following analysis. It did not only provide me with the factors but also the strengths and weaknesses of both products on these factors. The table below summarises the factors and the graph thereafter compares these competing factors in terms of the strength of the respective products in those areas.
Snippets of the user surveys are provided at the end of the blog post.

competing factors
Competing factors for both of the products
offering level vs competing factor
The competing factors are represented by the x-axis and the offering level of both products on these factors on the y-axis

The users placed JIRA (represented by the black line) strongly in the areas of data points and filtering, plugins and integrations, team productivity and time tracking, sprint health and tactical reporting. They rated Jira as an average tool in terms of flexibility, design and experience and thought it had very limited capabilities in collaboration areas (eg: showcases, stand-ups, retrospectives, etc) and dynamic KPIs / goals tracking.

On the other hand, users thought that while Pivotal Tracker (represented by the red line) is strong in areas of flexibility, design and experience, its capabilities were confined in all other areas including collaborations and dynamic KPIs / goals tracking.

Unlocking the blue ocean

Since JIRA is perceived by its users as high or medium in all other areas except in the areas of collaborations and dynamic KPI / Goal tracking, there is an opportunity for Pivotal Tracker to create or raise its capabilities in these areas and create it's blue ocean / market while approaching the product strategy. Further, to produce an even more specific and effective value proposition it should reduce or eliminate capabilities in the areas where Jira is strong and try to only use these areas as an enabler to sail into the blue ocean where it has the competitive edge.

blue ocean
the eliminate - reduce - raise - create grid (Kim and Mauborgne)

Eliminating the features

Now that we have unlocked the areas where Pivotal Tracker should spend its efforts, it is easier to drop the feature requests in other areas with sound confidence and focus the prioritisation only amongst the features that specifically support the unique and strong value proposition zone (create & raise).

For example: hypothetically the Pivotal Tracker team has a goal to increase user engagement by 10% by EOY. It could apply the above framework to identify the factors, analyse strengths and weaknesses of both products on the competing factors, unlock the blue ocean, use the knowledge of its target groups and then fiercely eliminate the feature ideas in all other areas and focus only on feature ideas that assist in raising the online collaborations quotient (create & raise zone) which will consequently improve user engagement.

In the above example, feature requests like capturing new data points, building custom filters and adding bountiful project reports to increase user engagement are eliminated as they are more in line with the factors in the reduce or eliminate zone.

The new feature called 'showcases' is built. It automatically creates a showcase page / deck using the stories that met the definition of done for the sprint and permits to capture user feedback/rating against each story. If there are more features that contribute to collaboration or dynamic KPI tracking (create & raise), then the commonly used prioritisation techniques can be employed.

Apart from the blue ocean strategy, there are quite a few tools and techniques available which support in unlocking the niche for a product while reducing the amount to work done and keeping the competition at bay, like Value Proposition Design. Keep a watch on Fabric's active meetup group Being Agile Melbourne for free hands-on workshops on value proposition design coming very soon.

Header photo by Chase Rief on Unsplash

Annexes: Snippets from the user survey

Snippet 1

Snippet 2

Snippet 3

Snippet 4


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