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What version of operating system does your phone run? Is it the latest? If not, do you even care?

The change in life that an upgrade makes, is it even still noticeable? Compare that to how it felt when you first bought a smartphone. Or your first car?

The impact of successful products

As a product actually develops from idea to reality, the potential directions it could go in rapidly narrow. The potentialities evaporate as decisions have to be made and things start to be laid in place. Once build begins, the cruft – the assorted debris, the complexities, leftovers and impacts of design and build choices – increases.

Gradually it becomes harder and harder to improve upon the product, and the effort required to continue to develop new features or apply improvements increases.

Meanwhile, something worse is happening.

The addressable market for your product is shrinking. Or because I like to focus on people rather than market numbers, I prefer to phrase it another way: the potential emotional value that your product supplies is shrinking.

The product value / product development trade off

The users whose pain point you solved with the launch of your MVP and first few iterations, are still around, but their scale of problem has reduced. You’ve (hopefully) already addressed it somewhat and provided some level of solution.

And therefore the emotional value that updates to your product can deliver is steadily shrinking too.

Gradually, the effort to update your product is going to greatly outweigh the emotional value updates can bring.

So what’s to be done?

Innovating whilst managing expectations

As CEOs of product based businesses, you should be looking to diversify and innovate. Find new problems and deliver solutions.

As Product Owners, you should keep updating your roadmap but beware of the diminishing returns that your product is likely to deliver. Feed this up.

And don’t feel bad! Feel good for every bit of value delivered in this increasingly complex situation.

As suppliers and agencies building products, you’re in a difficult position.

On the one hand you’re trusted to improve a product on behalf of a client. On the other hand, you are at risk of being viewed increasingly unfavourably over time (quietly, unfairly blamed?) as your work fails to bring the same returns as those early, giddily successful releases.

The best approach for you is to be open and supportive of your client. Highlight the diminishing returns they will eventually face. Help them avoid the risk of ossifying, losing out to new, smaller, focused products whose teams can move faster and deliver more emotional value than your clients 18th update can.

Encourage your clients to diversify, look for new emotional problems and product opportunities, and work with them to ideate and build these new products.