Product Complexity

19 10 2009

Jonathan Becher of the Manage by Walking Around Blog last week wrote about “Less is More.”  While he starts out with an attack on PowerPoint presentations, he then broadens his commentary to software.   His point is spot on and while I can not think about specific example in software, there have been a couple of interesting technology gadgets that could answer his question.

The most obvious to me is the Flip video camera.  They started with the premise that you don’t need all the special effects, and gadgetry that bloats R&D, wastes battery life, and ultimately increases the cost.  They provided just a video camera with a USB connection to download the film.  No more, no less.  And surprisingly (and telling) in the age of endless features that are rarely used it was an immediate hit.

  • In your space, are there customers that are over-served by the functionality of the competitive product suites?  If so, could you use this as a little Blue Ocean styled opportunity to address a new market?
  • How much of your product’s features are truly used?
  • Are the core functions of your product complicated by the rarely used features?
  • Do you run the risk of over complicating your product to its own demise?

I think it will be interesting to watch Flip grow over the next few years.  Will it attempt to morph the product to compete with the more complex video cameras?  Will it lose it’s identity as it does?  Is accessorizing the Flip a step in complexity, or merely a nice personalized touch?

Too Much

If we take Jonathan’s initial question a step in the opposite direction, can you think of a company that got too complex for its own good?

Here I think we can come up with a great many examples.  A clear example is Social Networking.  The initial idea behind LinkedIn was fantastic and it was easy to see why everyone bought in.  Lost former co-workers were easily found, and we could maintain a single repository for our network.  No matter when they changed jobs, everyone updated their profile.  Now, in an attempt to do more, LinkedIn is at risk of losing their audience.  Groups were a great idea, but their were no controls, no rules on how to use them (or not use them).  Now there are groups in every direction and people are using LinkedIn as a database marketing tool for pushing spam.  Facebook is perhaps beginning to fail under a similar complexity.  We all have friends that put their entire lives into Facebook (which may create its own problem) and send out virtual drinks, winks, pokes, games, flair, etc.   I would love to periodically hear what my friends are up to, but I can no longer find that out unless I spend a tremendous amount of time to design and manage the environment.

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One response

20 10 2009
Jonathan

I’m looking for simplicity everywhere but I have a hard time finding it. But at last, I think I found something I really like about Twitter. The 140 character limitation forces simplicity. As as James points out (http://www.redmonk.com/jgovernor/2007/05/04/somebody-shot-the-president-twitter-nothing-to-see-here-get-back-to-work/), simplicity can be compelling.

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