Saturday, February 03, 2007

"Feature frenzy"- 10 tips to getting feature creep under control

Controlling feature creep ...

"Historically, marketing says "software sells with more features" (or perceived features). There is a psychology (especially true in the United States) that the more you get when you buy something, the better the purchase decision.

Unfortunately, added 'bells and whistles' might feel like a better deal, but can turn into a nightmare when you (or your user) sit down with the software and use it.

A few words about features

Features. We love them and we hate them. Features you need, enhance your ability to complete tasks, and are easy to love. Features that get in your way or add extra effort, interpretation or exploration, can be a pain.

The field of Usability Engineering has proven that features if integrated tightly into a user's task flow can be powerful. Features born out of marketing or engineering ideas, not validated with user behavior, can end up being adoption blockers.

Oh, sure you need features to market and sell your product. That's where all this feature frenzy stuff started. Software marketers perfected the art of feature-worship back in the 1980's (starting with Apple's Guy Kawasaki, the guy who decided to ship the Apple IIx without a key feature--a floppy disk drive!). Microsoft, has relied on features to market products for years, but with XP shifted to more task-centered marketing strategies (Windows XP stood for x-perience at one time; for the first time menu features took on "task language" in XP). Windows Vista promises better task focus, but the jury is out on whether the new "task grouping" UI in Office 2007 is good or bad.

10 tips to getting feature-creep under control

The best way to tame feature frenzy (before it turns into the dreaded disease "featuritis") is to identify and understand your user's task flow. Here are ten steps that I use regularly to bring some discipline to feature creep when identifying user experience strategy and defining user interfaces.

1. Get task-focused. Conduct field studies, or Task Analysis, where you can get a bird's eye view of what your users are doing. What problems are they trying to solve and what is the context of the task environment (conditions and constraints in which tasks are performed)?

2. Map business requirements to user tasks. Business requirements are only as good as the relevancy features end up having for users. Focus groups and informal requirements gathering is not sufficient for an optimal user experience. Business Analysts need to take the lead from real world user data. If the business wants the user to do XYZ, how does that match to the reality of the tasks currently performed by the user?

3. Talk about user tasks not features. A common mistake teams make is to get caught up in proposed features and functionality. Keep your language in your meetings task-oriented. When feature discussions are dominating the conversation, can you find a way to turn the conversation toward user tasks?"    (Continued via Demystifying Usability)    [Usability Resources]

Feature Creep - Usability, User Interface Design

Feature Creep

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