In this Lightning Cast, you’ll discover the impact Product Debt can have on your organization and how you can help avoid it.

A Lightning Cast is a shorter form episode modeled after lightning talks.  You’ll get valuable content in 8 minutes or less.


There are many different types of debt.  Technical debt is a conscious choice to develop in a way that will constrain future development.  In essence, you’re borrowing speed from the future.  If you don’t pay down that technical debt, it will become harder and harder to create or modify the code in the future.

Like technical debt, you experience product debt when you make short term product decisions that can lead to expensive long term impacts.  You are sacrificing opportunities and customer experience to get something out the door.

Ben Yoskovitz wrote that “Product debt comes from making rush decisions. It comes from lazy product thinking and design. It comes from the hope that adding “just one more feature” will solve all of your problems. It comes from wanting to push features as quickly as possible.”

I don’t know that it’s lazy product thinking, but it’s a failure to understand the problems your customers face, solve the right problems, and create a great, cohesive customer experience.


Types of Product Debt

There are three types of product debt:

  1. Feature bloat
  2. Low value features
  3. Customer Experience debt

Feature bloat happens when you keep adding features in the hope that those features will be valuable to your customers.  However, adding more features slows down development.  Each line of code teams write is another line of code we need to maintain.

Think of all that goes into adding a new feature.  You need to test the feature as well as run integration tests to ensure the new feature didn’t break existing functionality and update any system or user documentation.  You may also need to train users and your internal support staff and update marketing materials and sales information.

Related to this is low value features.  This is when the features and functionality you add don’t satisfy a customer need.  Your product may have many features, but if no one wants those features, you’ve wasted a lot of time and energy . . . and you need to maintain these features.

In 2014, the Standish Group did an analysis of feature and functionality usage and they found that 50% of features are hardly ever used.  An additional 30% of features are infrequently used.  Think of all the wasted time and expense that went into developing these features.

Cobbling together many different pieces of functionality may also lead to a poor or inconsistent user experience.  Complex products confuse customers and are harder to use.  This means more calls to your support center or people may just stop using your product.


What to Do About Product Debt

What can we do to address product debt?  The biggest thing you can do is to create awareness.

For product bloat and low value features, make sure you’re solving problems and not just implementing features.  Ask why a new feature is being proposed and help your organization to solve the right problems.

You can also encourage testing.  Are you experimenting with your product in the slowest, most expensive way by building features and putting them in production?  Why not run a quick, cheap experiment to validate or invalidate your hypothesis before building the full functionality?

Think of a minimum viable prototype before your minimum viable product.  This allows you to learn and adapt in hours or days instead of weeks and months.

For the customer experience, take a holistic view and periodically review all of the customer touchpoints to look for inconsistency.

You can also perform usability testing.  How quickly and easily can a user complete a goal or solve their problem?

Customer interviews, prototypes, landing pages, explainer videos, and fake doors are all quick and cheap experiments you can run to ensure you’re creating something with the right problem/solution fit and product/market fit.

The three keys are to dedicate time to pay down existing debt, test early and measure throughout, and reduce the complexity of your product.


Listen to the full episode to discover how you can help your organization avoid or address Product Debt.



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