The Strategist

Here's why continuous improvement is bad for your product

06/14/2019 - 10:49

Each successful product prone to an insidious disease called "betterment", the main symptom of which is "insidious betterment". This disease seems inevitable, but there’s still a away to avoid it.

Christiaan Colen via flickr
Christiaan Colen via flickr
Insidious betterment

Suppose we create a wonderful, people-oriented product. It follows all the principles of good design, helps people solve their problems and satisfies some important needs. The product is attractive and easy to use. Suppose a product is successful: many people buy it and recommend their friends.

What could be wrong here?

The problem is that after the product has been on the market for some time, a number of factors inevitably appear, pushing the company to add new functions, that is, to “insidious betterment”.

These factors are:

- Existing consumers love the product, but they want it to have more features, more functions, and more power.

- A competing company adds new features to its products to match the existing offer and even outpace competitors' products. So there is a pressure of competition.

- Customers are satisfied, but sales are declining, because the market is oversaturated. It's time to add new features so that people want to purchase a new model.

More features!

Betterment is very contagious. New products are always more complex, more powerful and differ in size from the first release of the product. You can watch how this happens with music players, mobile phones and computers, and especially with smartphones and tablets. Portable devices are getting smaller, but more functions (which make it harder to operate them) are appearing constantly.

Some products, such as cars, refrigerators, televisions and stoves, are also becoming increasingly complex. But no matter how the size of the product changes, each new release invariably has more features than the previous one.

Betterment is an insidious disease, and it is difficult to uproot it. Market pressure forces us to add new characteristics to a product, but companies usually have no reason (like a budget) to rid the product of old, useless functions. How to understand that you are faced with this disease? Its main manifestation is insidious betterment.

Insidious betterment is the tendency to increase number of properties of a product, often expanding it beyond all reasonable limits. When, after a long time and after adding all these various functions, you come across a product, it is no longer possible to use it conveniently.

Same products

Attempts to keep up with competitors make all products the same. When companies try to increase sales by matching each feature of their product to competitors' product, they ultimately harm themselves.

After all, when products of the two companies completely coincide, the client will no longer have any reason to prefer one to the other.

Unfortunately, many companies aim to copy the list of competitor product features. Even if the first versions of a product are well made, focused on people on real needs, a rare organization is satisfied when a good product remains unchanged for a long time. Most companies compare their characteristics to competitors to identify weaknesses and strengthen these areas in their product.

It is not right. The best strategy is to concentrate on the areas where your product is stronger, and further make them better. Then focus all marketing and advertising on these strengths. This will allow you to select your product from the general range.

As for weaknesses, ignore those that are not important. The lesson is simple: do not blindly follow others; focus on strengths, not weaknesses. If a product has real strengths, then it may just be “good enough” in other areas. Good design requires you to step back from the pressure of competition and make sure that your product is consistent, logical and understandable. This position requires the management of the company to confront marketing professionals, who are begging to add a few more functions.

Better products are obtained when you ignore voices of competitors and instead focus on true needs of the people who use the product.

Based on “The Design of Everyday Things” by Norman Donald

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