Saturday, September 15, 2012

Product Management: Shelfware

There are lot of shades of gray between the product that sells and the product that is actually used and recommended.  I see this often with enterprise software.  Although a company buys a software product, it does not necessarily mean that the product is being used.  It happens often in enterprise software because buyers are often not the users.  If you are buying for someone else to use the product, it is more prone to buy something that may not be useful to the end users.

But this also exists in consumer space.  And it happens all the time.

I am not talking about something that you grew out of.  I'm talking about something that you thought you'd use, but never found it as useful for one reason or another and decided that it's just easier not to use it than trying to make it work.

There are many such examples.  Let me share one.  It's voice command control on my car.  I don't know of anyone who uses voice command to enter address, although technology has been available for several years.  Take a look at the steps involved in entering address using voice command.

It should be obvious to you why voice command is a shelfware feature.  There are many things wrong with the interface.  First you have to be in the right screen to use voice command to enter address.  Why would anyone bother using the voice command if user has to be on the right screen by opening up the map with a button?  Point of using voice command is to be able to get to often used command without looking for the right button.  Second, voice prompt narrating options are just too long.  The entire voice prompt is just about 1 minute to go through entering destination address.  No one enjoys navigating IVR, and that's exactly what the system forces me to go through.

It's good for marketing, but does not actually get used, and no one recommends it for that reason.  Voice command system is a shelfware.  The product may be selling, but the truth is that no one is actually using it.

Shelfware may look harmless.  But it hurts the product by wasting the valuable R&D resources on something that does not add value.  Over time each shelfware becomes a resource drain on the team, and ultimately makes the product a bloatware which diffuses the overall product message.  In other words, it takes away the focus.

Pay attention to see if you are adding shelfware features to your product.  A good way to test this is for you to become an actual user.  The second best way is to observe how users are using the product.  But as a PM, you must watch out to avoid building a shelfware.

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