Project work will fall into one of two categories; building something new (i.e. more), or enhancing something we’ve already built (i.e. better). When deciding how to invest our scarce resources, we have to think carefully about how much time we spend on each kind of project. At the end of the day, it’s about picking a balance that aligns with your goals, stage of the product life cycle, and your overall product strategy.
Choose A Focus
It often makes sense to pick one strategy for a given granularity. That might be for a quarter if you’re considering your whole roadmap, or it might be at the sprint level if you’re thinking about a specific Product Team.
By choosing a focus, you set yourself up for alignment and a more concentrated push in a specific direction. Consider your choice of more or better part of your strategy. A good strategy shows you what not to build. Either product strategy can be detrimental if chosen without due consideration of the broader company strategy or if it’s sustained for too long.
The problem with too much “more”
Over investing in “more” can leave your user confused and overwhelmed with too much to think about. Your product experience can become cluttered, or inconsistent as you relentlessly pursue shipping more features and capabilities. Taken to the extreme, your key risk is going too broad. You can have trouble communicating all that you do and you’re increasingly exposed to the Pareto Principle (80:20 rule) as many of your new features are underused and generating minimal value.
One remedial option in this scenario is to continue pursuing more but regularly discard the things that aren’t working and actively remove them from the product. Don’t forget, every new feature and capability has a maintenance cost. If you’ve spent a long time focused on building more, you might find yourself wondering why things aren’t moving as fast as they used to. It’s common to not plan the maintenance work or see it on a roadmap, but if you dig in — it’s probably there, eating up your capacity.
The problem with too much “better”
Over investing in “better” risks you being left behind by more innovative competitors that are adding more capabilities that the market wants and you aren’t supplying. You also run against the point of diminishing return as the level of effort required to improve what you have becomes higher while the benefits unlocked by that improvement stay the same, or even dwindle.
Consider Your Context
In an early-stage startup, over-investing in “better” isn’t particularly common. We’re most susceptible to the opposite, though it’s very difficult to over-invest in building more before you reach product-market fit.
As you search for something that hits the mark, it’s easy to slow yourself down trying to make features better instead of trying new things. Until you hit product-market fit, it’s useful to set a bar for quality, but not overcook things — the value of your feedback loop with real users compounds the more often you run it. However, watch for meaningful traction in a given feature and double down on it when the time is right.
Post-product-market fit, determining the “more vs better” becomes a more strategic decision. On one hand, you want to invest in what’s working, but you also want to keep yourself from being out-innovated by competitors or painting yourself into a local maximum.
Think About Granularity
Much of your thinking about more vs. better will be in the big picture as you consider your overall product strategy and business goals. At the same time (like most good product frameworks) you can apply it recursively down to the project, sprint, or even ticket level.
Within a given project, we often have to make tradeoffs to keep things moving and note things as fast follows or phase two. A good application of a “better” focus is to plan time to actually implement this follow-up work. There’s a tactical competitive advantage in being one of the minority that actually ships Phase Two and cleans up the UX debt and fast-follows that come from moving fast.
Taking time to do this level of “more” work is a great change in cadence for the team, avoids the constant sprint feeling, and prevents a monotonous stream of new, new, new. On the flip side, having a team that’s always working on existing features can feel boring, tedious, and like your creativity is being hampered. Try to find opportunities to balance the scales and team morale will likely benefit.
The Biggest Gotcha
Beware the temptation to do “more” and “better” simultaneously. It’s very difficult to focus on two things at once and more vs. better is a prime example. You can do both, but you can’t focus on both. Whether it’s a single sprint, a team’s roadmap, or your whole quarter’s roadmap, make a conscious choice to invest in a more or better product strategy and see how it plays out. Chances are you’re very focused on one – when the timing is right, try out the other for a fresh experience.
About the speaker
Bryce York, Tatari Director of Product, is a strategic product leader with over ten years experience successfully leading in-house and outsourced product, engineering, and design teams. After founding, scaling, and selling his original startup, Seed The Change, a SaaS platform that helped eCommerce companies grow profits by planting trees, he now drives Product at Tatari, an ad-tech startup democratizing TV advertising across linear and streaming TV. Bryce continues to share his product expertise with the next generation of Product Leaders as an editorial contributor and New York Head of Chapter at Products That Count, the largest global product acceleration platform and networking community for product leaders.