Innovation and the Feature Spiral

In his blog → How To Be A Good Product ManagerJeff Lash has written an interesting article about the „feature spiral“ (→ Product management is more than prioritizing features). Read here about my experiences in this area.

Jeff’s Feature Spiral

I am with him in his argument that a product manager needs a much broader view to his products than just the next features to be added. In my view he is correct with the reasons, which lead to a feature-focussed development mode:

  • Feature-focussed development is a ’save“ approach,
  • Requirements about features are „easy“ to collect,
  • Insufficient training of product managers leads to a wrong focus.

He mentions several counter actions, which might help you to avoid that you fall into the feature spiral. However, I think that it is worthwhile to add additional aspects.

The Feature Death Spiral

First of all, I think that a too narrow focus on features is not only a problem, but it might be a huge danger as well. Think for example about changing customer needs, and demografics, which have the potential to invalidate your own products. You will not even notice these changes to take place, if you just focus on the features of your existing products.

I have seen companies, which take a limited view to the product management function, and very much focus on features. In my work-experience, I also observed that product management organisations themselves mature, and change their focus in this process. Very young product management organisations seem to focus on features, while mature organizations add the needed strategic focus. In my oppinion it is not just insufficient training of product managers, which leads to this result, but also the missing strategic orientation of the leadership level. Both need to be changed, or actively managed, and (sometimes) improved.


If you take a closer view to a product lifecycle, you will understand that it is not just a question of training:

  • Phase 1: Often companies install a product management organization, after learn that they have difficulties to create products, which the market demands. In this phase a strong demand exists for a product management, which focusses on features (rollin-side), and immediate sales support (rollout-side).
  • Phase 2: After the company offers successful products, it often becomes perfect in making these products even better. In this phase product management often concentrates on the existing customers, and their needs. The following two developments take place. First, the company starts to just focus on optimizing those existing technologies/products, which made them successful (in this phase it is easy to oversee disruptive technologies). Second, it starts to become a tunnel-view, and begins to neglect alternative technologies and products.
  • Phase 3: After a product-crisis becomes evident (i.e. as competitors enter the scene), some organization refocus, and start to become more strategic.


Here some ideas, which help you to avoid the vicious feature spiral:

  • As already said before, it is not sufficient that product managers focus on their products and product strategies. They also need to actively manage their own organization (If you want, you might understand it as the product management of the product management).
  • To avoid a tunnel-view, it is helpful that you reserve yourself some hours in learning-activities that go  beyond your own comfort zone/product focus. I learned that blogs are particularly helpful in this, as blogs are often written by subject matter experts, and as very many go beyond the pure marketing view.
  • Often the feature spiral focusses on the immediate product. To avoid this narrow focus, it is helpful to also concentrate on the product family. The product family might include products beyond your own products.
  • In agile organizations, product management often manages the backlock items. Here the danger is to become sucked into a feature-focus-role. In agile organizations, you need to take care that you carefully design the product management role.

Weiterführende Informationen

Das Original dieses Artikels ist auf Der Produktmanager erschienen (©Andreas Rudolph). Regelmäßige Artikel gibt es über die (→Mailingliste), oder indem Sie →mir auf Twitter folgen. In der Online Version finden Sie hier die versprochenen weiterführenden Links:

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