I’ve read many approaches to product management, but my all-time favourite approach is the one described by Slava Akhmechet, co-founder of RethinkDB, in his blog post “How to build great products.”

He puts any given feature into one of three buckets:

  • Gamechangers
  • Showstoppers
  • Distractions

He uses the example of a mobile phone. A mobile phone has to be able to make phone calls. If it can’t, no one will buy it. But they won’t buy it because it’s able to make phone calls. The ability to make calls is a Showstopper feature.

But what if a mobile phone included a video projector? Other phones don’t have that, so that could be a Gamechanger. People will buy your phone because it can project videos.

Distractions are any feature that will have no measurable impact on adoption.

Gamechangers turn into Showstoppers

The Gamechangers and Showstoppers approach is hinted at in Professor Noriaki Kano’s theory of product development. He refers to a Gamechanger as an “Attractive Quality” and a Showstopper as a “Must-be Quality”. There are other dimensions in his model too, but the most interesting part is that it shifts over time. Gamechangers become Showstoppers.

For example, when I prototyped the first version of ThoughtFarmer in 2005, the ability for an average employee to add and edit intranet content was a Gamechanger. It attracted innovative companies, such as IDEO, and they bought ThoughtFarmer because of this feature. However, today that feature is a Showstopper. No one will buy intranet software that doesn’t have the capability for an average employee to add and edit content. But it’s not the reason they will buy it, either — it’s just considered a basic need.

A fourth bucket: Entanglers

I also use a fourth bucket that I call Entanglers. Entanglers are features that make it hard to switch away from a product. For example, in some markets it is difficult or impossible to move your mobile phone number from one provider to another. That’s an entangler. From a vendor perspective, entanglers are great because they ensure recurring revenue. From a consumer perspective, entanglers are undesirable.

If you’re in the business of selling software — especially cloud-based software with recurring monthly revenue — entanglers are vital. You need your monthly churn rate — the percentage of customers who leave your solution — to be as low as possible. Making it difficult or expensive to move off your software is a proven way to reduce churn. A typical entangler in the software world is an integration, such as with a CRM or ERP.

The takeaway for intranets

Spend as much time as possible on Gamechangers. These are the features that delight your users; these are the features that help you win. 

Gamechangers aren’t always complicated. In an early version of ThoughtFarmer we added a visual relationship browser. It was completed relatively quickly; I don’t think it took more than a week or two. But that relationship browser captured the fancy of so many people! And to this day it continues to be a factor in making sales.

Quickly recognize and discard Distractions. If the feature won’t have a noticeable impact on adoption, toss it!

This is easier said than done. Once we had a particularly vocal client lobbying hard for a certain feature, and they had us convinced it was a Gamechanger. It was much, much more difficult to build than anticipated — probably about one person-year of effort. And years later, fewer than 3% of customers use it. Turns out it was a big Distraction.

Beware of Entanglers. If you’re a software vendor, go to town on the entanglers! But if you’re a buyer, understand that vendors want you to be tied to their software. Every business process that migrates to your intranet, every system it integrates with and every piece of data published to it makes it more difficult to get rid of it. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do these things; you probably should! Just be aware of the potential switching cost should you choose to move to another platform in the future. 

Need help designing (or redesigning) your intranet? Contact me.