Best Practices

The Art and Science of Removing Features from Your Product

Published Feb 18, 2021

For many of us, the first couple months of the year pose an opportunity for a fresh start–a time to recalibrate what’s important to us and set our intentions for the next 365 days. So, why not think about our products in the same way? Just as people with the goal to be more organized are reluctant to get rid of junk in their closets or garages, product managers can be hesitant to sunset features, even when all signs are pointing to doing so.

In reality, one of the best things a PM can do is remove features from the product that aren’t being used or adding value to the customer experience. As we’ve seen in the past year, customers’ needs (and the nature of business entirely) are constantly evolving, and certain longstanding features may now be irrelevant or no longer necessary.

The value of removing features

The ultimate benefit of removing capabilities from your product is retaining a more streamlined experience for your users. Not to mention every feature requires ongoing maintenance and training, which can be especially time consuming if a feature is outdated or prone to bugs. Call it a win-win: a better experience for your customers, and less time spent supporting rarely-used parts of your product.

While their specific decisions and reasons might be different, product managers and designers both have cause to simplify the product experience. Below, we outline a few different ways to approach removing features from your product.

The art: Channel your inner designer

When thinking about simplicity in design, the term “white space” or “negative space” might come to mind. This refers to unused or open space, and although you might not look at a website or app and immediately notice how much empty space there is, it is incredibly important to the overall experience. In fact, it’s the balance of elements and open space that allows the user to focus more clearly on the task at hand.

Many product designers also operate under the 10 usability heuristics, which are more broad rules of thumb for designing user interfaces. The eighth heuristic is Aesthetic and minimalist design, stating that, “Interfaces should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed.” This isn’t quite the same as negative space, but rather the idea of reducing the “visual noise” on a page, since every extra piece of information on an interface competes with the rest and can diminish their relative visibility.

While product managers aren’t necessarily focused on the design side of things, they can channel this idea of reducing the amount of noise in the product–both visually and functionally.

The science: Leverage data at every step

You should always be monitoring how users are navigating your application, but this data is especially useful when it comes to removing features. With insight into user behavior and sentiment, you’ll be better equipped to make the case to leadership that a certain feature isn’t worth the engineering, design, and product management resources that are being put toward it. Just as channeling your inner designer represents the art of removing features, leveraging data is the science.

Here are a few different ways to use data to remove features from your product:

1. Dig into product usage and engagement

The first place you should always start is with your product analytics. Whether you already have a sense of a feature that is underutilized or want to see if you have any candidates for removal, it’s important to understand if users are only using the feature sporadically, or if it’s part of their usual habits and jobs to be done. Look for in-depth interaction over a period of time (i.e. 30-90 days)–if usage is too sporadic or not recent, your customers likely aren’t using that feature. Keep in mind that not every feature (or product) is meant to be used every day, every week, or even every month.

You can also see how much time people are spending on certain pages of your application, or how often they’re clicking specific buttons. If there are any outliers on the low end, look at the paths users are taking to get to there. Do you have another feature or workflow that can solve for this in an easier way? It could be the case that these users aren’t aware of said feature or workflow.

2. Segment your user base

Another useful tactic for understanding how users are engaging with different product features and areas is segmentation. For example, if you see that a feature is popular with your small business customers but completely ignored by users from large companies, that’s a valuable signal. If your goal is to attract larger companies, you may need to prioritize different capabilities.

Here are some ways to slice the data to see which segments of users access particular features:

    • By company size
    • By persona (Is the intended persona accessing this feature? If not, why?)
    • By NPS response (Is the feature most commonly mentioned by NPS detractors?)
    • By role

3. Use feedback to understand the “why”

If you start seeing trends of lower feature usage, you need to figure out what’s going on–and why. This means talking to your colleagues in customer-facing roles (sales, customer success, etc.), speaking with customers directly, and collecting feedback. Your customers can provide some of the most valuable data that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to–they’re the ones using your product, and also who you’re building for.

If you’re able to talk to the customers who still use a feature you’re planning to remove, you can make them aware of this change ahead of time. Try and understand how they’re using the feature and how the removal will impact their workflows, and then work with them to provide another way of accomplishing those tasks.

4. Monitor the impact

Once you’ve removed a feature from your product, the work doesn’t end there. An equally important step in the process is to monitor the impact of this decision and ensure users are still able to get the most value out of your product (especially any users who were still using the feature that was removed). Whenever you take something out of your product, you need to make sure that customers are educated and empowered to accomplish the tasks they need to do, whether it’s through additional onboarding (i.e. “re-onboarding”) or in-app training.

As you track usage, sentiment, and feedback after you’ve removed a feature, here are some questions to consider:

    • What paths are users taking to accomplish the task or workflow this feature solved for?
    • Are other features seeing a spike in usage?
    • Has there been any feedback from customers about the feature removal?
    • Has our NPS increased or decreased?

Above all, prioritize your users’ experience

In the end, designers and product managers share the same end goal: to improve users’ experience with the product. No matter which approach you take for removing features, the most important thing is that you add this consideration to your workflow at all. Product teams move quickly, and it’s easy to overlook the need to stop and reassess existing parts of your product as you work to add more and more functionality.

If you’re considering removing a feature from your product, here’s a quick checklist that Josh Trauberman of InMotionNow recommends going through as a first gut check:

    • Has anyone used this feature in the last 90 days?
    • Are prospects and customers still asking for this feature?
    • Does this feature cause problems for my users?
    • Should I replace this feature with another feature? (Or, do we already have another feature that can replace it?)