When is the last time you told someone you couldn’t do something? Depending on your job or your home situation, it could have been fairly recent. Perhaps you put off washing the dishes or turning in that expense report. It could have been a temporary decision. Or maybe you really don’t want to take out the garbage ever again.
When it comes to companies, the decision to tell someone you’re not doing something isn’t as easy. In some cases, the answers are cut-and-dried. It’s doubtful that Ford will ever offer hamburgers at their car dealerships. Microsoft won’t be building cars any time soon. And hospitals aren’t going to be releasing mobile tablets with their own branding on them to the general public.
However, when it comes to features, the answers are very nebulous. There was a time when no one ever believed that Microsoft would make hardware. Or that Amazon would offer anything other than a storefront. Even Steve Jobs once proudly proclaimed that his company would never make a stylus. And still there are people that are asking companies, especially those focused on software, to keep adding new features to their software to increase the number of things they can do with it for the same price.
It feels like some customers want their suppliers to try and boil the ocean. They want maximum value for their dollar. They want to wring every bit of performance they can get out of their platform. And they don’t care if these one-off features add development time or sunk costs or even bugs that are hard to squash because of bad code quality. They just want their shiny button or widget.
No Means No
That’s why I was very surprised to see a perfect answer to this feature creep problem during Networking Field Day 19 when Kentik presented on their latest features. Take a look at his aptly titled video – What’s Next:
Avi Freedman does a great job of talking about what’s coming up for Kentik in 2019. That in and of itself is a huge thing. Companies often get wary of discussing roadmap items because the issues created by slipping the shipping date make for angry customers. If someone buys your product because you promise it will make you breakfast in six months you had better believe that customer is going to want eggs and bacon in 180 days. For every feature that gets shipped on time, you can end up with the still-absent Apple AirPower1.
To me, though, more important that the roadmap of what Kentik is going to do is the roadmap of what they aren’t going to be doing. This concept of a Negative Roadmap is so refreshing to me. Rather than having a sales force that convinces you to buy a product based on the future that may-or-may not happen, Kentik instead is throwing it all out there. Our product won’t do any of the following:
- Application Stack Instrumentation
- Help Desk / Ticketing
- Wireless monitoring
- And more…
That’s amazing to me!
Avi is telling everyone that they aren’t working on these things. No mixed messages. No worry that some errant feature is going to compromise the performance and stability of their platform. No need to hire random developers that are going to spend their entire career with your team working on something that maybe two people are ever going to care about.
I’ve long maintained to people in the industry that feature creep is a huge problem. I once stated that “every odd command switch in that operating system was a million dollar sale that had to go through”. Imagine running your organization where you have to cram random and unrelated features into your code to make one customer happy. And what happens when it is two features. Or four. Or more?
Kentik is taking a much-needed stand. Don’t buy our software if you expect it to make breakfast or drive you to work. Instead, know that we’re focused on what we do best: analytics. Rock solid. High performance. Easy to understand. Nothing more than that and certainly not less.
I think this comes from the top. When a brilliant engineer runs your company, it’s too easy to give in to the siren call of features. Instead, it takes a visionary to understand that most of those features are useless. Instead, what people need is the right features to get the right job done. Not distractions. Not compromises. If you want the particular feature or think you can’t live without it, install this other piece of software. It’s as simple as that.
Bringing It All Together
I wish more companies would take a page from Kentik and publish a negative roadmap. Instead of me trying to figure out why this feature was pushed into the code, I’d rather know what you aren’t looking at and instead see what you’re focused on doing. That tells me that you’ve got my best interests in mind. It also tells me whether or not that super important feature that I want will be delivered. If so, great. If not then I know it’s time to explore other options. Sometimes the negative really can be a huge positive.
- At least as of mid-January 2019 ??