Unnecessary Features Emerge in Products

27 years after purchase, my microwave at home finally stopped working. While I knew that it was time to replace it, the new ones on the market come with a wide range of features and are significantly more expensive due to the current economic situation. Personally, I find that although multifunctionality initially excites me, in the end, I tend to stick to the functions I use most frequently. In this era of inflation, I long for products and services that strike a balance between moderate features and reasonable prices.

While it seems that software like apps and web services follow this trend, occasionally, products are equipped with surprising features that make you wonder, “Is that really necessary?” Take, for example, a few years ago when I purchased a cleaning robot that had a feature allowing it to play music from a USB storage with audio files while cleaning. Honestly, I questioned the necessity of such a function. The appeal of a cleaning robot is that it cleans autonomously when I’m not around, and many people would prefer it to operate when they are away. I wondered what kind of usage scenario they had in mind when incorporating such a feature.

Observing such examples, I sometimes question whether manufacturers truly understand the needs of their users. However, having experienced the process of planning, developing, and releasing a product, I have come to appreciate the various factors that lead to such outcomes.

It is often said that value for users stems from user stories, but there are many instances where ideal circumstances are not met due to various factors.

Let me provide an example. I once participated as a development leader in a project for a dedicated mobile phone for delivery drivers in a certain courier company.

Things were going smoothly until a certain point. We rode along with the drivers in their trucks, accompanied them on deliveries, conducted interviews, and steadily incorporated only the functions that would truly be necessary.

However, at the end of the development phase, a sudden request came from within the company.

The request was to include a feature that would announce the caller’s name through voice while receiving a call when the driver was carrying a package. The idea was that it would be convenient to know who was calling while carrying the package. 

It was a decision that turned out to be a big mistake.

Until then, the functions had been carefully incorporated based on a user-centric approach, user cases, and user stories. But suddenly, this request appeared with different motives. It was an attempt to showcase the latest technology at the time and to differentiate it from other companies. It wasn’t something that had been born from consideration for user needs. 

What were the reasons behind this significant failure?

While one can imagine concerns about personal information leakage with names being announced everywhere, even worse things actually happened. Each driver in that courier company registered the names of the customers in their address books based on their own judgment, often using descriptors that were not the actual names but characteristics of the person, such as “always absent” or “quick to complain.” (just examples)

Furthermore, the drivers unanimously agreed that they were too busy to answer the phone while carrying packages.

During the development process, it became clear that this feature would not be used, but we were in a situation where it was difficult to withdraw it. Moreover, introducing this voice announcement feature led to unintended issues, such as delays in receiving calls for other functions and a silent period before being able to have a conversation after answering the phone. The manufacturer involved in the development faced significant challenges. 

As the leader of the development, I often thought that if we could have convinced them to reconsider from the perspective of providing value to the users, taking into account the development schedule, we could have stopped it.

Value for users can come in both apparent and latent forms. However, whenever forces deviate from the original customer

I mentioned that deviating from the vector of customer-centricity often leads to the creation of strange outcomes.

From an external consulting standpoint, it is common to question why organizations deviate from ideal frameworks and make certain judgments. However, understanding such corporate culture and providing support with that knowledge can potentially earn greater trust from customers.

While contemplating these matters, I decided to take a moment and use my new microwave to try making bread, something I had never attempted before. ^^