Why Simplicity Matters in Product Development For simplicity to happen, it has to be everywhere, embraced by everyone

By Jason Oeltjen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Simplicity is a valuable commodity. People crave it in all aspects of life, but when it comes to complex technology solutions, it takes a back seat too often. Yet, in the context of cybersecurity, like identity and access management (IAM) solutions, simplicity is equally as essential because friction and complexity negatively impact the user's digital experience. When 61% of consumers admit they would switch to a competitor with an easier experience, it's critical for businesses to prioritize simplicity to earn customers' trust and loyalty long term.

Why simplicity matters

When Apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007, it didn't have a copy-paste function. BlackBerry offered it, but Apple decided it wasn't necessary and shipped the phone anyway and sold millions of devices. It was a simple device for their customers to use. Limiting functionality was not an easy decision for the team to make, but it showed how 'simple' wins customers.

Simplicity is important for a variety of reasons. When users can easily understand how a product works, it makes them more accessible and routinely used and can increase overall adoption. This is especially important with technology, where complex products can be more difficult to understand or frustrating to use, leading to avoidance altogether.

When it comes to simplicity, less is often more. Instead of trying to pack as many features as possible into your product, focus on the core functionality that users actually need. This will make the product easier to use and maintain and reduce the risk of vulnerabilities. Every new feature introduces additional security, testing and maintenance overhead — so it's essential to ensure everything is impactful.

Resist the urge to add more features just because your competitors have them. When a competitor releases a new capability, it's really difficult to understand whether that new feature is used widely or was a response to a single customer request. Don't engage in this feature battle. Focus instead on ensuring your product has the functionality to meet your core customers' needs. As you expand beyond your current customer focus, do it with intention. This will help you focus your features and avoid "spray and pray" feature development.

Related: Here's Why You Should Embrace Simplicity as a Strategy (and 3 Ways to Do It)

Making simplicity a core value

If you decide to make simplicity a core business value, you must drive your entire team to focus on that approach. Here are some tips for incorporating simplicity into your product development process:

  • Cross-pollination — Product managers must spend more time with each team, not just the engineers. They need to work with the designers, the user experience team and the user research team as well as the customers and the customer-facing teams. Commercial product managers should plan on spending more time with these teams than with engineering. They need to think about business problems and experiences before they move into the technical aspects. The user experience should be your top priority when building any product. This means thinking about how users will interact with your product and designing it in a way that is intuitive and easy to use.
  • Create an initiative overview — Any new initiative needs an initial overview. After completing this, create a "back of the box" explanation. This is something that would fit on one slide in a presentation. Think of this as similar to a board game box. It tells you what is in the box, a simple explanation of the game and who would enjoy it. The same thing applies to products. It includes what problem it is solving, who cares about it, the value of it, and whether customers will pay for it. Within the "who cares" category, drill down even further to the ideal customer profile, type of users, customer journey impacted, etc. This planning process puts the customer experience at the forefront before starting deep conversations about the technology. It simplifies the process of determining what the final product will look like when delivered. This approach ensures the technology is in service of the solution, not the other way around.
  • Roadmap reporting — The third tip for creating simplicity is internally reporting the roadmap status. Instead of just using a feature roadmap with a red or green light to show the status, start with the various personas affected and how the new feature will impact them and their business. This helps change the conversation from what features are being built to how customers are being helped in ways that change their lives.
  • Regular team presentations – Encourage your product teams to think simplicity-first. Find a forum for your product teams to embrace and demonstrate simplicity in their products and their processes. By asking each product manager to present something they're simplifying, helps exchange ideas across the team and keeps simplicity at the forefront.
  • Simplicity as an ongoing activity - Simplicity can have a major impact on the success of any product. By keeping things simple and focusing on the user experience, organizations can improve adoption, reduce costs and enhance security. When it comes to identity and access management solutions, simplicity is especially important for improving customer engagement and reducing the risk of vulnerabilities.

But remember, simplification is not a short-term project or a 6-month activity. It is an ongoing mindset. It must be embedded in everything an organization does.

Related: 5 Ways to Promote Simplicity and Boost Efficiency

Wavy Line
Jason Oeltjen

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

VP Product Management

Over the last 20 years, Jason has led engineering, support, and product organizations at companies from early startups to Fortune 500. Most recently he has worked on cloud identity solutions, focused on creating simple cloud solutions to solve complex enterprise identity security challenges.

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