Product vs Feature

What is a Product vs. a Feature?

In the simplest terms, a product can be described as something that customers consider valuable enough to pay for. It is an item, tool, environment, or even a service for which buyers would be willing to pay. A feature by contrast is a part of a product. It is one of the considerations that make the latter valuable enough to the customer for them to pay.

The difference between products and features might appear clear-cut, but that is not the reality. Debate on the difference between the two has been on for years and it’s still ongoing. Some product managers are faced with the dilemma of wrapping their heads around the difference.

Features Can Be Products

Think of a product as a collection of different mini-products. A feature, on the other hand, is a mini-product under the larger one.

What looks to one company as a product may be nothing more than a feature to another. For example, a processor in an HP or Apple computer is a product to its manufacturer but no more than a computer feature for the end-consumer of that computer, its merely a feature. In the same way, the silicon present in the CPU is a product to the manufacturer but only a feature of the latter.

Another often-quoted example is the reference by Steve Jobs to Dropbox as a feature. However, the creators of the app consider it as a standalone product.  Both views are correct in terms of what their respective products are meant to do. Dropbox was created to enable seamless file sharing and storage across different devices, including Apple’s. You may want to treat features the same way you do products to make them more valuable.

Lifecycle Applies

All products have a lifecycle, phases that they pass through. The individual stages that are involved usually differ from one author to the other. However, the most important ones include:

  • Discovery
  • Definition
  • Development
  • Delivery
  • Decline

Features should also follow phases similar to the foregoing. This will enable you to make the best decisions regarding them.

A feature should go through a process involving discovery, delivery, and market adoption. Take your time to learn from customers, including those of your rivals, to ascertain the features they deem valuable before proceeding to develop and deliver.

As is the case with products, there will also come a time when you’d need to retire some features. This is, in part, useful for preventing feature bloat and making things more manageable. Paying attention to the phases a feature goes through helps in identifying the stage it is in at a time. This knowledge guides you in the right approach to adopt at every point.

Metrics are Necessary

Another way you want to deal with features as products is by assigning specific metrics to them. Ideally, there must a goal or goals for every feature that you choose to work on. These must link to product goals, which, in turn, are usually influenced by business goals. Metrics are useful for knowing how well a feature is doing toward achieving its set goals. They help to assess the likelihood of attaining those goals. Feature usage is especially important. It is a category of metrics that evaluate how engaged users are with a feature. Low usage can tell us different things depending on the particular feature.

Final Words

Understanding the relationship between features and products is vital for avoiding the frustration of what you thought of as a product being termed a feature. It gives you more confidence when presenting the items on your roadmap to an audience.

The product vs. feature debate is mostly about perceptions – the context influences the difference between the two. The angle you are thinking from determines whether you think they are completely different, or otherwise. As a product manager, your main focus should be on delivering winning products. Useful features can help make that possible.

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