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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Seattle 2.0, and imported to GeekWire as part of our acquisition of Seattle 2.0 and its archival content. For more background, see this post.

By Matt Paulin

Ever had someone pitch an idea to you?  Not just an offhanded, “hey, what do you think of this?” but where they have put some serious thought to it.  They might start off with one type of idea, and then the conversation bounces around as they explain the authentication scheme, and then how will the deal with malicious users or scaling the system.  Maybe features for twitter, facebook, and other add-ons get lumped on top of the original idea. Pretty soon the general objective of the idea has gotten muddy as more features are added until it really does not have that much punch anymore.

I know I have seen this many times.  I also know that I have done this many times.  Its a mistake that is easy to make.  If someone holds onto an idea for a very long time they risk over-thinking the idea.  Isolation is the garden of feature creep.  Mapping out the idea and reviewing it with a friend can help dig out the original idea and to round out features to make it stronger.

The process

Here is how it works.  First start by finding the core problem by answering the question, “what problem does this idea solve?”  No matter how much documentation and detail you should be able to identify where this all began.  It is entirely possible that there are 2 or more problems being solved but, I doubt it.  There will be one core problem that started this all for the inventor.   Now go through and list all the other features that are included.  This can be done at any level.  Perhaps you are just looking at a business plan, or during a presentation but listing the features will give you great in-site into the visionaries background.  You become a bit like an anthropologist at this point.  Slowly digging up one artifact at a time to realize where the focus changed and what became important.

You should now have a list of features.  Go through that list and ask yourself the question “What problem does this feature solve?”. Each feature had a purpose to exist.  If its a tie in to twitter then it probably had something to do with the problem, “How do we get this to go viral?”.  If it had a feature like comment rating, the problem most likely is “How do we get the good comment to be seen?”.  It very important to sort this out because some of these problems exist because they were created by other features.  

At the end you should have a list of features and a list of problems that these solve.  Your objective at this point is to get rid of many of these and create a trimmed down idea.  So start chopping.  It might be helpful to write each feature on a post it and stick it on a whiteboard.  Then its much easier to group things together or draw lines between features that influence other features.  You might also consider prioritizing the features or limiting it to 10 total.  The other features don’t necessarily need to be discarded but, they can be set aside so the focus on a much simpler starting point.  You can always do multiple iterations.

It might even be handy to make a mind map looking graph.  Put the core problem at the center and then the core features that solve that problem next.  Some features are built on other features and it will form branches.  You might be able to reduce several features by pruning a whole branch.

Find a buddy

This process is the hardest to do if you are the visionary or inventor behind the idea.  In fact you probably are so close to the idea that you don’t even realize how much excess thought has been put into this.  See if you can get someone else to help you do this process.  Maybe buddy up over coffee and sort out what is really being built.  It is also possible that you have ignored key problems that would help to round out an idea.  Talking to someone else or surveying people can help identify the biggest problems.

To conclude


This really is the mental equivalent of cleaning house.  Its funny how much feature hording can happen even when you are actively trying to avoid it.  But, if you are creating a business plan or a small prototype some of those features can completely confuse the message of the original idea.

“Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein

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