Why focusing on product polish is as important as your next feature
Product, engineering, and design teams often have conflicting opinions on what to build next. Most of the time, the discussion starts with adding additional value on top of the current product. This route might lead to working on a brand new feature or product, and it can be appealing to head this way since these moments have the potential to take your product’s value to a higher level.
There’s also the option of refining and removing friction from your product’s existing user workflows. This comes in the form of small, incremental updates that help make it easier for your users to reach the value your product or feature provides in its current state. These polish improvements are often overlooked in comparison to a new, shiny feature, but they are vital in keeping your core experience modernized and easy to use.
Don’t ignore incremental updates
Fundamentally, product teams who don’t prioritize incremental updates end up operating as a feature factory; they lose sight of maintaining the current value they’ve built and instead attempt to build new value. Since customer expectations are only increasing over time, the teams that don’t invest in quality improvements risk their product’s core experience turning stale and usability issues becoming glaringly obvious.
The other half of the battle surrounding incremental updates is justifying the business impact. Rather than directly increasing metrics like revenue and market share, this investment helps combat future churn from your users. Your product likely provides value, but if there are too many friction points along the way, then your users will start to look elsewhere to find this value. We refer to this phenomenon as “death by a thousand paper cuts”: These friction points are small by themselves, but together they result in a frustrating workflow. That’s why it’s vital to be proactive with incremental updates that address issues users might not yet notice. Being reactive means you’re too late and users are already leaving your product.
Fit and finish updates
At Mixpanel, we’ve found a great way to improve the usability of our product is to actively focus on shipping a set of incremental updates each month. We call these updates Mixed Improvements, and their main purpose is to refine our current workflows. For example, we shipped our side query builder at the end of 2021 but have continued to make updates to perfect the idea. In this process, what you might realize is that while 80% of a feature is well-designed, there is still a substantial chunk that could use improvement.
This 20% can be spread out across a multitude of things like bugs, confusing copy, and style inconsistencies. By themselves, they are very minor, but together they add up to some amount of frustration. Taking the time to discover this 20% and fix it can level-up your product or workflow’s usability.
We also leverage the analysis power of Mixpanel to determine the success of our Mixed Improvements. The screenshots below show examples of the kinds of Funnels and Retention reports that can reveal user behavior changes before and after a series of incremental updates:
- Time to complete: Each of your product’s user workflows has an average time it takes to finish it from start to end. By comparing the time to complete a workflow before and after you ship a set of incremental updates, you can gauge if the investment is lowering the time to complete that workflow. A lower time to complete can mean there is less friction for your users.
- Task success rate: A user is trying to get to an end goal once they start a workflow in your product, but there is always the possibility that they drop off at some step along the way. With task success rate, you can find the percentage of users who start a workflow and reach the final value moment. If your task success rate increases after a series of incremental updates, you can be confident they’ve helped remove friction.
- Completion retention: A strong indicator to tell if a user found value in your workflow without coming across too much friction is whether they revisit that same workflow over and over again. A jump in user retention after incremental updates can be a strong sign that this investment has improved the usability and overall satisfaction of that workflow.
How to know your incremental updates are successful
These metrics can be very useful to understand the change in user behavior that occurs from polishing your product. However, users might not realize the value of these updates in the short term. Users aren’t timing themselves when they use your product, so while you know that a key workflow is 10 seconds faster on average, it can be hard for a user to notice this. But after enough polish updates and time spent with the new experience, it can become evident to your users that your product is operating even better than before.
A great way to track if your users are realizing workflow improvements is through an increase in Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a fundamental metric to track satisfaction with your product, and that satisfaction can directly translate into user loyalty.
The long-term benefit of polished workflows
An exciting result of shipping incremental updates successfully is that you set your product up for success when it’s ready for a new feature. This isn’t in the sense that your next feature will succeed; it’s a fundamental truth that not all features will land with your users. But you’ll be giving it a great opportunity to thrive while simultaneously providing users with polished versions of the workflows that got them to adopt your product in the first place. As we’ve experienced at Mixpanel, discovering, building, and tracking the success of incremental updates for key workflows can make all the difference in keeping users retained and happy.
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