Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Too Many Features You Say?

This Harvard Business Review Working Knowledge confirms exactly what you felt all along. Quoting from the article:
... [F]rustrated product owners . . . will spread the word of their dissatisfaction. This appears to be the case with BMW, whose 7 Series cars feature the complicated iDrive system, which offers about 700 capabilities requiring multifunction displays and multistep operations—even for functions that formerly required the twist of a knob or the flick of a switch. BMW included instruction sheets in the glove compartment because it is almost impossible to give the car to a valet parker without an impromptu lecture. According to industry news reports, sales of the 7 Series in the United States in the first half of 2005 were down about 10 percent relative to the same period in 2004. Past studies have established the power of positive word of mouth and the much greater prevalence of its negative form—and most of those studies were conducted before the Internet gave every dissatisfied party a global sphere of influence.

In light of these long-term consequences, how should companies today be designing products? It's undeniable that, in a store setting, consumers reach for the product that boasts the most features. But how much of a good thing is too much? Finding the happy medium

To achieve lasting prosperity, companies must find a way to resolve the dilemma we've described. The first step for many companies may simply be to take stock of the complexity they have built into their products and the toll it is taking on their customers. Executives at Mercedes-Benz recently did just that and, as a result, removed more than 600 functions from its cars. In 2004, Stephan Wolfsried, vice president for electrical and electronic systems and chassis unit at DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes Car Group, said that integrating all those functions caused truly important electronic parts to malfunction occasionally and made testing the system more expensive. Moreover, Wolfsried said, the functions were ones that "no one really needed and no one knew how to use." One example he noted was the storage of a driver's personal seat position in the car key. "It was done with good intentions, but if I take my wife's key at some point and can't find my own seat position any more, that tends to be annoying for me instead of comfortable." We suspect that in many companies, simply gaining this kind of heightened awareness of customer impact would help contain feature bloat.

I wish all academic articles were this readable.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Alka said...

These days most of the companies are obsessed with "extra" features. Cell phone companies are leading the pack. They are promising everything in that small instrument.

5/18/2006 2:43 PM  
Blogger Teri said...

Seat position stored in the keys? What if you lose your keys? Or like to move the seat around? It's too much!

5/22/2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger Mridula said...

Oh yes, so much so that we forget that cell phones are for making phone calls Alka.

Teri, my car is very basic, I am just curious what kind of features you have in your car?

5/23/2006 4:37 PM  
Blogger naVee said...

Have you guys read about the concept car Nissan showed recently, it will not allow a person to change lanes, if the indicator is not on.

5/25/2006 11:31 PM  
Blogger Neela said...

actually, Mridula - they are - at least the ones in behavioral marketing (from which this is taken).

Regards

Neela

5/26/2006 7:52 AM  
Blogger Mridula said...

Navee, nope I have not heard about it.

Actually Neela it also depends on what you read. If you tangle with Academy of Management Review, Admistrative Science Quarterly and the like, you may come across some articles that sound like written in Greek.That is why I love these lines from Freakonomics:

"Upon completing his graduate work at the University of Chicago, Venkatesh was awarded a three-year stay at Harvard's Society of Fellows. ...

And yet he regularly left Cambridge, returning again and again to the crack gang in Chicago. The street level researh made Venkatesh something of an anomaly. Most of the other young Fellows were dyed-in-the-tweed intellectuals who like to pun in Greek."

5/26/2006 10:55 AM  

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