The Feature Guy
The dev lead for the team I'm on likes to tease me that I'm "the feature guy". While I understand that he says it in jest, I'm also a little scared of the typecasting of product team — and me in particular — as being focused solely on features.
A product manager shouldn't be just about what features to build, after all. Although, I can see how it can happen that way. Features definitely are easier to sell. Customers love features!
As a Product Manager, I look at bugs, I review internal feature requests, I monitor community forums, I talk to customers, and I also use the product. "Eating our own dog food," as the saying goes. Refactoring, fixing bugs, making things faster, creating consistency, adding delight to a product—while not seen as features, are all part of creating a good user experience.
A code base and an interface can both become increasingly untenable until they need to be rebuilt from the ground up. In Inspired: How to Create Products Love, which I mentioned last issue, it mentions leaving 20% of engineering time for upkeep, and up to 30% or more if it's in a state of disrepair. In talking to a fellow PM, he mentioned how they had a "bug day" once a week to take a break from feature development and catch up on smaller issues.
Our team has tended to take a portion of the team and focused them on maintenance while other parts of the team work on specific projects. In any case, it's important from a product perspective to balance maintenance issues with feature development. It's also important to recognize that sometimes a rebuild or redesign is necessary. The book, Inspired, mentions how eBay went through rebuilding a couple times and Shopify was going through a similar process when I first joined the company.
Like feature development, maintenance tasks and even rebuilds should be well-scoped with a clear final goal in mind and have clear objectives that a team is working towards. Refactoring can often be open-ended. Redesigns are often the same way. Figure out what the problems are that you're trying to solve, prioritize them, and then work towards them.
I'm surprised at how often I see people wanting to embark on a project without a clear direction in front of them. Brandon Keepers shares some insights from a cancelled project at GitHub that highlights this.
When it comes to building a good product, I believe that the entire user experience is important and that a faster, less buggy app can be just as important as adding a new feature.