The Hype Cycle of Features

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Gartner Hype Cycle

Many years ago, Gartner created the Hype Cycle to provide a “graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications.” Although many people have since picked apart the Hype Cycle and pointed out all the examples of technologies that did not follow this cycle, there is an undeniable wisdom to it, one that I believe is also relevant to product.

When I was at Pinterest and now, in many conversations with founders and product leaders, I notice that many features go through their own hype cycle:

First, there would be the “Trigger”. It might have been a brainstorming idea, a hackathon project, an insight from user research, or a strategic decision from someone. Whatever the catalyst, the idea would start to gain internal momentum and visibility. Documents would be written, designs perfected, prototypes built. And expectations would quickly rise. I’ve written about my own experience here — the rush of feeling like something you were working on was going to be the most. important. feature. you’ve. ever. shipped. TRANSFORMATIVE!

And then… you ship it. For the rare feature, the adoption is immediate and impactful. I always think of Instagram Stories as a perfect example of this. But most times, the enthusiasm for a feature plunges into the Trough of Disillusionment. Users aren’t discovering the feature, or they discover it but don’t try it, or they try it but don’t keep using it. And far too often, a product org and company move on to the next idea ascending its own peak of inflated expectations.

Of course, sometimes this is the right call. You had a hypothesis for a product, and guess what, you were wrong. But most times, this ends up meaning that the feature never has a chance to climb the Slope of Enlightenment and get to the Plateau of Productivity.

Just like not all consumer startups have the right-from-the-start launch of Facebook, not all features are Instagram Stories. It takes iteration — playing with how users discover the product, building and tuning the growth loops, adding additional depth to the feature, tweaking the copy, etc., to really give a feature a chance.

So before you move on, it’s worth asking yourself: are you giving up in the trough of disillusionment? And what would it take to climb the slope of enlightenment?

And don’t forget: It’s also worth taking a look at the features you already have that have been coasting in the plateau of productivity and ask yourself whether any might be worth replacing or even removing? It’s as important to have rigor around what you remove as what you add.

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