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When more is less (or makes you look stupid)

Photo from Muffet on Flickr My new thermostat has a myriad of features, including a sensor that will tell me the outside temperature. The thermostat doesn’t use this information – it just reports it, with lots of information about the climate inside my house (temperature, humidity, etc.)

One problem: the outside sensor is in a spot that gets the full morning sun. This means that this morning, when the temperature was actually 30 degrees, my thermostat said it was 61. I have seen the reported outside temperature be off by more than 40 degrees!

There really isn’t a good alternative location for the sensor. They could build a little shade around the sensor so that it wouldn’t be in direct sunlight, but that is overkill and would mar the look of my siding.

Okay, but what does this have to do with software? There is a point. I promise.

I’m sure the person who designed this thermostat thought providing the outside temperature would be really great. But features add complexity. And features have to be supported.

In this case, there were extra installation steps for the installer. And then there is the explanation for why it will sometimes be wrong. And the additional work if I decided I wanted them to build a sun visor for the sensor.

This is true with software too. Every feature you add to your application increases not just development time, but testing time, learning and training time, documentation time. So the decision to add a new feature should be weighed carefully. Is it worth it?

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Comments  4

  1. Jacki Hollywood Brown 17 Nov

    I've always thought that the more features you add to an item, the more things there are to go wrong. Also, I get frustrated when new features that I will never use are added to an item and then I have to pay more for the item to get stuff I never wanted in the first place! I've seen this with everything from a hand-blender in the kitchen to software.
    If people want more features, they should have the options to add-on & pay more. I'm just simple folk I guess.
  2. By Avonelle Lovhaug on 18 Nov

    Jacki - it is really true that extra features mean it is more likely that things will go wrong.

    Of course, providing a way for people to pay extra for certain features is also a feature and increases complexity!
  3. Mark W. Schumann 19 Nov

    User Stories to the rescue! If you can explain the feature in a sentence or two, and you can tell the user what the feature will cost in time/money terms, then it's their problem, not yours.
  4. By Avonelle Lovhaug on 20 Nov

    Mark: Hurray for passing the buck! Uhhh...wait...

    Just kidding. You are right that user stories combined with time/money specifics are a great way of communicating this information to those responsible for making this decision.

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