Like a proud parent, you’ve doted on your product and prepared it to go out into the world and thrive. There’s just one problem: It’s not doing as well as you had anticipated. Sure, you’ve got customers signing up and a good chunk of them are adopting some of your favorite features; but meanwhile, other features are going largely unnoticed. It doesn’t seem as if your product is succeeding in the ways that you had anticipated. Customers don't seem to quite get the unique value you (hoped to) provide, and engagement with your product isn't where you need it to be. Your company is ready to grow, but you can’t move forward until you’ve ironed out the present adoption problems.

In a nutshell, it sounds like you might have a Franken App on your hands.

A Franken App, as the name indicates, is a bit of a hot mess. It’s generally got a patchwork of features with an unclear value being conveyed to the user. As such, some of the features make sense to them -- some not so much. It’s lost focus along the way -- often, too many features have been tacked on late in the process to address problems or fill perceived needs. That’s like putting a band aid on an arterial wound.

A Franken App can come into being for a host of reasons:

  • Too Much Too Late: You tacked a bunch of features on at the end of the development process and their connection to the app’s purpose as a whole isn’t clear to users
  • All Things For All People: You added too many features to try to appeal to everyone, rather than sticking to doing a specific job better than anyone else out there
  • Too Many Cooks: Too many people were involved in the process, and they weren’t on the same page due to poor communication
  • Feedback Slave: You’ve added features based on feedback from customers, on what people say they would want, rather than based on observed behaviors and testing whether or not the feedback is something customers really need
  • Torpedo Stakeholder: The stakeholder swooped in at the last moment and insisted on adding a multitude of features without understanding the the job people would hire the product to do, or how users define success

While it’s true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it’s not too late to get your product back on track so you can grow your company.

The solution is a multistep one, and it’s essentially the same process, no matter the cause of your current situation. When you are at the point where you have a Franken App, you need to step back, take stock, and methodically reassess what’s going on. Much of this is actually the stuff you didn’t do, but should have, in the first place. Here’s what to do:

  • Remember the original purpose of your product. What was this app meant to do in the first place? What is its purported value to users? How is it meant to help them succeed? What is your value proposition? What job would customers hire your product to do? Why would customers hire your product, and fire something else? How far have you strayed from that? Creating a Job Desirability Map, which we explain here can help you cut through the noise and identify your product's true, original purpose.
  • Do a features audit: What are the features that sell? The features with the highest usage? Is there a subset of your audience that uses certain features and not others? Map out which features are used the most, and by which subsets of users
  • As part of your features audit, examine your usage data. Which features are being used? Why are these features being used? Who is using those features? Which features generate the most revenue? Why do people pay for these features?

Now, for the features that aren’t being used - or used rarely -- you have two main choices:

  • Kill them: Accept the feature just isn’t worth it, and start to remove it from your product.
  • Improve them

When it comes to improving a feature, there are a few different scenarios and approaches:

  • Make a deliberate feature improvement. This is appropriate for features that are used and liked, to make them even more valuable and easier-to-use. It’s relatively high risk because you don’t want to turn users off to a beloved feature with a change, but it’s high reward because if you succeed they will love and use it even more
  • Make a frequency improvement; i.e., change the feature so customers use it more often. This is appropriate if you believe using it more would be of benefit to them -- and to your business.
  • To arrive at a theory for the non-usage of a feature, employ the “Five Whys” technique. For example: “Why don’t customers use this feature?” It’s hard to find. “Why is it hard to find?” And so on.
  • Make an adoption improvement; i.e., change it so more people can use it. This is appropriate when it’s an important feature that a lot of people have not adopted and you have a theory as to how to make it easier to do so

Now it’s time for the most important step: user testing. The only correct and  proven way to proceed with any of the above improvements is with user testing. Proper user testing — a process that gathers observations based on real user behavior in real scenarios, not feedback — is the only way to validate your assumptions about improvements you want to make. We use a SLOW interview technique combined with lifelike simulations in our Sim Lab to gather valuable intel, get honest reactions from real users, and dig deep into your customers' needs, motivations, goals, and frustrations.

If your assumptions are proven correct -- great. Make your feature improvements. And if you’re wrong, be glad you found out before making changes that would only put more “franken” in your app. Come up with new hypotheses to test until you have a validated game plan.

Repeat this process for every feature of your product, and soon you’ll be back on track.