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How to avoid the feature parity trap

PostsDesign & UX
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

April 10, 2024

Hands up if you’ve ever met someone who offers just a bit too much. Perhaps an overzealous coworker, or a mother who just wants to spoil you — the intentions are good, but ultimately, it’s a little annoying and they stop you getting things done. At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve all encountered that person who just expects you to figure things out on your own. Equally disruptive, but in a very different way. 

When it comes to adding features to a product or service, there’s a real knack to hitting that sweet spot. 

You want to ensure users have all the functions they need across every platform — without overloading them or giving them too little. Both options spell problems down the line, from stagnation to a product that’s no longer fit for purpose. This is what feature parity is all about: managing your products’ features in a balanced, user-centric way. Let’s take a closer look.

What is feature parity?

Feature parity refers to the idea that different versions of the same product or software have the same features. This could be with a product’s own previous versions, its availability across different platforms, or the offerings of competitors. 

Parity: the quality or state of being equal or equivalent.

Why is feature parity important?

Making sure your product or service offers a comparable set of features and functionalities across different platforms or versions is important for three main reasons: 

  • It gives a cohesive user experience
  • It fosters trust and reliability in your brand
  • It improves accessibility.

Essentially, it’s about guaranteeing every user — no matter their choice of platform — gets the full benefits of what you offer. 

Different types of feature parity 

Feature parity takes three forms, each with its own opportunities and limitations (which we’ll talk about in more detail later on). 

1. Legacy system parity

This focuses on the challenge of updating or redesigning a product without losing the essence and functionalities users have come to rely on. 

It’s about preserving the user’s familiarity and comfort with the product so they don’t freak out and leave after the update. The downside, however, is that this can inadvertently lead to the replication of outdated or unnecessary features, as well as the system’s inherent limitations.

2. Multi-platform parity

As products expand their presence across various platforms (iOS, Android, web, and desktop), achieving multi-platform parity becomes even more important. 

The goal here is to offer a consistent user experience and feature set across all platforms. The challenge lies in the varying capabilities and design conventions of different platforms, which might necessitate smart adaptation rather than direct replication. You might even need to reconsider whether you even need certain features on specific platforms.

3. Competitive feature parity

This is where a product aims to match or outshine the features offered by its competitors. The goal is to make sure your product isn’t seen as inferior due to missing functionalities. 

While this can motivate continuous improvement, it can also lead to feature creep and a lack of differentiation if you don’t manage it strategically. On top of this, focusing unduly on matching competitors’ feature-for-feature can divert attention from truly understanding and addressing the needs of your users. 

What is the parity trap?

Parity is good. But there’s a catch — something known as the ‘parity trap’. 

The parity trap sneaks up on you when you’re so focused on matching features across the board that you forget to innovate. It’s a bit like being so stuck on performing crowd-pleasing hits that you miss areas for improvement and fail to see your audience is itching for something new.

It can bog down creativity, making it harder to leap ahead with bold, fresh ideas that could redefine the game. Keeping the balance between consistency and innovation is the real art here.

Why (and how) focusing on feature parity can lead you astray

The quest for feature parity, while rooted in the desire to stay competitive and meet user expectations, can lead product teams down a path that diverges from true innovation and user satisfaction. Here’s why prioritizing feature parity above all else might not always be the best strategy.

Stifles innovation

If your strategy is centered on imitating the features and functions of competitors or earlier iterations, you run the risk of becoming too defensive and insular in your strategy. This could inhibit the search for fresh ideas that could better meet customer needs and help businesses carve out a unique niche for themselves in the market.

Leads to feature creep

Trying to incorporate every feature of a competitor’s product or maintain every functionality of a legacy system can result in feature bloat. This not only makes the product overly complex — it also diverts resources from improving core features that deliver the most value to users.

Ignores user needs

Each product serves a unique set of users with specific needs and problems. Blindly aiming for feature parity overlooks the opportunity to deeply understand and innovate based on these unique user insights, potentially missing out on delivering better value.

Replicates competitors’ mistakes

By focusing on achieving parity with competitors, there’s a risk of replicating not just their successes but also their mistakes and oversights. This approach can perpetuate issues and limitations rather than offering an improved alternative.

Under pressure from stakeholders

Expectations from internal stakeholders often heighten the drive for feature parity, since they may mistake parity for competitive ability. Because of this, product teams could experience undue pressure to prioritize matching features over strategic innovation.

Resource misallocation

Reaching feature parity usually requires lots of time and resources — things that could have been better spent researching emerging technologies, improving user experience, and understanding and meeting customer expectations.

How to avoid the parity trap

Building a new product is an exciting opportunity to shake up the industry — but only if you take a strategic approach. Here are some tips on providing something of real value while avoiding the dreaded feature trap. 

Pay attention to solving simple user issues

Start by having a thorough understanding of your users’ needs. Then use this data to create features that directly solve these problems, giving this precedence over matching the features offered by rivals. Because each feature was created with the consumer in mind, it guarantees to give genuine value.

Remember your UVP 

Give a succinct description of the advantages and special characteristics of your product. To make sure that every addition improves your creation, use your USP to guide the development process. This focus helps you avoid the distraction of competing on features that don’t align with your core strengths.

Go lean and create an MVP

Create a minimum viable product (MVP) with just the essential elements to apply the lean startup methodology. By quickly testing your idea with real people and iterating based on feedback, you can concentrate on what matters most to your audience.

Make decisions based on data

Set goals for feature development by collecting and analyzing behavioral data, market research, and user input. A/B testing, statistics, and surveys are all methods that could provide valuable insights into the features that users need and value most.

Apply design thinking

Work smarter, not harder! Use of design thinking concepts to pinpoint user demands, generate ideas, prototype, and test your concepts. This structured approach can help you add and improve features faster. 

Remember continual discovery

Think of creating a new product as an ongoing project, with customer discovery happening on a rolling basis. Regularly solicit feedback from clients, monitor market trends, and adapt your strategy as needed. With this flexibility, you can stay ahead of the curve and avoid feature parity-related stagnation.

Tell interested parties about the value of uniqueness

When stakeholders put pressure on you to match competitors’ features, utilize data and user insights to reinforce your focus on distinction. Stress the long-term benefits of carving out a unique niche and closing gaps in the industry.

Run fake door tests for gauging feature interest

Fake door testing is a great way to gauge user interest in improvements that aren’t quite ready yet. This approach involves presenting the feature concept to users, and then measuring their engagement. It’s a practical, low-risk way to gauge demand before investing big bucks in product development.

How to avoid the feature parity trap when joining new platforms

Expanding a product to new platforms is a great opportunity to reach a wider audience. But it also comes with the challenge of adapting the product in a way that makes sense for each platform.

Prioritize core features

Start by identifying the core features that truly define your product’s value. And recognize that not all features are essential on every platform. Focusing on what delivers the most value to users in each context can help you avoid spreading resources too thinly.

Understand the platform’s unique strengths

Every platform has its own set of advantages and limitations. Adapt your product’s features to take full advantage of these unique characteristics. This approach not only enhances the user experience but also aligns your product’s capabilities with what’s actually possible and effective on each platform.

Engage with your users

Some of the best feedback you’ll ever get will, unsurprisingly, come from the people who use your product. Listen to what users say across each platform. This will help you spot which features are truly essential and which can be modified or chopped, which in turn leads you towards an increasingly user-friendly product. 

Embrace platform-specific innovations

While maintaining a core set of features, don’t shy away from exploring new technologies or capabilities unique to each platform. This might lead to forward-looking features that give real, unique value and distinguish your product in a crowded marketplace.

Iterate and experiment

Use Agile development methodologies for quick experimentation across different platforms. This approach helps you test ideas, gather feedback, refine your strategy, and spot what works while avoiding overinvestment in less promising directions.

Use strategic road mapping

Develop a strategic roadmap for each platform, taking into account the specific audience, growth expectations, and emerging trends. Planning ahead helps you to be more responsive to changes and evolve your feature set in a way that makes logical sense. 

Balance innovation with consistency

Innovating within the unique constraints and opportunities of each platform is definitely a good idea, but you also need to offer a consistent user experience where it matters most. This balancing act means users enjoy platform-specific enhancements while still feeling at home within your product’s ecosystem.

Monitor the competitive landscape

Keep an eye on competitors to see how they handle feature parity and platform differentiation. Insights can guide your strategy, helping you spot where you can offer something truly unique and valuable.

Allocate wisely 

Be strategic about where and how you allocate development resources. Not all platforms may warrant the same level of investment. Prioritize based on each platform’s strategic importance and potential for growth, making sure your efforts are aligned with your broader business objectives.

Educate your users

When you introduce new features or diverge from strict parity, take the time to explain these decisions to your users. They’ll appreciate the helping hand, not to mention the transparency. 

How to avoid the parity trap when entering a competitive market

The instinct might be to add features to level the playing field. In truth, this approach might just dilute your product’s unique value and fail to capture the attention of your target audience. 

Focus on differentiated value

Understand what sets your product apart and double down on it. This could be a unique feature, a superior user experience, or a novel approach to solving the user’s problem. Highlighting and expanding on what makes your product unique will attract users looking for a new solution.

Understand your audience 

Conduct thorough market research to understand the needs. This insight helps you tailor your product in a way that resonates with your users rather than simply matching what others offer.

Solve problems better than the rest

Instead of adding features for the sake of parity, focus on solving user problems more effectively or efficiently than your competitors. This might involve innovating on the user experience, simplifying complex processes, or offering more personalized solutions.

Experiment with features

Take a lean approach to feature development, testing small changes and new features quickly to gauge user interest and effectiveness. This iterative process helps you refine your offering based on real user needs and avoid overinvesting in features that don’t add significant value.

Adopt a dynamic competitive analysis

Keep a close eye on the competitive landscape, but use this information to inform rather than dictate your product strategy. Look for gaps in competitors’ offerings that you can exploit and opportunities to serve your users in ways that competitors have overlooked.

Educate stakeholders 

Communicate the value of focusing on differentiation over feature parity to your stakeholders. Use data and user stories to illustrate how a unique value proposition can lead to greater long-term success than trying to out-feature competitors.

Innovate wisely

Innovation doesn’t always mean reinventing the wheel. Sometimes, it can be about taking an existing idea and executing it better or differently, aka ‘incremental innovation’. Look for opportunities to innovate within the constraints of your market, whether through technology, user experience design, or service delivery.

Build a strong brand identity

A strong, recognizable brand can be a significant differentiator. Develop a compelling brand story and visual identity that resonates with your target audience, then build features around that to stand out.

Be prepared to pivot

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the market response may not be what you expected. Be open to switching up your strategy, whether that means refocusing on a different set of features, targeting a new user segment, or even rethinking your product’s core value proposition.

Navigate feature parity with smart project management 

Knowing how your unique offering lines up with what users want is essential. But beyond avoiding the parity trap, you’ll be better positioned to take advantage of all the opportunities on offer. 

By thoroughly analyzing legacy systems, multi-platform presence, and competitive landscapes, you can have it all: a great product that fulfills user needs and has the potential to stay ahead of the curve.

When it comes to product management, whether that’s building from scratch or adding new features, choose tools that are up to the job. Project management software is your secret weapon when it comes to spinning all these plates, helping you track performance, share stats with stakeholders, and test features in real time. With Backlog, you can do all this and more — give it a try today!



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