Analogy of unintended side effects.
You probably see electric scooters everywhere, if you live in a major city. They are a disruptive transportation. Scooters in a city are an analogy, like a feature in a digital product. Adding scooters, or features, produces unintended side effects.
Scooters are great for saving 5 minutes. Need to walk a few blocks? Now you can ride a scooter instead, up to 15 miles per hour. They’re fun. They get you there quick.
Most everyone can ride them. Flipflops, boots, heels, pants, dresses, skirts, suits. Doesn’t matter. They require little balance and little coordination. Only a smartphone and quick onboarding. Then you zip through traffic and between pedestrians.
Since they’re rented, you don’t have to care for them. Just a small fee. Usually a couple dollars. You can leave them anywhere. You don’t need to pay for parking, or chain them like a bike.
Best yet, no need to get sweaty. The scooter does the work. Wind breezes around you. They transport you 4x faster than walking.
Scooter Unintended Side Effects
Scooters are dangerous for riders. Their little wheels have difficulty navigating sand, metal, potholes, wet surfaces, and snow. They have a high center of gravity. There are obstacles to dodge like people, cars, posts, and curbs.
Falling off hurts. Scooters can lead to injury. A Lyft driver told me how he took someone to the hospital with double ankle injury. I have a physical therapist friend. She told me about a patient rehabilitating after a scooter fall. A coworker recently fell off. He went to urgent care with a bruised elbow. The doctor said he was the second scooter case that day.
Scooters are dangerous for drivers too. Scooters zip on and off sidewalks. Sometimes they’re in the road. They are another hazard to avoid. Drivers already manage cars, trucks, construction, pedestrians, phone calls, passengers, texts, radio, GPS, and social medial. Scooter riders don’t follow road rules. They are not a car, bike, or pedestrian with predefined rules. Hence the disruption.
Sometimes scooters go into bike lanes. I talked to a local sampling of bikers. They hate scooters. (But to be fair, bikers hate everyone except fellow bikers.) Are they supposed to be in bike lanes? Scooters are slower than bikes. And unpredictable. They start, stop, weave, and jive causing havoc to established transportation.
Scooters take up sidewalk space. Parked scooters are an eye soar. They add clutter to sidewalks that already have pedestrians, street vendors, posts, water hydrants, benches, trash cans, and bikes. Some cities have designated scooter parking areas, painted onto sidewalks.
Scooters require maintenance too. There’s an app to use and manage them. They need charging. There’s a whole sub-economoy to “retrieve and charge”. People need to spend time on these things.
As you can see, scooters have benefits, but a lot of negative side effects. This is what makes them disruptive.
Are they worth it? Yes, for the commuter who saves 5 minutes and doesn’t get sweaty. No, for the lady who fell off and broke her foot. Yes, for the doctor who has more patients to treat. No, for drivers trying to avoid hitting anything. Yes, for the “retrieve and charge” teen who makes a few extra bucks.
Think of scooters in your city as a new feature in your digital product.
Take note: company leaders, product managers, designers, developers, marketers, and sales people. Your product is a set of features. You want to add another. Perhaps customers want it. They promised subscribing, more licenses, or extending their contract, with this “one addition”. They are posting about it on social media. Perhaps the competition has this “one feature” too. Now you need it. Or perhaps you just need to “build something”, anything, to keep the team busy, and the product advancing.
When building a feature, ask yourself
Is this new feature worth it? Every new feature means research, design time, user feedback, development time, quality assurance testing, training, rollout, analytics, and maintenance. You’re doing all those steps, right?
New features in digital products make the codebase larger and more complex. Is the code still maintainable? Did you build a new feature, instead of spending that time reducing existing code debt? Or optimizing what you already have?
Then you need to train customer support, the sales team, and make marketing blurbs. Legal has to get involved. Accounting needs to figure out how the new billing model works.
Most importantly, what about your users? What are the unintended side effects for them? Do they need training? Are they ready for a new feature? How will their experience change? Will users get confused? Or frustrated? Will users look for workarounds? Do they want to use your product, as it exists today, with the current features? Will they stop using your product, for something simpler? Or will they upgrade? Add more licenses? Or extend their contract? Will a bunch of new users sign up? Will you steal users from the competition?
Is this new feature worth saving users a little bit of time? Gaining more users? The time involved to make it? Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?
These are questions to ask yourself, when building a new feature. This is the thinking to consider for your product.
Back to the analogy: the city product
Your city is the product. It already has transportation features like cars, buses, ride sharing, walking, subways, carpooling, and biking. It has infrastructure features like roads, bridges, traffic signals, crosswalks, sidewalks, bike racks, and bike lanes. Do these existing features solve the problem of people getting around? How about safely? Quickly? Without sweating?
Scooters are the new feature. They save users 5 minutes. They are fun. They finish the last mile of a commute. They prevent sweating. They let you get to that lunch spot, that was always a little too far on foot. They replace walking and save your energy.
But at what expense? Safety, frustration, sidewalk clutter, city regulation.
Before you add a feature to your product, think about scooters in your city. They’re great. They’re disruptive. Some love them. Others hate them. They have a bunch of benefits. And lots of unintended side effects.