I really like the illustration about Truth on Brands by Gavin Potenza. It illustrates how a lot of products eventually forget why they started in the first place. If we look at the different years as levels through the filter of a software application, mobile device or even toothpaste, those steps sort of explain product cycles. There’s the initial idea (1960), after the launch attention quiets down so additional features are added (1975), eventually other products are grabbing the spot light so “me too” features are added (1990), eventually people move on and others are asked to build up stuff without much focus as they were never part of the initial idea and are forced to add levels of fluff that really don’t pop the needle (2005). By that time people are so entrenched in what the “thing should be” by the time people can implement on the model, people’s behavior’s have changed. While this illustration goes from 1960–2005, this cycle today could happen in a matter of 18 months if not a year. Things move really quickly and stop. Its weird but that’s the market these days.
I’m not sure if there’s a solution for preventing a product to getting to the point where the focus it completely misguided. Usually by that time people have left the product (both people that used to buy the product & those that worked on it), other products have taken advantage of the situation because they’re not held back by legacy ideas, or consultants that haven’t really had their hands dirty with the industry that they’re talking about. I’m a believer that how something gets good is not by how it got there, but how it’s willing to change directions before the time is right. It’s an instinctual thing that doesn’t really fit into a org chart.
If I use the diagram above as a model, by the time a product starts adding “me too” features it’s time to start experimenting with stuff that isn’t directly related to the product. That exploration allows for fresh thinking that isn’t clouded by competition nor legacy people holding on to old ideas.