Why PMs should consider product configurability early on

I am sure that the way I have configured my mail client or tablet’s home screen is different from yours. The reason we love modern-day apps and operating systems is because they let us configure the product to match our specific needs. Configuration is not a new concept – even old radio transformers allowed listeners to tune into the station of their choice without having to open any screws. Configurability isn’t a feature; its a vision. And it doesn’t come free; too much of it will also backfire. There are at least 3 compelling reasons why product managers need to plan configurability around every feature:

1. Customization

No product is designed for a single customer. And it would be rare that 2 customers had similar business processes. To adapt to the difference, without having to create customer-specific code bases, an application needs to be customizable. Gone are the days when customers would 200% of license fees on getting the product customized to match their business needs. In today’s scenario, solution providers need to cover the cost of customiztion through one-time implementation fees.

2. Rapid Implementation

Besides, customers are not looking at multi-year transformation projects with huge budgets. Project managers need to create compelling business cases and promise hard dollar recovery through the proposed solution. Every project is like a turn-key project and a vendor has no chance unless they can promise rapid implementaiton and unlock the RoI in stipulated time. Similar to user profiles in any applications, software vendors need to be able to define tenant profiles that adapt the functionality and look-and-feel according to a customer’s requirement – in almost no time.

3. Product Packaging

And since not all customers would require all features (and not pay for the rest), product managers should be able to package combination of features as separate configurations of the same base product, each priced different. This can be achieved with a modular design, or some other means of controlling access to individual features. Such packaging allows catering to wide segments of customers, sometimes to multiple verticals, and gives customers the choice to select the one that suits them best. Another key aspect is the ability to meter usage and bill the customer accordingly.

Whether or not you implement configurability in your product, it is worth giving it a thought. Since it involves high cost, a PM needs to use good judgement when planning it. And planning it earlier on is not only going to save time later, but make a lot of souls happier – you, the delivery consultant, and right up to the customer.

This post is part of the SaaS Application Development series, extracted from my final dissertation submission at BITS, Pilani that closely looked at rapid-development of SaaS-based applications.