The Over-Designed Product and Other Lessons on Feature Creep

More than once when considering the purchase of a software product, I have set aside the feature-heavy package for a simpler version with a better price and better mix of key functionality. More often than not, the package I choose has the core features that sold me on the product in the first place. More often than not, the features added to later versions of the same software are neither necessary nor helpful to the overall user experience.

The result of a common market phenomenon known as “feature creep,” these extra features were added to enhance the product, but actually diminish its value by adding too much complexity and cost. Few consumers purchase the more elaborate product, at which point it starts a slow but sure trek from sale bin to discontinuation. What sets apart the doomed “bloated” products from those that enjoy a long and productive shelf life? How can a corporation avoid “featurism” by packing too much of a good thing into an otherwise solid product? Here are a few points on how to stack the deck in your product’s favor.

Data is King: The Indisputable Value of Market Research

The ultimate goal of market research is to uncover hidden, but invaluable truths about your target industry. In unlocking the secrets to your primary consumer (and potentially striking market “gold”) you discover needs, difficulties, typical workflow processes, and key goals. Make use of quantitative and qualitative market research techniques to get answers to foundational questions. Primary research uses focus groups, surveys and well-designed questionnaires; secondary research pulls from existing articles, reports and analyses. At the conclusion of a thorough process, a road map to deliver needed help to your target consumer should be clear.

Identify key problems you are trying to solve for this industry. Prioritize the challenges and issues that are of primary importance and those that are secondary. Your target customer’s problems are front and center in the product development process and the driver behind effective product design. Don’t lose sight of them.

Make an Execution Plan

Outline a scope of work to develop a product that solves a key challenge for your target group. The plan of work will be based on conclusions derived from market research and objectives to incorporate key functionality and core features. Set a timeline to achieve major milestones and don’t stray from these target dates. You are incorporating non-negotiable, “bread and butter” features into your product and that is the end game. If you still have too many features to work with at this point and need to narrow the field, determine which features are more valuable to your target user than others. The use of a Pareto analysis, in which you attempt to identify the minimum features (20%) that generate the majority (80%) of the value, can be useful here.

Consider the development of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) at this stage as well.

If you Make it, Will they Buy?

The MVP is a bare-bones product with minimal up-front investment that indicates whether market research was nailed-or not. Targeted to a specific, well-researched group of consumers, the MVP could be the winning ticket—the long-awaited product that has been tailored to meet a specific need—or a real loser. The MVP gauges viable market interest and either establishes a receptive customer base or not. If it fails, anything more elaborate will fail too. The company will decide to go forward with the product as is, change it, or discontinue production altogether

Let Data Drive Design and Product Development

Let’s say the MVP is a success and the pressure is on to firmly establish market share. A common presumption is that more features result in a better product. Corporate development and design teams ramp up, ready to shift into high gear with “better” features and greater functionality—but this is where feature creep becomes a real risk. Make sure data-driven review processes are in place to analyze the risk and value of proposed new features.

Considerations should include user need, effects on user experience, and how a proposed feature adds or detracts from existing product design.

Keep budgets, corporate resources and timelines in mind. Continue to follow initial project goals and priorities. Early market research uncovered important truths about your customer base and data on user behavior should continue to drive design decisions. Consider analyses showing each of the product’s features with the percentage of users for each. Features with poor rates of use should be eliminated. These data and others will yield important information on product design moving forward.

The Value of a Simple Design

Failure to plan or follow a process for feature review and analysis can result in wasted corporate resources, missed deadlines, a product that no one wants, and irreversible financial losses. Thorough market research and planning and project objectives that keep the end user in mind at all times are essential to avoid feature creep. Don’t dismiss the value of a simple and user-friendly product that delivers a basic solution and does little more. Don’t dismiss a minimalist, yet effective, design strategy. Years from now, we will undoubtedly observe that the simple tools are the ones that outlast the complex.

Customer and Employee Centered

The Customer is in the Room…and other News from Highlands

Sometimes, to know what a company IS NOT is as telling as to know what a company IS. So, in this post, you will learn what you will NOT find at Highlands, as well as some things that you most certainly will. Let’s hit on some key points to shed light on our company’s culture, work processes and other telling indicators. In the spirit of full disclosure, let’s drill into the working machinery of Highlands.

NOT a corporation that snubs the customer

Say “hello” to the customer. She (or he) is at the scrum meeting. Well, not literally. If you want to visualize the customer looming over the conference table or hovering, phantom-like, during a scrum meeting, go ahead. It is not far from reality. But you will be hard pressed to find a software company that is more eager to please the customer. Soliciting—and acting on—customer feedback is as important as any other task that Highlands does. In fact, while most companies are satisfied to keep only minimum records of existing customers—contact name, billing address—that would never do for Highlands. We got the sale, yes, but our commitment to our customers doesn’t end there. We want to be sure that our software continues to deliver and perform well after the deal goes through.

Our team gathers customer feedback constantly. How is this done? Customer Support Representatives call customers every 2 to 3 months to check-in and get updates on how the software is performing. We want to know what is working, what isn’t, and what we need to change. In the process of fielding inbound calls, tech support engineers gather information as well. If we don’t understand a client’s issue, we use any technology available, from video recorded calls to client demos, to truly understand what a client needs and wants from the software. Now and then, the Engineering Director gets on the phone to make a “discovery call” and uncover precisely what a customer is looking for in our software. How many companies do you know of that do this? (We call this “software features on demand”). Information from our clients is meticulously documented and factored into the process of product development, as we will discuss in the paragraphs below.

NO stagnation here: Employees Evolve… as does the Company

Human Resources is probably one of the most important departments in our shop. Why is this so? Because equal in importance to our customers—if not more so—are the people that work at Highlands. These are the folks behind the core machinery at Highlands. Without them, we would not produce anything of value. So, we invest as much in our employees as we do in our product. We hope that employees take advantage of the many training and advancement opportunities that Highlands offers to grow and evolve.

But here’s something you may not recognize: A company needs to evolve and grow with its employees. If you consider Highlands your work “home”, you will want the team at Highlands, and the processes and systems that make it all come together, to work, evolve and grow stronger too. Ideas to make the community and the systems stronger at Highlands are always welcome.

Not a Coding “Mill”

How much code did you write today? This is NOT a question you will hear from any of us. Management cares about developers. We are not in the business of extracting blood and sweat. We expect hard work and our performance standards are high, but above all, we are fair. We will work with you, not against you. You are one of us—remember?

We believe in the magic and power of teams. You won’t be asked to learn the job on your own or figure out problems in isolation. We pair you up with another programmer to help you become familiar with our processes. A culture of teamwork and partnership forms the backbone of work at Highlands. We are a tight group that is interdependent, supportive of one another, and motivated to produce the best product possible under the best working conditions possible.

No Stuffed Shirts Here: Software Development as quick to Adapt as the Company itself

How good would we be as developers of leading-edge engineering software if we couldn’t change course quickly and respond to client needs? We wouldn’t last long. So not only are we quick to address the people side of things—the team and workplace issues, but we are agile and fluid when it comes to our product too. In fact, evolutionary ideals shape everything we do at Highlands. We take an iterative tack with respect to software design. If in the process of shaping our MVP (minimum viable product) we realize we are off track on core features, we don’t waste time. On a daily basis, the Highlands routine goes something like this: scrum meeting, write code in pairs or teams (ask questions), assess progress and check goals (ask questions), work, repeat tomorrow (and ask more questions).

Final question: Is the Highlands team a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls who can’t stand to be corrected or told that they are wrong?! No. We know change and growth is good. We also like to think we are a humble bunch of folks who just want to make good—actually really good—engineering software and to have some fun doing it. We hope you’ll consider joining us.

Top 7 Benefits of Learning Management Systems for Organizations

A Learning Management System or LMS is a software application that functions as an online virtual classroom and facilitates the documentation, administration, reporting and delivery of e-courses or online courses.

eLearning has become integral to professional development, and as employees are quickly becoming tech-savvy, more companies are giving up on traditional models of learning in favor of LMS.

There are multiple benefits to using online training courses to help employees expand their knowledge base. Not only is the potential for learning options limitless, but one can also access the expertise of experts across the globe. Furthermore, an LMS system is far more cost-effective than investing in personal training.

With that in mind, here are the top seven benefits of using LMS in your organization:

1. Lowers Costs

Organizations typically spend a considerable amount of money on staff training and development. A central LMS provides a database that tracks the details of company investment in employee training and development. In addition, there will be no more need for printed materials, accommodations for travel and on-site facilitators. Moreover, training administration will be conducted with greater ease.

2. Provides Access to Interactive & Engaging Multimedia Content

The times when you sat in a conference room and spent hours listening to an instructor are long gone.

Today, learning experiences are comprised of robust learning management systems that offer features like video conferencing, podcasts, video tutorials, threaded discussions, interactive learning, and HTML courses.

The large variety of media is available for interactive learning to serve multiple learning needs and preferences. LMS is highly student-specific and ensures an engaging experience during the learning process.

Also, program outcomes are more consistent with an LMS, which are discussed below.

3. Central Tracking and Reporting of Training Programs

An LMS offers excellent reporting tools, which allows administrators to easily track each employee’s progress. It is possible to track how quickly employees are moving through the courses, areas they are struggling with, and qualifications that will soon expire. Even better—a good LMS will save all these reports in a single and easily accessible database. The tracking and reporting capabilities of these systems is by far one of the most beneficial aspects of their adoption.

4. Automates Mandatory Training & Improves Compliance

Organizations are required to provide mandatory training to employees on issues of health and safety, anti-harassment and bullying, diversity and inclusion, etc. Compliance training requires a lot of “tick-all-the-boxes”; delivering training via traditional decentralized methods is time consuming, laborious, error prone, and management intensive. An LMS eliminates unnecessary complexity and the need to tick boxes by making use of automation in scheduling, booking, delivery, tracking and reporting of mandatory training.

5. Provides Personalization Options & Easy Access to Information from Anywhere

LMS makes organization-specific training possible. Companies can add their corporate image and brand to the platform, and tailor the platform’s features to suit their needs. Different portals and user IDs encourage personalization and can be created without the need for additional installations. A platform can be multilingual or monolingual and can function simultaneously with web access. Courses, multimedia content, archives, calendars, etc. can be accessed with a single mouse click, anytime and anywhere. The content is available 24/7 and offers a seamless learning environment.

6. Provides Consistent Learning Experiences

An LMS creates a virtual learning environment that can be replicated for all participants. Users can set the order of modules, create time limits, share training materials and ensure uniform content for all employees at all company locations.

7. Enables Integrating Social Media for Collaborative Learning

An LMS makes it easy to integrate social learning into the employee training strategy. Because the LMS is online, organizations can include links to Facebook and Twitter pages, LinkedIn groups, online forums, etc. to encourage collaborative learning, which may be beneficial to employees and help advance company goals. Additionally, administrators can easily and quickly expand courses with an LMS and then deploy them to all participants through notifications on various social media platforms. This is in stark contrast to traditional learning methods, where updated manuals or handouts need to be sent out to each participant.


Not all LMS platforms are the same and it is important to look for a vendor that best understands the needs of your particular company. Keep in mind that finding the ideal LMS is the only way to truly reap the benefits of an LMS. So, make use of free trials, research the features and pricing, and read as many reviews as possible. If you do your homework in advance, you are sure to get the most out of the LMS you select and create a program of successful eLearning for your employees.

5 Ways Virtual Reality Will Empower Businesses in 2019

For a long time, virtual reality (VR) seemed to be a distant reality—something to look forward to in the coming years. However, now VR is a reality that businesses have access to today. The increasing affordability of VR headsets has contributed to making VR a strong and growing market. This in turn has stimulated a greater number of VR leveraged platforms designed to assist businesses with process improvements. Although virtual reality has historically been associated with the gaming industry, it is important to note it is not limited to this single domain. Today, one can find the use of virtual reality in healthcare, business, travel, and many other sectors.

The market for virtual reality is estimated to reach $485 billion by 2025. Considering how quickly virtual reality has become mainstream and how rapidly companies are endorsing and embracing virtual reality, this estimate is not an exaggeration by any means. In this guide, we are going to explore how virtual reality will impact and empower businesses in 2019.

Immersive Branding

There is no question that virtual reality can transform media. For businesses, it means exciting, new opportunities for branding. Clearly, it is one way to differentiate a brand’s promotional campaign from the competition and convey a clear message of technological supremacy. Interactive messaging will be a crucial component of branding and product promotion in the future.

The richness of the message and the level of engagement that such branding delivers is unmatched. Never before was there such an opportunity for a brand to occupy the mind space of a target audience with a truly immersive marketing experience, and virtual reality is spearheading this movement.

Boosting eCommerce

One of the main reasons for the often negative sales of eCommerce businesses is the fact that buyers are unwilling to spend on stuff that they haven’t tried. VR technology overcomes this issue simply as it can make product trials and demonstrations possible for various product categories. Hence VR can provide an authentic product experience to potential buyers.

For example, in the real estate industry, VR enables home tours from any location on the globe. Also, Airbus lets airline executives take aircraft tours without actually visiting the facility. Along similar lines, Audi offers “an R8 test drive from your living room”, a VR powered experience, which has played a significant role in boosting sales.

Product Designing and Prototyping

Although VR enhanced shopping experiences and VR immersive experiences enjoyed from the comfort of home are still far off, the use of VR to implement futuristic product prototyping is a reality now. Because it is cheaper to design a product or a complicated component of a large machine virtually rather than physically, the application of virtual reality is likely to grow tremendously.

Ford is one of the most innovative companies in the world. The company claims that it saves about $8 million per year by using VR technologies for designing and testing parts of new cars before moving on to making pre-production parts.

Of course, the cost to set up an advanced VR tech-enabled prototyping lab is steep, but greater cost efficiencies are inevitable, encouraging more businesses to invest in these facilities.

Novel Business Opportunities

Virtual reality technology is helping entrepreneurs create novel businesses. For example, VR cafes, just like traditional cafes, will act as social places and gateways for people looking for unique and virtually enriched experiences. These cafes include entertainment options like games, videos, social media experiences, 3D book and multi-media content, team building opportunities, and virtually enhanced meditations.

VR gaming centers or hubs could also soon be a hit. Avatarico, a VR platform, offers team-based VR entertainment franchising and licensing opportunities to entrepreneurs who can simply install VR technology in place and start offering unique entertainment in their cities, with large ROIs.

Next Level of Remote Work

Ten years ago, working remotely was still a thought experiment that only established enterprises could afford to consider. However, today, the technology is a part and parcel of startups, SMBs, and enterprises alike. Virtual reality can take things to the next level. It can empower businesses to deliver better experiences to remotely connected employees and get the best outputs from these employees. Whether it is a team meeting, training session, plant tour, or rewards and recognition program, virtual reality can make remote work experiences more realistic, enriching, and fruitful.

No business can afford to sleep on virtual reality. As the number of VR uses increases, more opportunities will be created for businesses to incorporate them into their daily operations. What are your thoughts on how we will be using VR in the workspace five years from now? How will your company leverage VR to reap more benefits? Send us your ideas; we would love to hear from you.

Top Seven Software Testing Tools of 2019

Top Seven Software Testing Tools of 2019

According to the World Quality Report 2018-2019 – a study on the current state of QA and testing conducted by Sogeti, a part of Capgemini – there is a major shift underway in the practices of quality assurance and software testing. The report confirms that end-user satisfaction is now one of the many responsibilities of quality assurance teams. This significant shift in industry practice will dramatically change the QA and testing skills landscape, and jobs such as AI QA Strategist, AI Test Expert, and Data Scientist, etc. will see greater demand.

Software testing tools are getting better at automating aspects of your job as a tester every year. Here are the top seven software testing tools you should learn in 2019.

Unified Functional Testing

Unified Functional Testing (UFT),also known as HPE Unified Functional Testing, is a widely popular tool for functional testing and regression testing for software applications. It provides a comprehensive set of features that supports API, GUI and browser testing for applications on any platform. It achieves high-level automation through the use of reusable test segments, automated documentations, smart object recognition, and a comprehensive error administration mechanism.

UFT uses VB Scripting Edition for registering test procedures and object control. It also coordinates with other quality control devices like CI and Mercury Quality Center for integration into existing work processes without any difficulty.


Selenium is a powerful and comprehensive automation tool for software testing. It is considered the industry standard for the automated testing of a web application user interface. Almost nine out of ten testers are either using or have used Selenium for their projects.

Selenium offers flexibility; users can write test scripts in multiple languages, including Java, C#, PHP, Ruby, etc., all of which can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux devices across multiple web browsers. However, one must know advanced programming in order to use Selenium. Also, users may need to spend considerable time building automation frameworks and libraries. These are some major setbacks of Selenium; however, most can be addressed with the use of Katalon Studio and other integrated tools.


TestComplete still manages to be one of the top software testing tools in 2019 thanks to its powerful and comprehensive set of features for application testing on web, desktop and mobile. Like UFT, TestComplete uses an object recognition engine to accurately detect dynamic user interface elements. Testers can write test scripts in JavaScript, Python, VBScript, or C++. They can also easily record and playback using features like Katalon Studio, as well as insert checkpoints into test steps for verifying results. The TestComplete object recognition engine is especially useful in testing applications that have dynamic or frequently changing user interfaces.


Apache Jmeter is a Java desktop application designed for load testing and performance measurement of websites. It was developed for testing web applications; however, its application has expanded to perform API and service testing, especially for API performance. Its architecture is centered around plugins that simply enhance the capabilities of the tool. It supports multiple applications, servers, and protocols such as web, SOAP, FTP, TCP, shell script, Java objects, and database. Other features include dynamic reporting, portability, caching, multithreading, etc.


Ranorex is a household name when it comes to software testing. With over 13,000 major initiatives depending on Ranorex, this automation testing tool is often the first choice of industry giants and well-known IT ventures. The tool provides multiple types of automation features designed to test applications across web, desktop, and mobile. With Ranorex users can run tests in correspondence as well as simulate cross-browser testing on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.

The software works effectively with ERP and SAP packages and can also run tests locally as well as remotely. Plus, the tool eliminates time wasted fixing issues with unstable tests, which gives users more time to evaluate application conditions.


Appium is an open source test automation tool, mainly intended for mobile applications. It is based on a client/server architecture and uses automation frameworks provided by vendors. The tool supports automation for native as well as hybrid web applications that are built for iOS and Android platforms. Testing native applications does not require SDK and the tool offers automation APIs that can be used across multiple platforms. It is easy to install and easy to use, and therefore has gained popularity and stability over the past few years as one of the best automation tools for mobile testing.


Watir is yet another open-source cross-platform web application testing tool, which is made up of Ruby libraries for automating web application testing. It allows for the testing of web applications that are based on any programming language for Opera, Firefox, IE, and headless browser. It facilitates simple, compliant, readable and easy to maintain automated tests. The tool is compatible with business-driven development tools such as Cucumber, RSpec and Test/Unit. It is a powerful yet lightweight tool and is supported by an active, growing community of testers. Some of the key users of Watir include Facebook, Oracle, SAP, etc.


The above list of software testing tools is not exhaustive but includes some of the best tools available based on popularity, maturity, and capability to address a variety of software testing challenges. The list also includes tools that solely support API and essentials of service testing for successful implementation of Agile and DevOps transformations. The choice of tool will always depend on the requirements of a particular project as well as on potential QA and testing trends and improvements.

What are your thoughts on the software tools included in this list? How many of the tools listed above are you either using or have used in the recent past?