Legacy Products: Questions, Then Keep or Kill
Starting with her career at large media companies to running product at TechCrunch, Nicole Wilke is a prominent expert in managing legacy products. One of the most challeging aspects of managing "old products" is deciding when to hang onto them or when to move on. Nicole outlines a few approaches to managing legacy products that will set your product strategy for long-term success.
TechCrunch fmr Product Lead on Legacy Products (Part 2)
The approach to take with evaluating the future of legacy products starts with the line of questioning that any product manager should use when taking on a new project. That said, there are a few caveats that will help you with determining what to do with products that have been around for a while.
First, you’ll want to talk to the right people. In other words, you’ll look to individual contributors who have been at the organization for at least two years. Specifically, you want them to have a working knowledge of the product and have exposure to a number of business functions. Most importantly, they need to be heavy users of the product who have spent time getting their “hands dirty” with it. Once you’ve assembled a crew, here are the questions you’ll need to ask.
- What are all of the things that this product does?
- What problem(s) is this product solving?
- Who is it solving them for?
- How important are these people and the problem it’s solving?
The last question is one that product managers don’t pay attention to enough.
For example, we need to be ruthless about prioritization for new products and their features. Furthermore, this is especially true with legacy products – as people will cling to everything that a product has simply because it’s there. As a result, these antiquated yet “celebrated” products turn into a bear and become unmanageable in a hurry. The best way to overcome these obstacles is to generate an answer that leads you to take one of the following actions with your product.
KEEP THE PRODUCT
- Keep the product in market, but with a plan and resourcing in place to iteratively stabilize and improve it
- Burn the product to the ground and completely rebuild it into a new offering.
KILL THE PRODUCT
- Sunset the product altogether and leave users behind without a replacement to solve their problem.
- Sunset the product, substitute it with an existing product that makes solves similar problems for the user.
In summary, choosing any of these options for legacy products is a “pick your poison” scenario. There are positives and negatives to each of these approaches. As a result, each product’s unique history and user appreciation will determine which direction you go with legacy products. But, the advantage you have is that all the historical references and data inputs that you need are readily available for you to dissect.