Legacy Products: Vampires vs. Replacements
Starting with her career at large media companies to running product at TechCrunch, Nicole Wilke is a prominent expert in managing legacy products. The decision to "kill" or "keep" a legacy product can be painstaking. Nicole outlines some common scenarios involving "vampires" and "replacements" that will help in guiding your product strategy for legacy products.
TechCrunch fmr Product Lead on Legacy Products (Part 3)
When managing legacy products, it can be difficult to weigh the pros and cons of making wholesale changes. From optimizing a platform to removing it from your product mix, there’s a lot to consider. This is especially true when you have passionate users (both externally and in your office) who have a ton of opinions. Specifically, you want to look for clear signs of inefficiencies (“kill” the product) or opportunities to make dramatic improvements (“keep” the product). Here are two common profiles that will help you make the right decision.
Simply put, these have gotta go! Vampire products are the definition of platforms or features that are prime to “kill” off. Specifically, they solve unimportant problems for a very narrow segment of users. Furthermore, they tend to create more problems than the solve. As a product manager, this is the last thing that you should have to worry about.
When evaluating vampire products, it’s important to evaluate its long-term value by answering these questions.
- What does it cost to maintain?
- What dependencies exist?
- How embarrassing is it?
- Can we solve this problem another way?
Using an example from TechCrunch, we had a proprietary video platform that required a ton of maintenance and had low user engagement. For example, we would have to completely redevelop the platform when GDPR updates came around or other shifts that were out of our control. As a result, we realized that we could utilize a third-party video solution to host video content.
Now, you might be thinking that low usage is the biggest sign that a legacy product is a vampire. But, this only tells part of the story. Clearly, if a product isn’t being used frequently, you should investigate and see if this can be improved or removed to optimize the user experience. However, there are low-usage products or features that carry value in other engagement areas.
For example, the mobile apps released by news sources normally account for 5 to 8 percent of overall content access. However, mobile app users consume more than 45% of the outlet’s available content. As a result, it’s important to look at other factors beyond low usage as a single issue.
The Beauty of Replacements.
When they are initially released, legacy products often represent the most cutting-edge solution for a given problem. That said, no single product can stay on top forever without some amount of design evolution. For example, TechCrunch used an in-house analytics service that tracked overall engagement/performance for content produced by its writers. However, this service was developed by an engineer who had left the company many years prior and the tool was always breaking down. As a result, we found another analytics solution that could produce the same data. Most importantly, this new service added new functionality for our team.
It can be difficult to move on from an old platform (especially with passionate external users and internal managers of the product). That said, if you can find a lower-cost solution with more capabilities, you need to proceed with moving on to something new. In the end, you’ll free up organizational resources to maintain focus on future innovation. Plus, you’re still solving the problem that your legacy products were designed to address – and that always makes change management easier to handle.