TechCrunch fmr Product Lead on Legacy Products
Starting with her career at large media companies to running product at TechCrunch, Nicole Wilke is a prominent expert in managing legacy products. While most product managers prefer to work on something new, Nicole provides a different perspective on managing legacy products - looking past their inherent challenges and focusing on the advantages they create by providing access to a wealth of user data.
Legacy Products: Defining Their Advantages
As a product manager, I’m sure you don’t hear legacy products talked about very often. The reason for this is very simple – we all love that “new product” feeling. In other words, it’s much more exciting (and fun) to kick off a new project from the very beginning. Most importantly, you get to build the product exactly how you want it.
Conversely, legacy products can feel like a bit of a downer when you inherit them. First, you probably will not find any of the original product managers who built it. As a result, your frame of reference for why the product operates in certain ways will be complete unknowns. Plus, many of these products can turn into these out-of-control beasts that need to be reset. As you can imagine, it’s very daunting for product managers to “fix” these products. That said, how do you set out to turn them around?
First, I’ll present my definition of a legacy product. It’s easy for many product people to say that any product they didn’t create is automatically a legacy product. To push any PM pride to the side, I’ll define legacy products as an aging solution that has an active user base and some degree of history. Furthermore, this history tends to be long and complicated.
When you start working on a legacy product history is a double-edged sword.
For example, you have to manage expectations from internal stakeholders and key customers alike. Most importantly, both of these audiences are highly-resistant to change. As a result, it’s difficult for product managers to reinvent legacy products because every little move is greatly scrutinized.
However, this history also provides an uncommon advantage for product managers. Simply put, you have a ton of data. Unlike new products which are assumption-driven, legacy products have several years (or decades) worth of real-world data to guide your product development process. In the end, no amount of A/B testing or condensed experimentation can replace a wide-ranging collection of user data and insights.