Sunsetting a Product: Paving the Way for New Beginnings
Commit to innovation and long-term success
As a product manager, guiding a product through its lifecycle involves not only the exhilarating highs of launch and growth, but also the sobering reality of knowing when it's time to bid farewell. Crafting flawless go to market strategies and excelling on the growth metrics is fascinating, however it is equally important for a product manager to be able to think in a long-term perspective and establish when it is the right time to retire a product. And that is not the end, it is rather a commitment to innovation and long-term success.
How do you plan for the end?
You don’t. You plan for the future. And if you don’t see your product fit for the future, then it’s time for change.
Standing on the brink of the New Year I can’t help but relate to the fact that ending one calendar year is more about reflecting and opening doors for new opportunities, rather than focusing on the end itself. It comes naturally and this helps us grow as individuals.
Similarly, gracefully ending a product's journey with all the valuable lessons that come with it will set the stage for your company's continued growth.
Planning for the future
Although we, as strategists, are constantly pushing for definition of specific goals that are simple, achievable, and measurable; in the end of the day the ultimate goal is steering the company towards continued success. What is valuable is not hitting on the perfect score for the KPIs but being able to adapt and respond to the changing market dynamics.
Mindfulness is arguably the most important quality that you, as a product manager, can possess. Being present and having a mature and balanced overview of the external environment, while also being reflective on your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, is what will guarantee a strong ground for your strategic decisions. You probably think this is just a SWOT, but it’s more than that. It’s not a piece of analysis that you do once a year and keep filed. It’s a mindset that stays at the back of your mind and adapts according to the new information that you perceive.
Recognize the decline
Organizations and leadership styles differ. And it doesn’t really matter whether you are a product manager in a product-lead or a customer-centric organization. Decline may mean different things for you, but certainly you need to be able to recognize it. And while staying mindful will help you a lot, it will give you a subjective hypothesis that you might want to back up with facts. Decision-making based on gut feeling and a few assumptions is likely to be wrong. So, make sure you also have unbiased data, that will bring an impartial view of where you stand.
Remember, these two can’t go alone. You can’t discontinue a product just based on a declining trend of sales or user interactions. You need to put this data in the context of the market conditions and the strategy that your organization adopted.
As popular as Blackberry was a decade ago, it is now a device from the past. The company recognized that their mobile phones are continuously not meeting the needs on the market (initially touch screen and later third-party applications) and decided to decommission the whole hardware production line, focusing on software and cybersecurity. This helped them focus their resources on a portfolio of services and products that could push them forward in a less saturated market at that time.
Improve, evolve or discontinue
Let’s assume you have recognized the decline and also understood that the market has evolved and requires features that your product doesn’t currently have.
How do you know whether to invest in the product further to enhance the lacking features, reposition it to a better suited audience or retire it and focus on building a new one?
Looking at the market, TVs for example have come a long way from big, heavy models to slim and energy-efficient designs. Picture quality has improved with technologies like HD, UHD, and OLED, and smart features now offer internet connectivity and streaming services. Recent upgrades include 8K resolution, sleek MicroLED displays, and easy-to-use voice control and AI, creating a more enjoyable home entertainment experience.
Here are some tips how to navigate your decisions to evolve or retire:
Assess your product and understand whether it lacks any innovative features that competitors already have, or the customers require, like in the Blackberry example.
Assess the market size and saturation.
Always keep in mind the product life cycle. If your product is already in late maturity or decline stage, major investments might be risky.
Refer to your roadmap and assess whether improvements could lead to innovative features or if discontinuation opens up opportunities for new product development.
Always align with the broader organizational strategy.
Use a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate which option is more viable - improving and maintaining the current product or focusing on building a new one.
Let it sit and go
If you’ve decided, you should know that discontinuing a product is not something you want to rush into. Be mindful that this is potentially coming. However, before you take any effective actions, make sure you have all the boxes checked, so that the journey transition will be as smooth as possible for customers and colleagues.
Learn your lessons.
Discuss with other functions of your organization and align on a common strategy.
Think about alternative solutions that users may want to adopt.
Adopt a phased approach by gradually scaling down operations and migrating users.
Communicate a transparent plan to your organization and customers.
Eventually sunsetting a product is an opportunity for reinvention. It allows a company to shed outdated or less competitive offerings while setting the stage for a new chapter of growth and accomplishment. Embrace the opportunities that come with change - to innovate, learn, refocus, and reinvent.
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