I’ve found that product managers are good at launching new products but terrible at phasing out products. You cannot support a product forever nor do you do anyone a favor by pretendng to be able to do so.
Reasons to phase out or retire a product include:
At some point, products need to retire or made obsolete. The best way to go about this is to be transparent with the installed base. You want to show that you are working as a partner with your installed base.
Give your user base proper advanced notice with reasons for change, expectations, time frame, options, benefits to act on options.
Repeat the notice (frequency based on urgency) and have it posted on your website for reference.
Product Support Life Cycle - Phases
Many companies have created phases for their products with extent of support defined.
Most Product support Life Cycles have 3 or 4 phases.
An example of a Product Life cycle with 4 Phases of Support is:
Phase 1: Current product. Full Support.
Phase 2: Out of production. Full Support.
Phase 3: Out of production. Best Efforts Support.
Phase 4. Out of production. No support. Obsolete product.
Most customers appreciate the advance notice so they can plan accordingly. Try to notify users before September or end of the year (before they plan their fiscal budget). No user likes to find out that their product cannot be supported or repaired when it breaks down. Most often, a financial incentive such as a trade-in allowance would help. Another tip is to keep records of who the notice was sent to at each organization. I have found managers getting very irate only to calm down when I could produce a record trail of the number of notices sent to their staff.
There will always be some users who are a bit unreasonable believing that a product should be supported into eternity after purchase. As an example, you may still have a die-hard who insists on running a software product sold to him 15 years ago – running Windows 98. The user is very happy and has stockpiled a number of old PCs with Windows 98 to keep him going for the foreseeable future. Do you devote support resources to answer his questions? That means tying down staff to research archives and look for a Windows 98 system to replicate problems. Who pays for that time and effort? Do you have staff who even know Windows 98? You might offer a service support contract or fee per support instance if the account is strategic but otherwise, this will be a money loser.
Fortunately, most customers understand and appreciate the changes in technology and business reasons. Many actually use the notice as justification to get a newer replacement product.
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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