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Zombies must die

 

You don't see this bit of product management being covered extensively. We like to talk about building things, growing things and making things better. However, the word focus is a singular word and sometimes to make something great you need to let something else go. 

What is divesting?

It's the opposite of investing. It's when you stop spending resources on something, which might include selling it, throwing it away or just ignoring it. 

Divesting in product management 

It's a pretty common situation, especially in established companies, to have some products or services that no longer deliver a lot of value for customers or the business. Those are also known as "zombie products". And just like zombies, those can eat your brain and your budget. 

What are the signs of a "zombie product"?

  • The usage of the product is low and shows no signs of growing
  • The value of the product for customers and your business is low and shows no signs of growing
  • Much better alternatives are present on the market 
  • Absolutely zero alternatives are present on the market (no one needed the product in the first place)
  • The product generates non-zero costs of maintenance 

Why would you want to divest? 

To focus 

Your attention is the most important resource, far scarcer than money or developers. "Zombie products" are constantly blurring your focus, they demand attention. Even if the absolute time you spend attending to "zombies" is short, the switching costs are still considerable. 

To move faster

Zombies are notoriously slow. Odds are, "zombies" were created a long time ago, by someone who is no longer around, for reasons no one longer remembers. Yet every time you want to make an experiment or upgrade your portfolio, you can only be as quick as your slowest "zombie product". 

To remove debt

"Zombies" are the biggest sources of product and tech debt. And it's not the debt you want to pay off as the impact will not be worth it. You want to just have this "zombie" gone, remove it and all traces it ever existed. 

To re-invent your image

Often "zombies" drag us down not only on technical and product levels but on the marketing level as well. When potential new customers or partners look at us and see some "zombies" lurking around - they might want to think twice before doing business with us. 

It's not easy to kill a "zombie"

Despite numerous benefits of not having "zombie products" in your portfolio few people are actually brave enough to divest. They might come up with various excuses why "zombie" should remain. 
  • We spent so much creating them
  • There is still someone using them
  • They might still grow
  • Divesting will be more costly than keeping them
Let's try to address each argument separately. 

We spent so much creating them. Yes, you did, and you will never have these resources back. 

There is still someone using them. And you need to support those unfortunate few, maintain a "zombie" for them, negotiate and inform. How much revenue do you get in return for all your efforts? Spoiler alert: you spend more than you get. 

They might still grow. No, they won't. "Zombies" don't grow, they keep decaying. If there are better alternatives on the market - those will grow. If there are no alternatives - there is no problem worth solving with this product. 

Divesting will be more costly than keeping them. Almost never the case because of all the hidden costs of maintaining a "zombie" mentioned above. 

How to kill a zombie? 

With a shotgun. 

How to kill a "zombie product'? 

Here's the rough plan. 
  1. Tell everyone what you're planning to do. Inform everyone internally and those few unfortunate customers a "zombie product" still might have. 
  2. Provide stakeholders with a timeline and set their expectations for what is going to happen. If they need to organise the funeral for the zombie - give them time. Also, express your condolences. 
  3. On the day "X" burn the zombie and clean up thoroughly afterwards. You don't want any signs, not even a smell of the zombie to ruin your appetite for new, greater things. 
  4. Create a brief bio of the zombie. Describe their life from before they were born to the day they become ashes. You want to learn from the experience and share it with people who'll come after you. 

In the land of the living

It is so much nicer, brighter, warmer without zombies around. You can laugh and dance and share the joy with healthy, living and breathing products around, making them grow and blossom. Your customers will certainly notice your regained zest for life and will appreciate your efforts in delighting them.

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