How to Survive the Product Zombie Apocalypse

BY CHRIS MASSEY ON OCTOBER 31, 2016

Survive the product zombie apocalypse with Lisa Long, product Manager at appear.in and co-founder of Six To Start (the company behind the game Zombies Run). In this talk at ProductTank London, Lisa explains why ‘zombie’ products and features are so dangerous to your company as they stagger on, effectively dead but still consuming your resources. She also dives into how to identify the living dead and the steps you need to safely kill them off.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

With great personal storytelling from her experience at appear.in, Lisa reminds us that prevention is better than cure – Don’t build stuff you don’t need. And definitely don’t build stuff your customers don’t want, even if you think it’s a great idea. We all know the fundamentals, but it’s important to keep them at the forefront of your mind if you want to avoid the zombie product apocalypse: Talk to your customers before you build to find out if your idea is something they actually want. Then go to your engineers and find out if what they want is possible. Don’t run off and play with a cool idea or a neat technology, and then try and find a way to make it fit the customer.

But its Already Built …”

Most likely, your product is built, or you’ve inherited someone else’s product. Maybe it is full of zombie features that cost you money and depress your support team, but what about all the time and money you already spent building it?

Lisa builds a strong case for walking away from the sunken cost fallacy. She shows how zombie features put you into a painful trio of debt– product debt, technical debt, and support debt – all of which levies a high cost on your team’s morale and their ability to build the right thing.

Zombie Hunter’s Checklist

It looks like a zombie, it acts like a zombie, it costs like a zombie. But how can you be sure? Lisa uses straightforward examples of product features at appear.in to demonstrate a simple check-list for zombie identification. From rising support costs to undesirable customer behavior, she shows you how to find the zombies lurking in your products.

Taking the Zombies Down

Finally, the tough question: Do you hide your zombie or kill it outright? Hiding it may allow you to keep hold of the small number of customers who really love your zombie, but it will still be a drain on resources. Part of the zombie hunting process is to understand those customers, and to know when it might be time to say goodbye.  

At that point, it’s crucial to remember that killing a feature or product should be treated exactly like a release – you’ll need a clear schedule, a tested transition plan, and well-planned messaging. Communicate clearly about the process with all your departments and, most critically, keep talking to your customers – especially those who will be sad to see your zombie go.

About CHRIS MASSEY

Chris Massey has been marketing B2B software products to developers for 8 years, building communities, content and publishing platforms along the way. He's an editor for Mind the Product, as well as a fan of JTBD, JFDI, and JEDIs.

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