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How to kill the products you’ve put your heart into – lessons from Spotify’s Amy Zima

May 1, 2019

Written by Lucy Fuggle

Killing a product that you’ve put so much of yourself into is often the hardest thing for product managers and technical teams. But it’s also often a necessity to move forward.

Amy Zima is a product manager at Spotify in Stockholm, working on the music streaming platform’s consumer-facing apps. Before Spotify, Amy was a product manager at Twitter, where she was tasked with killing two apps and deprecating several features during her time on the TweetDeck team.

At Turing Fest 2018, Amy explored the less glamorous flipside to shipping new shiny products – killing the products that have reached the end of their life or are already past their sell-by date. 

Shutting down a product isn’t always a simple farewell, and there’s more to it than we might think. Quite aside from the technical process, there’s an emotional journey to go on, as we close the doors on a product we’ve spent months of our lives working on.

Here’s Amy’s advice on how to navigate the evaluation processes, make effective and data-driven decisions, and keep up communication as you prune your product portfolio.

Got 30 minutes? Watch Amy’s talk at Turing Fest 2018.

Evaluate the cost and value of your products

A “fail fast” mentality can help you move fast, but you need to put in time and energy to clean up afterwards. For the sake of your user experience, you have to kill your darlings of yesteryear– as quickly and efficiently as you can.

To identify what needs to go without getting attached to the time and energy you’ve put in, evaluate the two most factors to begin with: cost and value.

Evaluating cost

  • Physical – storage, data processing

  • Time – ongoing & unforeseen maintenance

  • Usability – confusing user flows. are users dropping out?

  • Strategic – if it’s part of the business’s portfolio, is it really adding value?

Remember: There’s no such thing as a free feature. There’s always a cost to software.

Evaluating value

  • Customer – does it add value for your users?

  • Strategic – does this help the business? is it a priority?

When should you kill a product? 

1. It’s the end of a whole product’s life. You can tell a product has had its day when you don’t want it in your portfolio anymore. During Amy’s time at Twitter, that was Curator and Engage. “The reason you’ve never heard of those two products is why we shut them down. They were detracting from the core value of our business and interrupting our ability to prioritise what was adding value.”

2. It’s a feature that’s past its sell-by date. To recognise this, evaluate these decision points for deprecation…

Amy Zima’s product kill list: or, decision points for deprecation

Forced hand (you have to kill it, pronto):

  • It has a bug that will take too much effort to fix

  • It’s blocking a development that adds more value

  • It’s a security risk

Intentional (where Amy hopes to convince you to shut it down):

  • It’s confusing users

  • It’s no longer adding value

A framework to evaluate your feature portfolio

Framework to evaluate your feature porfolio.png

If it’s low value, high cost? Kill it. If it’s high value, low cost? Brilliant. It’s in-between these two points where it gets tricker.

Be wary of the features that don’t cost you a lot, but don’t add a lot of value. You might think: it doesn’t cost a lot, so let’s put it out there. But it’s really easy to end up with hundreds of these things. If you add all of them together, the cost is quite high for a lot of low value. Eventually, those features are going to be what your users are stumbling over.

Create a simple spreadsheet and audit the features that you have against set criteria. Look at your scores and identify what makes sense to throw out first.

Score features on value to decide what to kill.png

How should I kill a product?

  1. Get consensus internally. Invite all stakeholders to give feedback and see if there’s anything you’ve missed. Give everyone the opportunity to be heard so they feel like they’ve come along with you on this journey.

  2. Pick a date, announce, and stick to it. Don’t announce it until you know you can do the work. You need to schedule time to kill products to get that time back later on. Make sure it fits with your roadmap.

  3. Explain your decision to your users. Use non-technical language. Not explaining it is the worst thing.

  4. Ask for feedback. Invite your customers to engage with you in a dialogue on their favourite feature. Acknowledge passionate feedback and channel it in the right direction.

  5. Celebrate & mourn.

Closing advice from Amy:

  • Always-be-evaluating

  • Rip off the band-aid before it’s too late

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

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