Once a product has been killed off, it's gone. Right?

Once a product has been killed off, it’s gone. Right?
Image Credit: Heather Paul

There’s one aspect of being a product manager that we don’t spend enough time talking about. Killing products. Yes, you heard me correctly. We talk and talk about what we can do to make our products more successful; however, we need to understand that every product comes to the end of the road eventually. When that happens, we need to do the humane thing and put it out of its misery. You’d think that that would be the end of the story. However, sometimes after we’ve done away with a product, they come back to life.

A Brief History Lesson On Wireless Data

Can we talk about wireless data? For those of us who enjoy watching TV, movies on NetFlix, or YouTube videos on our mobile phones or who spend an entire day streaming a music service like Pandora, we are very familiar with constantly checking to see how much of our monthly data plan we’ve currently used up. Nobody likes doing this all the time, but we understand that if we exceed our monthly data plan then we’re going to get charged extra and nobody wants that.

Things were not always like this. Back in the day, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and the other U.S. based mobile service companies offered everyone an unlimited data usage plan. However, as we collectively started using more and more data, the wireless carriers cried foul. They said that to keep up with us they were going to have to make expensive network upgrades. AT&T was the first to move away from offering unlimited plans and instead limit their customers to a fixed amount of wireless data every month. Verizon and the other providers soon followed.

So how much data do we use on a monthly basis? Way back in 2000, people tended to use 1 Gb per month. Now we use roughly 3.2 Gb per month on average. A lot has changed in the market since unlimited wireless plans went away. One of the biggest changes is that AT&T bought DirectTV for US$49B. The AT&T product managers believe that there are 40 million DirectTV customers who do not currently have AT&T wireless service. Now their big challenge is how to capture these customers?

AT&T Tries To Raise The Dead

After having giving it some thought, the AT&T wireless product managers came up with a plan to change their product development definition and win over DirectTV customers to the AT&T wireless service: bring back the dead unlimited wireless data plan. Now, as with everything in life, this offer comes with some restrictions. The unlimited data plan costs US$100 per month and it requires you to also be either a DirectTV or U-verse video service.

Once again offering this unlimited data plan to its customers is not without its risks. The big question is if the network is going to be able to handle the surge in usage as people start to use more and more data. The thinking behind bringing this service offering back to life is that there are high end customers out there who will be willing to pay more in order to avoid data caps. AT&T believes that it can now once again offer this plan because they have made significant improvements to their wireless data network. If they really have, then brining back this product may look good on their product manager resume.

AT&T wants people to sign up for this new plan now. That’s why they have announced that they will only be offering their unlimited data plan for a limited time. However, they have not announced when they will stop offering the plan. They have stated that if they stopped offering the plan, the people on the plan could still keep the plan, just no new people could sign up for it.

What All Of This Means For You

Product manager’s product manager job description tells them that they are responsible for a product’s complete lifecyle. One aspect of this responsibility that we often overlook is that we are responsible for killing off a product. This is not an easy thing to do, but we can do it every so often. However, things can get complicated if it turns out that there is a good reason to bring a product back to life…

Over at AT&T once upon a time they offered their customers unlimited wireless data every month. As customers started to use more and more data, AT&T stopped offering this service and instead went to an allocated amount of data for each customer each month. It turns out that there are certain customers who will be willing to pay more for their wireless service if they don’t have to worry about data caps. The AT&T product managers hope that by tying the unlimited data plan to their video services, they can convince the 40 million video subscribers who don’t have their wireless service to switch to AT&T.

The AT&T plan is a savvy plan – I believe that there are a lot of people out there who miss the old days of unlimited data. If AT&T really has done a good job of upgrading their network and it will be able to handle the increased load, then everyone should be happy. What would you do if you had access to unlimited mobile data?

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What should the AT&T product managers do if customers start to see the network start to slow down because of overcrowding?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Retail businesses are dead. We all need to change our product development definition because everything in the future will.be sold online. Well, ok, maybe not. However, I think that we can all agree that online sales are becoming a bigger and bigger part of just about every company and what you’ve done to help make this happen needs to be a part of your product manager resume. Product managers know this and so if their company has not been very active online in the past, they are the ones who are responsible for managing the move into the online world. The challenge here is that it can be done badly…

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Bar code scanners have been around for a while, how do you grow your market?

Bar code scanners have been around for a while, how do you grow your market?
Unitech

Product managers for bar code scanners have it pretty good these days. Their products are in high demand by companies such as Amazon who operate the large warehouses that contain thousands of items, each identified by a unique bar code. These scanners, often called a “brick on a stick”, are used thousands of times each day by workers as they locate and select items from storage to be shipped. However, this is not good enough and the product managers are planning some radical transformations for their product’s product development definition.

Why Are Product Improvements Needed?

I can almost hear you saying “why is there any need for change, the scanners that everyone has seem to work just fine.” You are correct that when you order a product form Amazon, it sure seems to show up at your house very quickly. Sounds like this would look good on a product manager resume. However, retailers like Amazon are putting pressure on other distributors to do everything faster and more efficiently. What this means is that everyone is taking a close look at their bar code scanners.

In a typical warehouse, a worker might use their bar code scanner roughly 3,000 times during a typical 8-hour shift. The use of one of today’s bar code scanners requires the worker to both extend their arms and rotate their wrists over and over again. In addition, many bar code scanners have pushbuttons that require the worker to stop at times and select a button. All of these actions take time and time is the one resource that in a warehouse nobody ever seems to have enough of.

Additionally, it turns out that being a warehouse employee is a rough job. Not completely due to bar code scanners, but definitely helped by them. As warehouses struggle to fill more and more orders using just the staff that they have, workers are being afflicted with repetitive motion injuries such as carpel tunnel syndrome more and more frequently. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Transportation and warehousing industry has the highest rate of occupational injuries.

How Will The Products Be Made Better?

Clearly the bar code scanner product managers have a challenge on their hands. Their current products are popular and as warehouse shipping grows in importance to companies like Amazon, the need for their product is also going to increase. However, they need to deal with the challenges that their customers are facing in terms of workplace injuries from repetitive motions and trying to reduce the time needed to complete an order.

One of the first issues that the bar code scanner product managers are tackling has to do with the possibility that bar code scanners are contributing to worker injuries. One novel approach involves the creation of a baton with both a touch screen and camera that allows workers to “see” the item that they are scanning. The hopes are that innovations like this will allow workers to no longer have to either extend their arms or rotate their wrists therefore reducing the possibility of injury.

Another key design issue that is being worked into the next generation of bar code scanners are changes that are designed to speed up the process of selecting items. One manufacturer of bar code scanners has gone ahead and removed the pushbuttons that used to be on their unit. Now selections are made via a touchscreen that is part of the device. Initial tests of this new model in a warehouse have revealed a 10% – 20% increase in workers ability to quickly pick items off of the warehouse shelves.

What All Of This Means For You

It is the dream of every product manager to have a product that customers both want and need. Bar code scanner product managers find themselves in this position as the importance of product distribution warehouses continues to increase. However, customers are dealing with workplace injuries as well as trying to speed up their processes at the same time. How can bar code scanner product managers use their product manager job description to help them out?

Clearly the bar code products are going to have to change. The device has to be fundamentally changed so that workers no longer have to either extend their arms or rotate their wrists to use the product. Making these changes to the product will save countless workplace injuries. Additionally, as warehouse firms try to compete with Amazon, they need to do things faster. This means that a worker needs to be able to locate and select a product quicker using their bar code scanner. The removal of pushbuttons and the addition of touchscreens may just solve this problem.

The bar code scanner product managers are showing that they’ve done a great job of listening to their customers. Instead of just sitting around and waiting for sales to start to decline, these product managers are taking proactive steps to solve a problem before it shows up. I’d say that they are well positioned to help Amazon start to deliver the things that you order on the same day that you place your order!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that bar code scanner product managers should go to a warehouse and try to do the job of the product pickers as research?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

There’s one aspect of being a product manager that we don’t spend enough time talking about. Killing products. Yes, you heard me correctly. We talk and talk about what we can do to make our products more successful; however, we need to understand that every product comes to the end of the road eventually. When that happens, we need to do the humane thing and put it out of its misery. You’d think that that would be the end of the story. However, sometimes after we’ve done away with a product, they come back to life.

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What Should Tesla Product Managers Do When Your Customers Try To Break Their Product?

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