Can Product Managers Bring A Product Back From The Dead?

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 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…