When Is A Product Launch Not A Product Launch?

Sansung ran into problems with the launch of the Note 7 phone
Sansung ran into problems with the launch of the Note 7 phone

Image Credit: Isriya Paireepairit

For a product manager there can be no bigger day than the day that your product gets launched. You’ve been working on creating the best product possible based on your product development definition for who knows how long and finally the time has come to show the world what you have created. You wake up that morning filled with a mixture of excitement and dread and then you go out and send your baby out to meet the world (and start to update your product manager resume). However, over at Samsung this is exactly what their product managers did only to have their baby burst into flames and come home. What went wrong?

The Problem With Samsung’s Note 7 Phone

I am more than willing to admit that as the launch date for Samsung’s new Note 7 phone got closer and closer, I become more and more excited. I’ve had my mobile phone for a while and I had decided that it was time for me to get a new one. All of the reviews of the Note 7 said that it was the best Android phone out there. This is the one that I decided that I just had to have. When the big day arrived, I started to make plans to go out and get my shiny new phone.

However, it was only shortly after the Note 7 became generally available that the problems started to show up. What happened is that when Note 7 users were charging or using their Note 7 phones, a large number of battery failures and fires occurred with the Galaxy Note 7. Needless to say, once word of this happening started to get out, it spread like, well what else, wildfire.

Following worldwide reports of battery failures and fires with the Galaxy Note 7 in early September, including nearly 100 cases in the U.S. alone, Samsung and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) decided to announce a complete official recall of all Galaxy Note 7s in the U.S. Similar movements were made in Canada, as well as throughout Europe and Asia. Regions in which the phone had yet to launch simply postponed shipments of phones.

What Samsung Can Do To Fix Their Problem

As a product manager, this is just about your worst nightmare. Your product has arrived on the market with a great deal of fanfare (a lot of it caused by you) only to have a significant problem detected with it. What makes Samsung’s problem even more challenging is that the problem that its phone causes, fire, is potentially life-threating for its customers. There is no work around for this problem.

As product managers when an event like this happens to our products, we need to step in and take action. Our customers are going to be upset and looking at us to do something. Samsung’s product managers did the right thing – they issued a recall notice for their phone and offered to replace them. Yes, this is an expensive undertaking; however, the value of the Samsung brand name is at stake here and so this kind of dramatic action is required.

Just to make this story a little bit more weird, weeks later, with the recall in full swing and old Note 7s being replaced by hundreds of thousands of new “safe” models, reports started to arise of the same exact failures happening with these replacement phones. Clearly the Samsung product managers had yet another problem on their hands. With consumers quickly losing faith in the Note 7 name, carriers in early October voluntarily offered free returns and exchanges for all Note 7s, and eventually stopped selling the phone altogether. On October 11, 2016 Samsung announced that they would no longer make or market the phones.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers own the products that they bring to the market – that’s what it says in our product manager job description. What this means is that we need to do our best to create a product that our customers will want and then after we launch it we need to stand behind it. In the case of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone, the Samsung product managers had to do this even as their product started to burst into flames.

The problem that was discovered after the Note 7 product had already been launched is that there was some sort of flaw in the product’s battery. This meant that when the product was being charged or used, it may start smoking or burst into flames. The Samsung product managers did the only thing that they could and issued a recall notice and offered to replace every Note 7 that had been sold. However, the replacements started to show the same problems and so Samsung eventually decided that their brand name was too valuable to be associated with a flawed product and they ended up killing off the Note 7 product line.

Samsung is a big company with deep pockets. They can afford to do the right thing. This product launch is a painful reminder that even after all of the work that goes into creating a well-received product, things can still go wrong. Product managers need to remember that supporting their product does not end with launch day, instead it only begins.

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

Question For You: Do you think that Samsung should have taken the drastic step of killing off the Note 7 product line?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

For most of us, going to the grocery store is a once-a-week or so activity. We make a list of what we think we’ll need, get in the car, do our shopping, come home and then put everything away. However, since we now live in the 21st Century it turns out that there is a different way to go about doing grocery shopping – do it online. Wal-mart and Kroger have been doing this for a while and all of a sudden Amazon has decided to get involved. Looks like things are starting to heat up online for product managers in the grocery business!