Skip to main content

Zombie Products

In the world of software there are a lot of blockbuster products and there are many more products that
go belly up.  When a product or company dies, many people think that it's the worst thing that can happen. Actually, the worst thing that can happen to a product is that it remains in a "zombie" state – it's not successful and it's not dead, but enters the world of the "undead"

Zombie Products take up time and resources and slow your team down.  A Zombie cloud-based product still needs to get security patches, still needs monitoring, and still needs to be upgraded when the vendor APIs are changed.  A Zombie mobile product still needs to work with new form factors, sometimes needs to update its components and sometimes needs a refresh to at least look compatible with new mobile operating systems. Most importantly Zombie Products still take mental bandwidth from the engineering team.

Engineers on average are really sharp people and they know when they are working on a Zombie Product: there are just a couple of customers using it and no new customers sign up, traffic growth is slow, marketing doesn’t market the product, and sales doesn’t sell it.  Some people might think “well at least you have a job”, but the engineers I hire for my team, do not have a problem getting a job.  Working on a Zombie Product is a sure way to have bad morale and lose your best people.  There are plenty of successful products inside and outside your company that need engineers right now.

In my experience in the SaaS world you know that the product is in a Zombie state approximately 6-12 months after releasing it.  Successful products get new customers, new requirements, and even new bugs that the early adopters find.  If you do not see traction the responsible thing is to discontinue the product.  Of course, you should try your best to migrate the customers that are using it and provide alternatives.  Most of the time traction is measured in active users, enterprise deals closed, or transaction volume.   In my experience if after 12 months you do not have one of the following, it might be time to cut bait:
1) 50,000+ users for a freemium or ad supported product.
2) 50 enterprise / corporate clients for a B2B conventional sales product
3) hundreds or thousands of daily transactions

Google is known to terminate products that they consider to be in a Zombie state.  I know a lot of people get upset because at Google’s scale a product with tens of thousands of users could be considered a failure.  I have a lot of respect for anyone who has the guts to pull the trigger in such situations.  It is the right thing to do.

If you detect that one of your bets is not working out, that the product is not getting traction, do something about it as soon as you can: pivot, discontinue or outsource maintenance.  If you let your Zombie Products linger around, they will slow down your progress and sometimes cost you your best engineers.

-mb

PS: If you liked this post you might want to check out TestFlight and Importance of Private Beta and So you want to start a mobile app business...

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Quality of Code is Quality of Life

About 20 years ago when I started working in technology companies I remember “the best” engineers had similar patterns:
-They worked crazy hours
-They knew the systems no one else knew
-They could react and deliver something faster than anyone else
You could always hear other employees say: “Bob is really smart, no one knows how to get anything done in system X besides him!”

This reinforced optimization around being the only person who knew how to do something in some part of the code.  That in turn reinforced job security and bargaining for those engineers, but also chained them to a particular system.  We had big code bases of C++ or Java code where some “Bob” hacked up features as soon as he possibly could.  “Bob” would have occasional nuclear disasters where he’d sleep in the office or through the weekend and then everyone would thank him for how he “saved the day.”  “Bob” sacrificed his quality of life to get praise when he hacked stuff up quickly and then the second time when n…

SDET / QA Engineer Interview Checklist

After interviewing and hiring hundreds of engineers over the past 12+  years I have come up with a few checklists.  I wanted to share one of those with you so you could conduct comprehensive interviews of QA Engineers for your team.

I use this checklist when I review incoming resumes and during the interview.  It keeps me from missing areas that ensure a good team and technology fit.  I hope you make good use of them.  If you think there are good questions or topics that I have missed - get in touch with me!


SDE/T or QA Engineer interview checklist from Mike Borozdin
If you like this checklist you might want to check out these posts:
Emotional Intelligence in Software Teams  and Good-bye manual tester, hello crowdsourcing!

Code versus Configuration

At Ethos we are building a distributed mortgage origination system and in mortgage there is a lot of
different user types with processes that vary depending on geography.  One of our ongoing discussions is about how much of the logic resides in code vs. being in a workflow system or configuration.  After researching this topic for a bit, I have arrived at a conclusion that the logic should live outside of code very infrequently, which might come as a surprise to a lot of enterprise software engineers.

Costs of configuration files and workflow engines First thing that I assume is true is that having any logic outside of the code has costs associated with it.  Debugging highly configurable system involves not only getting the appropriate branch from source control, you also need to make sure that the right configuration values or the database.  In most cases this is harder for programmers to deal with.  In many FinTech companies where the production data is not made readily accessible…