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When do you release the next version of a product?

Posted on April 23, 2008 · 2 Comments

Question: How do you decide to release a new version of a product?

My question is specific to products used by almost everyone in the world — products like Windows, MS-Word, Adobe Reader. For such products, how does product manager decide for the next release of such products?

Notice that these products are already at a level that almost everyone using it is more-or-less satisfied with them. For example: Having released Microsoft Office 2003, how would the product manager decide that we need Microsoft Office 2007?

Answer from Nick Coster of brainmates: This is a problem that faces the product manager of any product that has matured, become a commodity, or both. For these types of products it can be tempting to keep looking for new features to keep adding to the original product. From the product manager’s perspective this keeps you employed — right? Well… no, not if customers start to look for simplification or the product becomes over engineered and cumbersome.

As the product manager, the first step to take is to make sure that you understand your customer. Define who you think them to be. Segment the markets that you are serving in to smaller groups that have similar behavioural requirements. Even for these mass market products there will be groups that use them differently. Do lawyers use Word in a way that is different than students? What are those differences in their goals?

Now look for the specific needs of each of these groups? Are they being met by your product? Are there any areas that your customers have to find other solutions to use before they can reach their goals? These may be the features that you are looking for.

Alternatively, do the customers know how to use all of the features that are available already? Are there features that are never used? Your next release may either make these more accessible or remove them altogether.

Word’s upgrade cycle has never really delivered any significant feature enhancements for my use. The tool bars have changed over time, but beyond the core text formatting capability and spell check, the rest of the upgrade has been unnecessary. This hasn’t stopped me from making the changes over time. Microsoft introduces compatibility issues in older versions by releasing new versions. Usually just enough customers also tend to have a need to use the latest version. Combining these together can create a demand for a software product, although it is more likely to frustrate customers than delight them.

Finally, if your product is mature, everyone likes it, and it does everything that your customers want and is preferred to the competition — then LEAVE IT ALONE. You don’t have to keep making changes for the sake of change. Instead, look for a new market where it can solve new customer problems.

2 other answers so far ↓

  • David Locke // Apr 28, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    No, sorry, but leaving it alone is not the right thing to do.

    Late market customers are different from early market customers. They are different enough to get their own version or their own product.

    If you are going to be happy with commoditization, then sure ignore late market customers, and ignore the money you are leaving on the table.

    The money left on the table could be accessed by moving the organization and the product to a one to one marketing or mass customization approach. This means going back to the verticals if the product grew up there, and then getting more specific with the requirements.

    As for Word, I’ve lived in Word for twenty years. They do deliver significant functionality, but the marketing strategies have made Word less than it once was. Back with Word for DOS 5.0, you could set up a grid, but when MS pushed MS Publish out the door, they removed this functionality, as it made MS Word a desktop publishing application.

    The other point about MS Office is that it pays for everything else that MS does.

    Any product should be an infrastructure for other products. If you want to build those other products, upgrades to the underlying product do have to be made.

  • AGPM - When do you release the next version of a product? | brainmates - product management people // Nov 21, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    […] For my response and answers to other great Product Management questions visit Ask a Good Product Manager […]

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