Kill, Pivot or Preserve
Running out of money or time can force a product team into making difficult decisions about the future of their product. The two most challenging decisions: pivot the product or kill it altogether. To be presented with a challenging decision like this isn't rare; it might happen many times during the life of a product.
At the earliest stages of a product, when the risk of running out of resources is greatest, it's important to be very critical of your path and ask yourself if you should kill, pivot or persevere every couple weeks. Typically, the first time you encounter this question, you will rely on the qualitative data from customer development. As your product grows, and you have more users, you can rely on both qualitative and quantitative data such as pirate metrics.
It is very easy to always preserve, but it isn't always the best decision. A product is most successful when it can be looked at critically, and changes are made based on what has been learned. Taking the time to think about the successes and failures of your product and your limited resources, will keep you thinking about your customer and priority.
When to Kill
The hardest decisions to make about your product is to kill it. I would love to say that a product should be killed when the team has tried everything without success, but that isn't the case. Resources will run out before you can try everything. If you can save your resources for a project that has more promise, you probably should.
A few questions you can ask yourself before you decide to kill the project:
- Do you have a continued passion for your product or vision?
- Can you identify exactly why your product is failing?
- Will more than 50% of your customers be "very disappointed" if you kill your product?
- Are there seeing signs of success in the future?
- Are there obvious pivot options that you haven't tried?
- Do you have enough runway (time, money, resources) to try a pivot?
- Will you be devastated if you kill your product?
If you answered no to more than one of those questions, this product may be ready for the shelf. But obviously, even if you did answer all of those questions with a no, you might be able to justify continuing on. Don't let a stinkin' blog post sink your ship ;)
When to Pivot
There are many types of pivots that you can make if your product isn't succeeding. Assuming that you are not feeling enough success to continue on the same path, here are some questions you can ask yourself before deciding to pivot:
- Are there particular parts of your product that are being used far more than others?
- Are customers complaining that your product is too specific?
- Is there a particular customer segment that has responded better than others?
- Are there new channels to your customers that you haven't tried?
- Have you tried changing the pricing? The way you are selling your product? I.e. subscription, a la carte, etc?
- Have you tried focusing on different growth model? Paid, viral, referral etc?
When to Preserve
It is easy to choose to preserve, but it isn't always the right answer. Before you decide that you don't need to make any major changes to your products path, try asking yourself a few questions:
- Do you still have a passion for the vision of the product?
- Is the product currently meeting your goals?
- Is the product sustainable at this pace?
- If the product continues at this pace, will it exceed your goals?
- Do you have to defend the product to anyone on your team?
- Do you feel like you have put too much into the product to give up?IKEA effect
The Decision Meeting
In the early stages of a product, I like to run a kill, pivot or preserve meeting every 2 weeks. This is when the product is at the greatest risk of running out of money, time or resources. The meeting generally involves the presenter, the stakeholders and anyone that can help to answer questions about the data in the presentation. The presenter, often the founder, presents a quick summary of the last 2 weeks, then makes a recommendation to the stakeholders to kill, pivot or preserve. The stakeholders often ask questions, and then vote for or against the recommendation. Often, you get a consensus, but if that isn't possible, you follow the majority vote or the stakeholder with the largest stake.
- Review the vision of the product.
- Review the goals for the last 2 weeks.
- Talk about what was achieved, and what was learned.
- Present the decision about what to do next, and how the learnings have informed this decision and what steps you will take.
- Vote on it.
I usually create the presentation the day before or day of the meeting. It typically takes about 30-45 minutes to create. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be clear and consistent. It is a great tool to look back and see what you have tried and what you have learned.
The presentations can be difficult to compile. When I sit down to start creating the presentation, I often think to myself "what did we do the last 2 weeks?" As I begin to prepare the presentation I am almost always wowed by what we have learned and accomplished. My presentations are anywhere from 5 - 10 pages, and take about 10 minutes to present. A decision meeting presentation might include:
- Reminder of the vision of our product.
- Brief summary of what was accomplished in the last 2 weeks.
- Overview of the meaningful metrics if you are far enough along.
- Successes and failures, and what we learned from them.
- List of assumptions that have been tested, and if they were validated or invalidated.
- Brief summary of the budget, burn and runway.
- The decision to kill, pivot or preserve.
- A rough plan for the next 2 weeks
A decision meeting can provide a lot of value. You are setting a tone of transparency. Sharing exciting findings and demonstrating progress. Uncovering new learnings and explaining the direction of the product. Celebrating successes, and illuminating failures as an opportunity to learn. Finally, you are keeping the team and stakeholders in the loop and vested and interested in the product.