Sunsetting a Product? First Use HCD to Understand Who Uses It

Atomic’s product teams start software projects with Human-Centered Design (HCD) practices and Design Thinking activities that help us focus on the customers who will use the software.

But that’s not the only use for this type of user-centered thinking. I’ve also found HCD incredibly helpful for teams who are deciding whether to continue supporting a product.

Is it Time to Cut that Product?

There are many reasons companies consider discontinuing features and products, for example:

  • The company wants to exit a specific market.
  • The company has developed a better solution.
  • The product no longer generates enough revenue.

Even when one or more of these conditions are met, it can be difficult to say with certainty that the company would be better off sunsetting a product. Applying some human-centered thinking can improve the decision-making process.

Stakeholder Mapping

Stakeholder MapOne method that works particularly well here is stakeholder mapping. A stakeholder map is a visual representation of the people who are at the center of a product. All the people reflected in this map have related reasons to care about the product.

When you build this diagram, you bring to light the different users and their relationships to one another and to the product. A fleshed-out stakeholder map will illuminate the potential direct and indirect impacts of discontinuing a product. You may decide not to cut a feature or product once you understand who it will affect.

If you do decide to discontinue the product, the stakeholder map will help you understand how to involve the right people. For example, maybe the finance team and the typical users are connected by their dependence on industry influencers. Once the decision is made to end a product, communicating that news to the influencers first will help shape how they relay the message to those two user groups.

I appreciate stakeholder mapping because it doesn’t require a designer. Product teams with nearly any skillset can practice this technique. Don’t let your limited drawing skills stop you from trying out this method.

There are many useful templates and instructions for creating stakeholder maps. I suggest you investigate the HCD resources from groups like IDEO, Innovation Training, the Interaction Design Foundation, and the LUMA Institute.

Stakeholder mapping is effective because it allows teams to identify and analyze all of the people that interact with a product. It can be useful to inform the critical decision to support a product, or it can be the basis of the communication plan for sunsetting a product.