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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Supporting previous versions of the software (Part 5)

In previous posts in this series (Supporting previous versions of the software (Part 4)), we have talked about how an organization makes the decision to remove support for a (much older) previous version of the software. Removing support means that customers are encouraged to move to a higher version, defect fixes are not provided and the support team will not take any more calls on that version. This can get tricky, and sometimes the decision is not all that clear as to whether the support would be withdrawn.
For removing support for a previous version of the software, the groups that typically advocate removing this support are the development and testing teams; the number of previous versions of the software that remain supported in the market, the more effort they need to put in. For example, just as an example, there are a lot of compatibility issues that need to be developed and tested, and these increase as the number of previous versions are supported. Another example would be the support team, since they have to keep a track of issues, defects, notes, and other items for all the previously supported versions. However, when you look at product management and marketing, they have a lot more contact with customers, and they are able to better figure out whether it is possible to drop support or not.
I am going to try to layout some reasons where the team took the call regarding whether to drop support and decided that they cannot drop support as of now. Here are some of the reasons (and this cannot be a comprehensive list, more based on my experience in the industry).
- Too many users complaining about support being withdrawn: This happens when the team informs people through support forums and the helpdesk that they are planning to drop support. If there is significant push back (and discussions with some those protesting reveals that they are really going to be impacted), then the organization may decide to not drop support as of now.
- Previous deals commit support for an extended period of time: This happens typically in the case of OEM's or when there is a large deal. As part of the deal, support was required for 5 years after the launch of a version, and this grew tricky in the years to come. But we were bound by this condition, and the only learning was to be more careful of the implications of providing support for extended periods of time.
- The Product Management / Marketing looks at data, looks at support discussions, user forums and decides that the level of discussion is still fairly high enough that the support needs to remain for some more time.
- Data from metrics reveals that the understanding of the team was incorrect regarding the number of people still using the software and the data reveals more people that are using the software. In this case, it could still mean drop of support along with an offer for those people using the older software to get some concessions when they are upgrading to the latest version.

Read the next version of this series (Supporting previous versions of the software (Part 6))

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Supporting previous versions of the software (Part 4)

This is a series of posts on the subject of when an organization decides to drop the support for a previous version of a software. Say, you are working on version 8 of a software and version 4 was released 4 years back, and the management team is trying to make a decision on retaining support for the software version. In a previous post (Supporting previous versions of the software (Part 3)), we had talked about a situation where there is no choice but to drop support, because of a dependency issue. The previous version used a software component that is not working properly and there is no way to fix this; in many such cases, the organization has to take action. It cannot pretend that the previous version is working fine except for a few glitches, and instead would need to declare that the version is no longer supported. When it says that a version is no longer supported, it actually means that there will be no support, no updates, no bug fixes and it is recommended that users upgrade to a newer version of the software.
What happens in the case where the organization has no data metrics about the number of users who are using the previous version of the software. Well, it does get kind of tricky, but these situations have happened in the past. The emphasis on being able to trap user interaction and mine this data for doing all sorts of analysis (including determining usage habits) is something that is of relatively recent vintage, not being emphasized even 4-5 years back. Now, every product tries to capture user interactions, which workflows use more often, and so on; but consider the case when this data was not being tracked and now the organization wants to drop support for a previous version of the software for which they do not have this kind of data.
Just because they do not have this data does not mean that the organization will continue to support previous versions for a long time. There is an increasing heavy cost associated with supporting long back previously released versions of software and at some point, the organization will decide to drop support. If there is no user data, the organization could check with support teams and with user support forums about the amount of queries that come in for these previous versions of the software, and if it seems that there are a large number of users that are active for those versions, then it makes sense to not drop support for some more time. On the other hand, if it turns out that there is hardly any interaction related to that specific version, then it might make sense to take the decision to drop support. Of course, there is some amount of subjectivity involved in this, since forums might not be a totally accurate mechanism to determine whether there are a lot of people using that version, but it is a hard choice. You have no other mechanism to determine the usage levels and you have to use some kind of proxy to help you make that decision.
One way is to make announcement about dropping support in another few months, and then see the reaction. If there are a large number of people who voice complaints and so on, then it might make sense to interact with some of them and determine whether they are really discomfited if support is dropped, how often do they really need some kind of support and so on. Even in such cases, after due discussions and interactions, it may still be possible to drop support (even if there some amount of opposition, as long as it is containable).

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