Skip to main content

Backwards Compatibility Requirements

When your company upgrades a product, you and your product manager may concern yourselves with backwards compatibility.

Backwards compatibility refers to the extent to which the upgraded product works with existing ways of using the product. The upgrade may introduce new features and new ways of interacting with the product. But if a user can interact with the new version in the exact same manner and achieve the exact same results as with the old version, then it is fully backwards compatible.

However, backwards compatibility is not an end in itself. It avoids the following problems associated with existing users' lack of familiarity:
  • Relearning/retraining. To use a product that isn't backwards compatible efficiently, a user may undergo a punitive learning curve to get up to speed.
  • Mistakes. A user unfamiliar with the new interface may be more likely to make mistakes while using the product, causing possible physical, psychological, or monetary damage.
  • Fear of upgrading. Even if upgrading would be worth it from a cost/benefit perspective, users may be reluctant to buy or use the new version.
Your product manager should generally avoid making backwards compability a requirement. Instead, the requirements should include measurable constraints on the learning curve and the probability of destructive mistakes. The testing team should create and execute tests that ensure the upgrade meets these constraints before release.

Some degree of backwards compatibility will likely be a part of satisfying these requirements, but designers may find superior ways of satisfying them. For example, a designer may conceive of a new user interface that is so much simpler that it's easier to learn the new way of using the product than it is to use it the old way.

Armed with metrics showing that the learning curve and risk of destructive mistakes are minimal, your sales team has a powerful way of overcoming the fear of upgrading, regardless of whether the upgrade is backwards compatible.


Popular posts from this blog

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

Interaction Design: the Neglected Skill

Your product development organization has a big, gaping hole in it. (Be prepared to feel defensive as you continue reading.) One of the most important roles in product development is the role of interaction designer. An interaction designer designs how the users will interact with the product and conceptualize the tasks they perform. He decides whether, for example, the user interface will be command driven, object oriented (clicking on objects then specifying what to do with them), or wizard based. The interaction designer decides the individual steps in the use cases. Every company has one or more people that play the interaction designer role. Usually, those people have little or no expertise in interaction design. Sadly, they typically don't even realize how unqualified they are. Let's see who typically plays the role at companies. Engineer . An engineer is an expert on building what is designed. Yes, an engineer may know how to design the internal structure of the hardware