Sunk Cost

As a product manager, navigating resource allocation and decision-making is essential for the success of any project. One crucial aspect that often comes into play is “sunk cost.” Understanding the concept of sunk cost is vital in making informed decisions that steer products towards success. In this article, we will explore the significance of sunk cost, its definition, key principles, and implementation process, accompanied by practical insights and real-world examples to engage readers effectively.

Sunk cost refers to the expenses that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered, regardless of future actions taken. In product management, this pertains to the financial and resource investments made during the development process of a product that cannot be reclaimed.

Key Principles

  1. Irreversible Nature: Sunk costs are irreversible and independent of any future choices. As a product manager, it is crucial to focus on future outcomes rather than dwelling on past investments.
  2. Rational Decision-Making: Product managers must base decisions on prospective benefits and costs rather than past expenses. Ignoring sunk costs allows for more rational and objective choices.
  3. Avoiding the “Sunk Cost Fallacy”: The sunk cost fallacy is a cognitive bias where individuals continue investing in a project because they have already committed resources, even if the future returns are not promising. Product managers must recognize this bias and avoid it.

Implementation Process

  1. Identify Sunk Costs: During the product development lifecycle, identify expenses that are irreversible and cannot be recovered.
  2. Analyze Future Prospects: Assess the potential benefits and costs associated with moving forward with the project, considering future returns and customer demands.
  3. Make Decisions Based on Future Outcomes: Base decisions on the prospective benefits and impact on the product’s success, rather than considering the unrecoverable investments.

Real-World Examples

  1. Software Development: Imagine a product manager overseeing the development of a new software application. Despite significant investments in time, resources, and development costs, the market demand for the product is diminishing. Instead of continuing to invest in the failing project due to sunk costs, the product manager decides to cut losses and allocate resources to a more promising venture.
  2. Manufacturing Project: In a manufacturing project, the team encounters unforeseen challenges that significantly increase production costs. The product manager must assess whether the additional investments are justified by potential future benefits or if it is more prudent to abandon the project and focus on more profitable opportunities.


Sunk costs are expenses that cannot be recovered and should not influence future decisions. Product managers must base decisions on prospective benefits rather than dwelling on past investments. Real-world examples include software development and manufacturing projects where sunk costs impact decision-making. Understanding the concept of sunk cost is crucial for product managers to make rational decisions that drive product success. By recognizing that past investments are irrecoverable and focusing on future outcomes, product managers can allocate resources more efficiently and maximize the potential for product success.