The perfect product launch is an elusive beast. As the launch date nears, the pressure mounts while the product manager deals with last-minute changes, bugs infesting the Jira board, and some network or server issue that threatens to ruin everything. You might have the perfect product management framework, yet the journey to the finish line is usually anything but elegant.
Whether you're launching a new product or releasing a new feature, product managers thrive on the excitement, exhilaration — and exhaustion! -— that come with the job, particularly surrounding significant releases. Even with careful planning, an exquisite product roadmap, and a neatly refined backlog, the final moments before launch always seem to end in a fight to the finish.
Before you place all the blame on your product management framework, or worse, your product team (Nah, you would never do that!), take a step back and breathe. We’ll walk through some ideas on how you can relieve some of the chaos on launch day. (Let's be honest, no drama on launch day would be just a little disappointing.)
If you're using an agile product development methodology like Scrum or Kanban, you're already ahead of the game in terms of planning. Experienced PMs will have a roadmap with t-shirt sized epics and stories carefully laid out using established prioritization methods.
Based on your product strategy, you may choose to release new product features to production after each iteration. But sometimes, the product marketing plan requires a bigger splash. In this case, you can take advantage of press releases, major advertising events, or other high-visibility marketing opportunities.
Planning how you intend to release the product is as important as deciding what will be part of the release. Product development teams need to coordinate with product marketing to consider the following:
- Will you do a soft launch to a limited audience?
- Do you need to pre-release specific components to test pricing, marketing copy, or usability?
- Will you leave pre-releases in the wild until launch, or will you test for a specific time period and then pull them back?
- Do you have a hard date on which you must release (ex., Super Bowl Sunday), or is there some flexibility in the timing?
Answers to these questions drive the release strategy, which is then factored into your release plan and execution.
When it comes to determining what features to include in your product launch, you can choose from a variety of product management frameworks or use a hybrid approach and mix and match the methodologies to fit your situation.
The Kano model, AARRR (acquisition, activation, retention, referral, and revenue) theory, and OKRs (objectives and key results) all provide product management frameworks. These help product owners plan feature releases that align with the product vision and realize profitability objectives.
Remember: It's always a good idea to have a Plan B or even a Plan C to allow for unexpected events or issues that tend to rear their heads just before a launch. Atlassian has a great product launch template to get you started if you're working on your first release.
Launch day planning
A launch day checklist is your best friend on launch day. You might even want or need more than one list. A product launch has too many moving parts across too many teams for you to rely on memory alone. Your marketing, IT, and product teams will all play a role in the launch, performing necessary activities for their roles.
Particularly if this might be the first product launch in your startup, checklists help product teams think through details with clear heads well before launch day. The best plan is to ask each team to create their checklist and then meet as a group to align and coordinate each task's timing. Some launch day tasks are independent, ready to be tackled at any time. In contrast, others will be more time-sensitive or dependent on something else happening.
For teams with a few launches under your belt, these checklists hold the lessons learned from prior releases and, when updated after each launch, turn your team into a smooth-as-silk, product-launching machine.
As you know, a product launch is not the end game. Once the dust settles and everyone has gotten some sleep, you need to measure how the product performs. Planning how to measure the product’s initial key metrics allows product managers to communicate results to stakeholders early and as often as necessary.
Measuring key product metrics after a launch validates your decision-making of the product features, confirms you built the right product for the market, and helps you ask and answer the right questions when planning more feature builds and marketing strategies.
Important key product indicators following the launch can include total sales, top attribution channels, activation stats, and affinity sales. If you're launching a new feature within an existing product, you'll also want to keep an eye on retention numbers. A spike in churn rates could indicate a problem with the user experience or the underlying technology solution.
Beyond measuring the results of your release, you'll also need to prepare what's next. After your development team gets some shut-eye, they'll come back to work looking for their next assignment. You'll need to have your backlog ready for the next sprint planning ceremony, and then, it's back to business as usual. There may also be some immediate customer feedback that needs to be actioned.
Once you get your team off and running toward the next release, it’s time to take a look at your roadmap. You’ll likely discover new information when customers start using your new product or feature. It’s a good idea to leave some room in the roadmap to take on work discovered during the first few weeks of your launch.
Then there’s one last thing — CELEBRATE!! You and your team worked hard and accomplished something really cool! It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind toward the next release. Take some time to pat yourselves on the back for a job well done.
Use your product management framework to tackle launch day like a rock star
With some planning and flexibility, you can set up your product team to make launch day look like a walk in the park. And the sooner you get good at this, the better. You'll always be launching something throughout the product lifecycle, from the initial MVP to new features to the end-of-life process.
Thorough roadmapping gets you off to a solid start, and as you get closer to launch day, you'll build out more of the critical details to ensure you don't miss anything. Cross-team coordination is essential, and checklists help open communication channels and get the entire team on the same page.
Early reporting on results builds confidence with stakeholders and is also a great way to show your team the results of their efforts.
Enjoy the adrenaline rush of launch day, but try to eliminate a little of the chaos and stress. As soon as you've launched, it's time to move on to the next thing. That's the nature of product development, and that's why we love it.