July 30, 2019 David Hallinan Industry, Product Ready for Takeoff: Setting Your Product Up for a Successful Launch Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash Each and every day, hundreds of fresh-faced, wide-eyed Product Managers take the first step out of their respective places of training, eager to take on the world and orchestrate the creation of a product that changes the way we live our lives. Most will inevitably stumble along the way – as the best of them who came before have – but a good handful will make every right move and rise to the level of demi-gods in the world of product management. They will be the envy of their peers and the standard by which those who follow them are judged. They will radiate success to a point where even their gaze will ensure a product team’s inevitable success. They will change the fabric of our universe itself, and we will dutifully worship at their feet. That’s how it works, right? No. Of course, it doesn’t. Hard-working and smart PMs will fail due to inexperience. At some point, everyone will fail due to inexperience. These mistakes aren’t an indictment on their ability to be successful and highly competent one day. They’re just mistakes that rookies make. In every facet of every business on earth. If you make mistakes, you try again. But when you try again, you’ve hopefully learned from the missteps of your past. The real success story is of those who apply lessons from their prior stumbles to their future work until competency is second nature. No one gets it right the first time. It just doesn’t happen. We’re human beings, and by nature are prone to acquire the best familiarity through experiencing something firsthand. Usually, when one encounters something for the first time, they aren’t perfect at it. Big shocker, I know. However, you can take steps to help yourself when proceeding into your first product launch as a PM. You can study other people’s experiences and mistakes to gain insight into as many facets of your upcoming job as possible. So, let’s talk about how to launch a product, shall we? Experience Counts I had the pleasure of attending a speaking event by Greg Smith, Sr. Product Manager at Twitch, on his lessons learned from launching the streaming application’s Extensions feature. Essentially, Extensions is an addon for Twitch that allows developers to build their own “mini-applications” for overlay on different streaming pages on the platform. These applications can be used for anything from providing clarity to viewers on the more complicated game offerings to creating interactive experiences where the audience can influence the gameplay of the streamer. Smith not only relayed the helpful takeaways from his experience managing the feature but provided useful tips as to what he would have done differently if given the chance to experience the product build again. His talk centered on 5 distinct phases that a PM goes through when getting ready for a product launch, starting right at the product’s inception. Phase 1: Work Backwards The first phase of your product launch occurs at the very beginning of your product planning. This is where you need to develop a product vision that can extend to years after your launch. Envision what you want your product to be once it’s released and work backward to account for each facet and feature of the product. You should start to collect and research metrics to back up the initial hypotheses you arrive at, as well as use that data to strategize and prioritize what needs to be done. You should also immerse yourself in the prospective customer. Conduct interviews and focus groups. Spend long hours amassing as much quantitative and qualitative data as you can for the means of formulating questions regarding your user conversion funnel and potential user retention problems in the future. If you can get as much data as possible now, you’ll be able to detect problems on the horizon that might hit you as quick as a mosquito on a windshield in the future. This is where you should be gauging the input from your other teams as well. Sit down with your marketing, engineering, and design teams and make sure that they understand your initial vision. They aren’t there to cater their operations to your whims. They are important pieces of the process, and you should value their input early and often. Many times, they are the individuals who will catch issues you may overlook, or provide you with clarity on a problem that you wouldn’t have arrived at yourself. Ask yourself these important questions and exercise as much time as possible to answer them: Who is the customer? What are their problems? What is your product’s biggest benefit? What does your customer experience look like, even in your product’s infancy? By taking the time to address these problems early, you’ll save yourself from unexpected roadblocks down the line. Phase 2: Product Discovery Product Managers often rush into having their development teams implement code and prototypes as soon as they’re out of phase one, but it’s time to pump the product brakes. This is where you should take adequate time to test your initial hypotheses. Have you gone to your engineering team and relayed your vision to them? Have they had a chance to give you a realistic timeline for the implementation of said features? Your engineers are an asset to you, and they should be treated accordingly. Don’t assume that they can successfully build your vision in an arbitrary amount of time that you set without consulting them first. You should be discussing every move with your talented team of developers. Ignoring UX is another common stumble at this phase. Finding yourself too far along with the product roadmap, only to discover that you have a UX problem that requires a realignment in thinking, is greatly detrimental to your goals. UX testing should be done at every step of the production process. The earlier, the better. Phase 3: MVP and Scoping This phase is where you will inevitably have to make some cuts. Concessions are necessary to ensure that your product actually releases on time and doesn’t live in development hell. Or at the least, development purgatory. This is where you should spend a good bit of time examining your backlog for fat to trim. This phase is all about shaping your application into a minimum viable product that can actually make it to market in the timeframe that you want. Remember when I said before that you should be working closely with your development team? This is where that relationship will go from work associates to lifelong confidants. Spend as much time as possible with your devs as they go about building the MVP of your product. Don’t just attend stand-up to get a loose idea of what they’re working on daily. Make their desks into a co-habitation space for you both (although you should set some boundaries, as you don’t want them to fly into a fit of rage from the very thought of your breathing cadence.) You want to avoid a “throw it over the wall” approach to your gameplan. Make sure that you take your developers’ input and suggestions seriously, as they will often bring awareness to issues that you might easily overlook. Your developers are the ones in the metaphorical trenches when it comes to your application, and if things don’t go well, they aren’t the people who will be held accountable. You will. So make sure you take any and all help or input you can. It will give you more perspective on your product that has just been based on data and metrics up until this point. Phase 4: Initial Go-To-Market Time to get that product into the hands of eager consumers! This phase is where you should plan and execute your product launch. Finding a venue or avenue for this launch comes down to where you are geographically and what your product is for. Are there any applicable industry events on the horizon? Those are commonly a good place to announce and release a product if your organization already has some name recognition. If you’re in a tech-hub, like the Bay Area, there’s probably some events on the horizon at any given point of the year. What release vehicle are you going to pursue? Maybe your product will benefit from an open-source release if the plan is to have independent developers be able to contribute to the long-term viability of your product. This may be a double-edged sword, however, as customers that run into issues and reach out to you for assistance may be working off a version of your product that you aren’t responsible for, and therefore are unable to help them. One thing to make sure of in this phase is a major amount of testing, both internal and external. Don’t simply wait for the problems in UI, UX or development come back through user channels. Conduct as much testing as possible to nip these issues in the bud as quickly as you can. Consider running a test flight campaign with customers to gather as much real user data as possible. Phase 5 Through ∞: Iterate! Congratulations! Your product launched. Job’s done, right? (Hint: it’s not…) Here’s where Smith specifically believes that the fun aspect of PM’s job begins. Now it’s time to take that product you worked so hard on for so long, and make it better. You’ll be capturing a ton of user data from your product being used in the wild, and while that data is indispensable and incredibly helpful, it’s not the only thing you should base your product’s iterations on. Go out into that said wild and talk to your customers. What they did while using your product may be captured by your metrics, but that only tells part of the story. Have them verbalize their experience. Their frustrations, their successes, and their opinions are invaluable to you and the long-term growth of your product. Some of these people will probably come to you with problems that you never envisioned. Don’t write them off as Luddites who aren’t technically savvy enough for your product. Hear them out and shape your product to accommodate future users who may face the same issues. Then, do it all over again. And then again. Rinse. Repeat. Final Takeaways There are countless more helpful tips that can aid in a successful product launch, but with the knowledge of the phases outlined above, you should be good to get an idea of what you should focus on and when. There are technologies, like Kloudless Unified APIs, that can speed up your development process substantially, ensuring that phase 3 goes as smooth as possible. If your product calls for cloud storage, calendar, or CRM integrations, then you can easily shave six months off of your development time at a minimum. Future maintenance to these integrations will also slow down your iteration time, so keep that in mind when initially planning out your product roadmap. Make sure you do your research to guarantee that you aren’t building things in-house that would be cheaper and easier to integrate with or outsource. There you are. You’re now ready to launch your first product. It won’t be easy, but it should be an eye-opening experience. You are about to learn some of the most helpful lessons of your life as long as you can put in the work and follow through on your promise to deliver a successful product. Shipping a product is about learning, and as long as you keep that in mind, you’ll be fine. It’s not a 1-person show, so make sure you rely on your teammates to help and assist you, and even lead you when necessary. On top of that, be stubborn and relentless. You will succeed as long as you’ve done your homework and learned from others. To learn everything you can about planning your product roadmap’s integration strategy, download our new integration strategy guide, Integrate for the Future, today.