The Product Manager's Launch Checklist

How to execute the big launch

The Snippet is a Weekly Newsletter on Product Management for aspiring product leaders.

“The last 10% it takes to launch something takes as much energy as the first 90%.” –Rob Kalin, co-founder of Etsy

For any Product Manager, launching a real product in the wild is both an exciting and unnerving experience. 

Here’s what happens. As Engineers build the Product, the Product Manager is working with the Sales & Marketing to gear up for the big launch, making sure all critical items are being worked upon in parallel and that everything will be in “Go” on the big day. 

The run-up to the launch is not for the weak of heart. Sure, multiple Stakeholders are involved, and each one has a role to play in making the launch a success .  But the Product Manager’s role is pivotal in bringing everything together— that akin to a Conductor in an Orchestra.

Many trade-offs have to be made, difficult decisions every step of the way. Stress levels and emotions will run high. But as PM you must soak it all in, be and appear calm and composed, removing operational obstacles, unclogging bottlenecks, and keeping the team morale high.

As with many other endeavors, successfully launching a product will also boil down to getting the basics right.

And the very first thing a Product Manager will need is a Launch Checklist— a list of items that must be marked as complete before you hit the launch button.

To be clear, the Product Manager’s Launch checklist is NOT the overall project checklist or Gantt chart containing every single tactical item in it. Instead, the PM’s checklist is a lot more strategic, comprising of items that will ensure the launch is a success.

The Launch Checklist

Now depending upon your product, the launch checklists will differ — but there are few things that are basically mission-critical for any and all Product Launches. We’ll only talk about these strategic & mission-critical ones in this post. 

#1. PM’s Product Checklist

  • Your Product is ready for primetime: One of the things that I have learned building products is that it is really hard to tell when something is “good enough for launch”. I know that sounds like it shouldn’t be a big issue, but that is one of the biggest questions that Product Managers face as the product starts taking shape. The key is to avoid the “Edge Case Trap”. Remember the original iPhone launched without copy-paste!

  • You handle User/Customer Data very carefully: Thus far in validating the business case you might have used prototypes and crude analytics to validate your assumptions —  but launching to the world is no joke. There are a few rules of thumb and the topmost amongst them is to make sure all user data, whether in motion or at rest, is managed and stored securely. Don’t store data that you don’t need. Set expectations right from the beginning to avoid issues later.

  • You have analytics built into your product: A product without built-in analytics is akin to a rocketship without radio communication. The rocket might take off alright, but without continuous position feedback mechanisms, mission control wouldn't know if the rocket is following the flight path. Similarly, analytics in your product is table stakes — cannot launch without it.

  • Your Soft Launch is successful: Always always do a soft launch first before going all in and releasing your product to the world. This will give you an indication of whether or not you are ready to hit the launch button and go big. The soft launch can target your beta users, selected customer segments etc. Very important.

#2. PM’s Marketing Checklist

  • Your Product has a name: seems silly to mention, but hear me out. Your product must have a name that is trademarked and legally protected so others cannot copy it. Further, the name should be SEO keyword friendly such that it comes up when people you care about are searching related items on the internet.

  • You have a Go-To-Market Plan: This means that you have a validated and well laid out plan on how your product once launched will reach your customers — repeatably and scalably. For instance, if yours is a hardware product — do you ship it to customers directly? Do you use channel partners and regional distributors where perhaps your customers already buy other items? If its a software product, how do you find the users of your products? Creating and Executing a Product distribution and go to market plan is the hardest piece to get right. Many Product Managers simply ignore it and keep this until the very end when this often is the PM’s riskiest assumption that must be validated and revalidate over the course of building the product and talking to customers.

  • You have a launch communication strategy: This means your marketing department has a plan to let people know that you’ve launched. This could be as simple as a “we’ve launched/ We’re Live” email to your pre-order/opt-in list, to Bloggers and influencers, or if you have the budget for it, a nationwide/ worldwide rollout that your product has launched. Of course, This also includes a social media launch if that's your primary channel for customer acquisition. The bottom line is this — whatever your communication strategy — ensure that you are maximizing your $$$ spend on communicating to channels that are most likely to convert.

  • You have an “Always be Launching” plan: Once the big Launch day is behind you, you’re not done. In fact, your marketing team must have a plan to sustain the momentum with automated drip campaigns and launch content over several weeks post the big launch. With so many distractions around us today, its highly likely that many of your target customers will miss out on the launch communication — that’s exactly why it's important to run the launch campaigns for weeks to ensure target market coverage. 

#3. PM’s Legal Checklist

  • Product Certifications: Depending upon the type of product, country, and the industry that you’re launching your product in, there may be certifications, approvals, etc that you’ll have to obtain from regulatory bodies. Before you launch — you must have all certifications ready to go. The last thing you want to do is to launch something that is not certified and opens you and the company up to lawsuits. 

  • Data Collection/ Privacy / GDPR regulations: As PM, you know your product best and so it is your imperative to ensure this is taken seriously. Make sure your marketing department is well aware of how data is to be collected, used, retained, and destroyed.

  • Vendor Contracts, T&Cs, and Security Reviews: If you are building a product, it is possible that you are using 3rd party vendors to outsource pieces of the workflow. For instance, say your software has a billing functionality that is “powered by Stripe” — you must ensure that your legal team understands and accounts for the Terms and Conditions of your partnership with Stripe in the event of, say, a data breach. The overall objective is to make sure that you are using vendors that handle user data very seriously, and in the event something bad happens, your exposure to risks are contained. The same applies to your own Terms and Conditions and Terms of Service to your users and customers. You must ask users to accept your T&C’s before they can start using the product.

#4. PM’s Sales Checklist

  • Sales Training: Hopefully, this is not the first time that your salespeople will be learning about your new product. But when its launch time, its also time for the Product Manager to bring the sales team together and train the salesforce on everything there is to know about the Product — Functionality, Technology, Target customers, Sales Targets, Sales incentives, etc. As a matter of training best practice, it is recommended to create bite-sized training modules for better retention as well as searchability. Also, ensure that your salespeople have answers to the Frequently Asked Questions on their fingertips.

  • A repeatable and scalable Sales Strategy: In other words, you must align with your sales leadership on a sales strategy that can be repeated and scaled as sales grow. At this point, you must have a strong lead generation engine that populates your TOFU with proven nurturing strategies to advance leads to MOFU & BOFU. The Product Manager owns the product and knows where the customers are so the sales strategy should really be articulated and proposed by the Product Manager much earlier in the discovery process, with deep inputs from the sales team.

  • Measure and Tracking Sales Progress: As is natural with most things, after the initial excitement of a new product dies down, salespeople will start losing interest or will look for other new things to bring to the customers. So before you launch, the Product Manager and sales leaders must agree on meaningful Sales KPIs for the product and establish measurement and tracking of these KPIs — this ensures continued focus on selling the product and maximizing the chances of success. 

#5. PM’s Customer Support Checklist

  • You have a Customer Support Workflow: Many PM’s underestimate the power of well-thought-through customer support organizations. In reality, great customer support organizations are often the reason behind some of the most loved products in the world. Also, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. Therefore the PM must spend a sizeable amount of time understanding the customer's entire buying journey and even more time designing and building the after-sales support structure that delivers a great experience.

  • You have a Customer Support Dashboard: Customer support tickets should be highly visible to the entire product team. And so before you launch, create a process/dashboard where every support call your agents receive is logged and can be audited by the Product team. Remember, the entire goal of your customer support department is to turn unhappy customers into satisfied customers and turn the happy ones into true evangelists for your product.

  • Again, Measure everything: Enough said about this already. Make sure you have a process to measure CSAT, Net Promoter Score (NPS), First Response Time, Customer Retention Rate, Service Quality Score, etc.

Obviously, and as you can see, there is a lot to do before you can launch. But if you’ve got your product discovery and validation phases right—you’re already on solid ground.

Top Product Managers will thrive and enjoy the launch phase — after all you’ve worked so hard to get this far! You’ve found a winning idea, validated with customers, you’ve strong hints of product-market fit, got the idea funded, set up a team to build the product, and now you’re finally ready for the world to use something you and your team has built — despite the grind that it takes, it’s all worth it. Pat yourself in the back.

Take care and Thanks for reading!

The Snippet is a Weekly Newsletter on Product Management for aspiring product leaders.

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