Launch Planning and Product Management
January 28, 2014

Launch Planning and Product Management

by Brian de Haaff

Great product launches create heroes. And product teams have the best product launches when they have clear goals, deliver the goods on time, and everyone is on the same page. This is easy if you work with a really small team or do not have meaningful go-to-market programs timed to your launches. But that is usually not the case for product managers, product marketers, and software developers in mid-sized and larger organizations.

This is where some lightweight launch planning can help you lead the team with conviction.

There is a lot riding on getting product out the door and being in sync with the broader marketing and PR teams, sales, support, and the rest of the non-technical organization. Whether we want to admit it or not — product launches or a lack of them have an impact on the business. They create thought leadership, excite customers, and motivate the team.

We are often heads down as product managers and forget that keeping everyone informed and helping to drive the go-to-market activities is key to delighting customers and winning in market.

Launch planning is notoriously difficult. We must do two things well that require totally different skill sets. It requires the team to see the big picture and set high-level positioning that is differentiated. We also must manage a ridiculous number of details and coordinate the activities or many teams.

It is further complicated by the fact that software development is unpredictable. This leads some teams to give up and avoid timing product launches to go-to-market activities. But that is unnecessary and a missed opportunity. No one said it would be easy to launch product and coordinate all the teams. But surely you can do it if large companies like Apple have found a way.

Dates still matter — and just because you are agile does not mean that you have an excuse to avoid them.

We suggest that if you are a high-tech product manager or marketer you should be “launching product.” You can use spreadsheets and wikis to manage your release planning or a purpose-built tool like Aha! — the new way to create brilliant roadmaps.

It is easy to create a standard release template in Aha! that the team can consistently use. This allows you to create a simple framework and get better over time. Build a template with your specified phases and milestones under Accounts settings -→ Release phases and milestones. This template will be used every time you create a new release. It allows you to specify a default set of activities that will be automatically generated when you create a new release. And just to be clear, you can still be as agile as you want to be with overlapping efforts and rapid-fire iterations.

You can set as many phases and milestones as you want and rearrange them by editing the template and pulling them into the proper order. You can also set the duration and color per phase or milestone or allow the system to automatically generate it for you. You can even create a template for a product line and all of its child products will then use that template as well.

Creating a template for product launches brings consistency to your release planning and go-to-market activities.

Once you have created a release it’s easy to involve the entire team in the planning and go-to-market preparations. On the Releases screen you can double-click on any phase or milestone and add additional information to it (including attachments) and assign tasks to specific team members. Team members can collaborate on their specific activities, complete assigned work, and comment on their progress. You can also change the phases themselves right on this screen as needed.

If you are not already an Aha! customer, you may want to sign up for a free 30 day trial of Aha! now to see why the best known software and Web companies are using Aha! to set product strategy, create visual roadmaps, and manage product launches.

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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