Using a checklist for work is one of the most effective ways to ensure that work is done well and completely. Many high-performing product and project managers use release plans or checklists for managing product launches. This simple technique offers a templated approach to planning and executing upcoming releases in a comprehensive, predictable, and efficient way.
Product managers own both the big picture (planning product strategy and positioning) and the small details (writing features or user stories) of a product launch (also known as a release). Product managers also manage or coordinate the contributions of a cross-functional product team and often benefit from assistance of trusted project managers on those teams as well.
Product managers who want to deliver on their product vision with the best possible execution need to provide clear criteria for launch readiness. A checklist gives product managers, as well as the cross-functional teams with whom they work, a way to coordinate and track initiatives and dependencies, so that everyone can work together to deliver a successful launch.
Though using a checklist may seem obvious, some may not consider it at first — thinking a checklist is overly prescriptive or too step-oriented. However, even the most agile of teams can benefit from thinking through what needs to be done across the whole team when coordinating a big release. Creating a product launch checklist that captures and tracks the complete set of activities of bringing a product to market is essential for product managers who want to improve that new customer experience.
The goal is to delight customers with a new experience. First, product managers complete the necessary product planning steps, such as researching the market and competition, defining product goals and initiatives, conducting user interviews, and prioritizing customer ideas. Then, they can begin planning their product launch and design a launch checklist that meets their product and team needs.
A good product launch checklist captures all of the necessary activities across participating departments. This includes everything from design, positioning, and development to campaigns, training, and support.
Product and project managers can organize the checklist chronologically, by activity, or by function. Here are some common elements of a complete product launch checklist (grouped by the type of work that is required). They are listed this way to emphasize the cross-functional nature of any meaningful release and the fact that a lot of the work can be done in parallel to avoid risk and delays. The following list is a good start for any checklist, but you should customize it based on your product, company, and customer base.
There is also one critical phase that is not listed above — Celebrate. It is important to share kudos with the team for their hard effort to deliver a great new customer experience. Take time to celebrate your accomplishments.
A product launch checklist is designed to support cross-functional teams as they bring a new customer experience to market. Team members need to communicate regularly to keep progress on track, share information, and mitigate risks and dependencies. The checklist can support the team in doing this by reminding them what remains to be done and holding them accountable.
Once product managers have created a good product launch checklist, it should be saved and reused when relevant. Several tools are available that allow product or project managers to copy and save checklists as templates. A template makes it easier to standardize the launch activities — ensuring a consistent, predictable process every time. Following a template also helps set expectations for the team and keeps everyone in sync.
A good product launch results in happy customers and internal teams. Building a gold standard for what a successful product launch looks like will help teams achieve success again and again.