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Today’s topic has been top of mind for the past several weeks.  Over the course of my career, I’ve found it to be one of the most under-appreciated, under-utilized, and misunderstood topics in product management. Finding maturity in this specific area has been a rare occurrence, and yet the importance it carries cannot be understated.

For some it means simply finishing development, exiting QA and putting code into production.  For others it is a toss over the wall to marketing so they can wave their magic wand. And for others it is akin to showing up for a final exam without having done the work along the way to ensure success.

FunnySalesCartoonNew_product_launch

Yep, you may have guessed it … product launch.  Or perhaps you know it as go-to-market, or maybe product readiness. Whatever you call it, fundamentally it begs the question … are you sure you are ready?

In prepping for this post, I found plenty of articles from Forbes, to Harvard Business Review, to Inc.com, to personal blogs.  With so much coverage, it begs the question … why do so many launches fail?

According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, each year more than 30,000 new consumer products are launched and 80 percent of them fail.

Other stats may not be as drastic in failure rates as 80%, but on the low end it is still around 1/3.  Are you OK with failing even 1/3 of the time?  I’m not!  Thus the rationale behind the post.   Remember, this is one view of the product launch world … it is in your best interests to understand and develop your own views … it is expected of you in your role as a Product Management Leader.

1 – Do your homework.  A primary reason launches fail is simply a failure to define the market problem.  One of the articles I read was from a consultancy who can generally predict product launch failure in the first conversation, and usually with the first question … “Do you have the research to substantiate what your are doing?” If the answer is no, well …

Have the data to support your thesis based on research not assumptions. It is OK to make assumptions where data may not exist, but they better be tested against reality. Validate there is a market for the problem you are solving for. Identify the target customers.

2 – Get ahead of the curve.  Another mistake many product managers make is waiting until too late in the game to involve others … Companies are so focused on designing and manufacturing new products that they postpone the hard work of getting ready to market them until too late in the game. 

Getting ahead can come in many flavors, but focus on these two for sure:

  • Involve product marketing early.  Thinking about things from a Pragmatic Marketing framework perspective, the Positioning Document is the link between the Product Manager and the Product Marketing Manager.  Develop it together and it becomes the guiding post for all remaining marketing strategy & tactics.
  • Find pilot customers. Many product ideas stem from interactions with existing customers where a common need is identified.  Assuming these customers are ‘friendlies’, secure pilots to further validate assumptions, iron out bugs, and adjust capabilities prior to launching broadly.

3 – Don’t overlook the details.  While the first two seem somewhat obvious, you cannot afford to stop there.  As the saying goes, the devil is in the details … and those details include things like:

  • Have you finalized any pricing adjustments with the finance organization?
  • Have you ensured you can accurately bill customers through accounting?
  • Have internal and external reporting considerations been accounted for?
  • Have you locked off on any necessary legal, contractual, or T&C changes?
  • Have you ensured all documentation is finalized (all forms of guides including implementation, integration, user, etc)?
  • Have you laid eyes on the plans for testing (performance, penetration, scalability, etc)?
  • Have you validated testing environments are ready?
  • Have you secured a detailed training plan for all internal constituents (sales, support, implementation, customer care, etc)?

Bottom line is this is a pay me now or pay me later equation.  Yes, this will take a lot of time and effort up front.  But if you invest the time up front, it mitigates issues on the back end where you would end up spending even more time.

By the way, just in case you are interested in a few of the articles I read as input …

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