Software products are notorious for being late to market or quickly replaced with 2nd versions. In our experience that’s normally due to insufficient launch processes resulting in problems such as the following common examples:
- Market demand and target segment never correctly ascertained
- Front line teams not trained or have not planned for the product
- Happy pilots not acquired before wide-scale release
Also product launches take a significant amount of resource, there is a number that your organisation can cope with per year. Knowing this limit helps ensure you are only progressing with the most compelling ideas and you know when extra resource may be required to deliver on time.
Software Product Roadmap Management
Once you have a clear product scope and market segment, and all customer facing teams have been involved in the business case, launch planning can begin with appropriate stages for sign off, agreed actions, owners and timescales. Most importantly each department head must agree readiness for the product, this helps ensure the new product will strengthen your brand reputation rather than damage it.
The exact launch stages and actions required will vary within each organisation but, after development-team-led piloting, it’s advisable for operations to run pilots. Once all field testing is complete; ready to deploy, support and sell stages will include all of the key actions to achieve success.
It is also important to be able to look at the status of the whole road-map together because there will undoubtedly be some inter-dependencies and difficult decisions to make. Where possible non-partisan project managers can be much more effective at running launch projects across all teams. In addition to providing scope they bring cohesion and focus to product planning actions enabling product owners to focus on strategic and tactical management of their product.
The following generic example helps track the progress of each product against the agreed launch stages. You can also incorporate due date and the first year financial forecast in the product description if that helps prioritisation. This is intended to be used as a headline report to drill into the reasons for the current stage, risks, issues, late actions and consequences. We build all processes and charts in Excel initially to avoid system restrictions.
Software Product Launch Management
I believe a significant factor here is whether you market your impending product before launch or wait until full market readiness. Whilst I think it’s good to show interested clients your road-map, and have every confidence in doing so because your processes ensure you deliver products on time, I like the idea of waiting before unleashing the full marketing plan. This gives you the opportunity to control your marketing spend and pricing versus demand and increase resource in line with adoption.
Here are a couple of scenarios to illustrate the point:
Scenario 1 – Pre-launch Marketing
You spend a large majority of your marketing budget pre-launch. The product is launched on time and sells extremely well in the first 2 months, but you can’t actually deliver!
You have now taken a large amount of orders at a price you can’t change (in fact discounts have been given), you cannot recover any marketing costs and have to invest in urgent staff, which is much more expensive than developing a non-urgent staff training plan where you have enough people to get you through the initial phase. You also get to a level of usage quickly which reveals a volume related bug you can’t fix immediately.
So if the product is successful you end up with low customer satisfaction, damaging your brand and likely adoption of your next product, and lower margins.
If the product is unsuccessful you have incurred irretrievable costs.
Scenario 2 – Staggered marketing and monitoring
The potential alternative is that you spend around 50% of your initial budget around launch and keep a hawk eye on any discounting and demand at the initial price. Your fully trained early deployment staff are ready and the wide-scale top-up training plan is in place which will incorporate learning from the first installs. Early bugs go straight to the development team, who are poised to deal with them post launch, and fix them before the next implementation. The remaining customers in the backlog are never affected by it. You reduce paid marketing activity and the sales team use strong case studies to gain further wins.
This success also means you can increase price or remove early offers and handle discount objections knowing that 1. The benefits of solving the problem and 2. You provide a proven method specifically for customers like them.