Product Launch Checklist – Key Milestones

Many teams managing product launches use a classic date-based system for launching products. If the product team says the product will be ready on May 1, then launch activities are all backed up based on that date. The problem with this approach is that the date nearly always changes, the management overhead for the required Gantt chart is high, and, most importantly, the release process can get out of sync.   While you can write messaging for a new product or feature based on the product manager’s use case, the likelihood of this matching what is delivered is low. Worse, reading a use case description from a requirements document isn’t that exciting. If you could only wait until a demonstration was ready and show customers and sales and prospects, the story and deliverables get that much stronger. There is a better way to build a product launch checklist.

To accomplish this excitement, marketing needs time from when the product is baked enough to demonstrate to the time of the public launch. A date based system that only tracks the public release date creates a situation where engineering might release a stable product only a day or two before the public launch jamming marketing preparations and making the launch less than exciting. A milestone-based approach enables marketing to spend the right amount of time to ship a product correctly. Key milestones such as a stable build gate the launch process and hold back work until the process can advance smoothly to the next stage.

Below is a product launch checklist based on milestones for product launches. Of course, you need to modify the milestones list to fit your needs. For SaaS-only products, you would likely batch a bunch of the milestones together into a more significant release while doing short-term communications with customers.

Product Launch Milestone 1 – Feature Freeze and Alignment

For many people, this feels late in the process, but until you get to feature freeze, the payload of what is getting delivered is a moving target. Even at feature freeze, there are likely new additions to the product, especially for early-stage SaaS companies. Once you have feature freeze, then:

  • PM can introduce the release with the PMM, SE teams
  • PMM can drive a discussion around the tentative story
  • Broad outline of a plan for the feature/release can be worked on
  • PMM can come up with some launch goals
  • PMM can decide the level of release

Milestone 1A – Holding Bucket

After reviewing the feature payload of a launch, or in the case of SaaS products where the launches might occur weekly, the team might decide to hold a feature until more features come along for a more significant “launch .” Some feature releases might require a customer-only announcement, saving the more significant public announcement for later.

Product Launch Milestone 2 – Demo Complete

The ability of a designated sales engineer to demonstrate a new feature or product is one of the most important milestones. For the SE to show the product, the product has to be stable enough, there needs to be a demo environment, and there should be a story that is good enough to get people excited. There can still be missing features and bugs in the product, but the SE should be able to do a demonstration. With a demo complete, the PMM can 

  • Write the preliminary story for sharing
  • Take the launch plan outlines to the exec team for agreement

Demo complete is one of the most critical parts of the product launch checklist.

Product Launch Milestone 3 – Story Complete

With a completed demo, the SE and PMM can socialize the new product or feature set and start to tune the story. By the end of this session, the PMM should be able to tell a compelling story in a “press release,” format and the SE should be able to show the corresponding product capabilities.

Product Launch Milestone 4 – Launch Ready

With the story, a demo, and some release notes, the rest of the organization can now crank through critical deliverables for the launch. These deliverables are the primary content blocks plus the derivatives below. All the deliverables sources from the origin deliverables of release notes, demo, and rough press release.

Milestone 5 – Launch

The launch process is the point of no return. Once you start the launch cycle, it takes work to turn back. This is the key milestone in the product launch checklist. Within this milestone, there is some sequencing of events.  

  • Pre-briefing start
    • Press/Analyst
    • Friends and family
    • Sales and partners
  • Launch Day
    • Press release or blog
    • All content goes live
    • Customers, partners, and prospects webinar announced
    • Worldwide demo available

Milestone 6 – Launch Complete

One to two weeks post-launch, the team should reconvene to review the launch metrics, get feedback on the launch, check the bumps in traffic, press coverage, etc. Most importantly, the team should update the release checklist with the learning.

How long does a launch process take? Realistically, it would be best to have three weeks from when a demo can be accomplished to the product shipping. Three weeks from a demo with bugs/issues to a stable product is short. Likely, the product will not be ready after such a condensed time frame. Keeping this timeline condensed limits the exposure of the marketing team to distraction from constantly getting into launch mode when the actual product delivery date is extended.

Product launches are fun and drive lots of energy to a marketing organization. Running a milestone approach keeps the marketing team from getting thrashed as a product goes through its final delivery stages.

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