There is an undying adage, better known as Murphy’s Law, that states “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” While you certainly cannot control every single factor that may arise in the planning, production, and launch of a software product, you can reduce the likelihood of failure while also increasing the probability of success. Every product launch will be different, even if only slightly. But, creating (and following!) a checklist is an important step towards ensuring success.
Below you’ll find a collection of best practices for deploying your next software product. Not all of them will be relevant to every scenario. However, having a comprehensive list from which you can select the most pertinent items will save you time (and ultimately, money).
Software Product Pre-Launch
The primary goal of the pre-launch phase is to establish the vision, value, cost, production, and impact of your software product. Frequently, ideas do not wholly translate into the pragmatics of value, cost, production, and impact. During this phase of product management, you’re transforming that initial vision (or “seed idea”) into a tangible solution that provides mutual value for customers and your business objectives. The time and energy you place into the planning and execution of software development leading up to launch day will deliver both tangible and intangible benefits: a relatively fluid launch and much lower stress levels.
- Research your market and build a business case for your software. If you’re a brand new start-up, then your initial business plan should already include market research. For example, researching within the context of Porter’s Five Forces Model will help you to more precisely understand essential environmental factors that can significantly impact your software product’s success.
- A product plan or roadmap should be completed and contain technical specifications, UI/UX designs, User Personas, training for customer support services, etc. Your product plan details the “what” of your new software as it directly relates to your completed business case: requirements, user stories, strategic alignment with business objectives, version release cycles, KPIs, etc.
- The project plan is completed detailing the project management methodology (usually this is Agile or Scrum, but hybrids are also feasible), time, cost, scope, risks, quality assurance protocols, and what constitutes a viable MVP for your software. In contrast to the product plan, your project plan delineates the “how” of your software product development, testing, quality assurance (QA), marketing, and iterative feature development throughout the product’s life cycle.
- Ensure that you’ve clearly defined your product’s UVP. Does it solve a specific set of user problems? How is it different from what’s already on the market? Will this be a product that is brand-new to the particular market or are you improving on existing solutions (either your own or based on a competitor's product that isn’t meeting a consumer need/demand)? This information is used to create your go-to-market plan and content marketing calendar which should reflect customer pain points, buying habits, and motivations for product purchases. Your User Personas are of great importance for this process.
- If you don’t already have a go-to-market plan and content marketing calendar in place, you should begin one now. Decide which marketing and advertising channels have the highest likelihood of reaching your targeted user segments. Press releases, blogs, thought leadership articles, white papers, video demos, and social media posts are all valid ways to reach the right user at the right time. Remember, your main goal is to focus on user benefits and how these are unique when compared to your competitors. Embed feature descriptions within the aforementioned context or from a problem-solution framework.
- Plan for ongoing monitoring of KPIs. Ideally, this would be automated. But, either way, you’ll need to take a continual quantitative pulse so you’re not completely caught off guard should an anomaly occur.
- Create a plan for launch day activities, e.g., timing your release announcements, creating a risk and mitigation register for that specific day, preparing “all hands on deck” for technical issues that may arise, etc.
- Generate a post-launch plan. This can be as simple as a to-do list or as extensive as a full-fledged product management plan for ongoing education, support, and feature development.
- Test, test, and then test again. Internal testing is an innate part of the software development lifecycle. However, testing should also include putting the software in front of end users -- perhaps a select group -- to improve front end functionality and feature selection (see “soft launch” below).
Software Product Launch Day
Launch day can be hectic without a plan in place to buffer against worst-case scenarios (which, ideally, should have been completed prior to today). While large, well-known software companies already have dedicated marketing departments available to spread the word regarding a new release, startups require more effort to get the word out about their new product. As such, your launch day will focus more on pushing out the “this is our awesome product” message and playing quarterback between engineering, marketing, and support as customer feedback begins to roll in.
- Initiate a soft launch. A soft launch is particularly beneficial for new software products and will provide you with a better understanding of the users' response to your MVP. Your soft launch can be by invitation only (a select group of your targeted users) or -- if you’ve built up marketing momentum -- can be released with a clear statement that this is a soft launch for users in general. Demo versions are a great way to monitor any potential issues along the engineering and UI/UX pathway prior to your hard launch date.
- Have a kickoff meeting to discuss and/or reinforce the plan of action for your launch. This should include the “if this, then that” protocol where your issue mitigation list is reviewed with the team.
- Enact your launch day marketing plan: emails, social media posts, press releases, and blogs. If you’ve developed a white paper as a sales lead -- which is a common tactic if your software product focuses on B2B rather than B2C -- and you have not yet distributed it, then now is the time.
- Gather and analyze feedback from each of the cross-functional teams. Set up an integrated system for tracking analytics for all departments. If possible, display this via a real-time dashboard, this will save you time in assessing your baseline KPIs vs. real-time responses.
- Create a to-do list of action items based on customer and departmental evaluations. Compare this to your original launch day and post-launch plans. Begin a lessons learned register.
- When the dust settles, it’s time to celebrate your team’s success, regardless of how smoothly the launch occurred. The post-launch meeting can either be conducted now, where lessons learned and next action steps are reviewed, or on the days after the launch. A little post-launch celebration is also a great way to keep your team motivated and moving forward.
Software Product Post-Launch
The post-launch period often brings a mixture of relief and reflection. If one or more urgent changes are required, then you may also be experiencing additional stress. However, the action item to-do list and post-launch plan should mitigate this. With this in mind, your post-launch analysis should include answering the following questions and taking the next steps included below:
- How much variance exists between your initial KPIs (e.g., sales, marketing, software performance, etc.) and the launch day actuals? Perform a root cause analysis if the variance was beyond the metrics you set for an acceptable vs. unacceptable variance.
- Do sales and customer support need additional training?
- Is the user documentation sufficient?
- What are your customers saying about the product via all of your user channels? Natural language processing, sentiment analysis, and an old fashioned manual review of the comments (including those from social media or other software product avenues) are robust methods for assessing if bugs can be turned into features or the features aren’t valuable for your users.
- How will you manage perpetual customer engagement? Granted, this should be part of your original product plan as even the titans of the tech industry solicit customer feedback on a continuous basis. While you don’t want to pester your customers, providing high-quality content tailored to the user is one way to maintain customer relationships. As such, your CRM strategy should also be reviewed post-launch and your outreach/engagement plans revised accordingly.
- Revisit your product roadmap to determine whether your next iteration cycle should be adjusted to more quickly incorporate any changes recorded from customer feedback.
Launching a new software product is no small feat, and as can be clearly seen, most of the work occurs in the days, weeks or months leading up to launch day. But, through careful planning and execution, your launch will be positioned for an effective (and profitable) outcome.