I used to treat product launches differently. Like so many other product people, I’d be sucked into launching with a bang: we’d set a launch date, marketing would start to tee up all the relevant collateral, and off we’d go.

But then we’d all spend the next few weeks trying to hit the deadline we’d set ourselves. The product development team would be inundated with questions and demands from sales and marketing, from senior management, who all want to know when they’re going to be ready. 

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Overestimated our abilities, underestimated how much time something would take, and then found we can’t get it ready in the time we’ve allowed.

The big problem with this all-too common big bang approach to a product launch is that it stacks two contrasting and mismatched projects together. The marketing project that goes with a launch is all about tying campaigns to specific dates, whereas the development project is more of an art than a science – where you really want to avoid specific dates because you don’t know how long it may take to get a product ready for launch. This ‘hard launch’ makes for friction between teams, half-completed products that no one is happy with, flagging morale, in short everything you’d normally want to avoid when launching a product.

A soft launch is a better bet

This is why I believe it’s important for product managers always to advocate for a soft launch. Rather than trying to coordinate a development release with market announcements, consider going live with the new feature before making a big marketing splash. When you’re confident in the quality of the code, and that it solves the problem in the way you hoped, you can go to market confident that your product will hit the mark and be well received by your customer base.

There are different ways of doing a soft launch. You can beta test, add feature flags so that you can turn bits of the functionality on and off, pick a cohort of users to test, and so on. There’s more on soft launches in this blog, Planning for Success – How to Master Release Planning. A soft launch is also less expensive, plus it allows you to test the market and get customer feedback

Product managers should show the rest of the organization what the benefits of a soft launch can be. You can set the best expectations, and provide real clarity on what can be marketed and when. No one has to cross their fingers and hope that the timing will be right, and marketers can plan and invest resources better. 

Now, at ProdPad, we take a soft approach to product launches. We have a release train, with a release every Wednesday. The product team preps our marketers so that they know what’s coming out next and they have the pick of new features to include in their campaigns, planned around market trends. It certainly works for us – and it could work for you too!

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