As you learned in our previous post, successful launches require a lot of planning. You have to recognize early just how many moving pieces and people are involved in your project, and you need to be prepared for any and all curveballs that may be thrown your way. Otherwise, you run the risk of overlooking a vital step of the process or — worse — allowing a fringe scenario to derail your entire endeavor.
Think of your preparations like a fire drill: You never expect your project to burst into flames, but it’s reassuring to know that everyone on your team is prepared for the worst.
The weeks leading up to a launch are undoubtedly chaotic, but you can easily bring some order to the madness by creating a pre-launch checklist that documents your project’s moving pieces, lays out a schedule, and provides the insurance that less-than-ideal situations won’t develop into full-blown catastrophes.
Begin With a Framework
In order to create the best possible checklist, you should first work with your entire team to craft the framework of your launch plan. Take a collaborative approach to define the specific tasks that must be executed, the specific people who “own” each task, and the deadlines that must be met. Keep everything accessible and organized by using an agile tool like JIRA or Pivotal Tracker or an organizational tool like Trello or Wunderlist, or go old-school and use a traditional spreadsheet. (And by “traditional,” I mean a collaborative Google Sheet, of course.)
The ultimate purpose of this collaborative process is to get all the right people involved while encouraging a sense of ownership in the project. You’ll also ensure that you’ve identified every area of concern and that nothing slips through the cracks.
If you pair the insights provided by your framework with the answers to these six questions, you’ll effectively craft a checklist that guides you to a successful launch:
_1. How will I define success? _
Begin preparations by establishing which metrics or results will define a “successful” launch. What’s your dream scenario?
Although you want to stay positive about the product, you can’t ignore the fact that things can (and sometimes do) go wrong. Be sure to identify your biggest disaster scenarios as well.
Once you define what success (and failure) looks like, you can then determine who needs to be involved in preparations from the very beginning, and you can assess whether you have the proper tools in place to track your progress.
_2. What’s the schedule? _
Typically, you want to launch at a time when traffic is lowest and you’ll have plenty of capacity to react to issues that arise. The right time differs per project; the perfect time for one project might be midday, while another project might need to be released after hours or on the weekend.
The specific date is also important to consider. Determine how launching around a holiday or at the close of a quarter will impact your product and your users. From a PR standpoint, you should consider which events, conferences, and meetings are coming up that you need to launch around.
_3. Who’s on the support team? _
Launching a product can involve the development team, the customer service team, the social media and PR teams, and others. The type of product dictates the size and makeup of your launch support team. For example, for a new or consumer-facing product, your customer service and marketing teams will likely be more involved and have more tasks on their plates than if you were releasing a product update or internal software.
_4. How will we monitor the product? _
Each product’s complexity and potential exposure to risk helps determine what kind of monitoring you will set up. For an extremely complex product, you might need to spend sprints’ worth of time setting up reporting and then logging and issuing automated notifications about problems. But that’s not always necessary. For example, a proof-of-concept field test with a small user base won’t warrant that same level of scrutiny and setup, so you’d need to adjust your monitoring processes accordingly.
_5. How should we triage issues? _
If (and when) a problem arises, you need to know how you will manage the issue. The team should agree on the person or people who will review and categorize bugs, feature requests, and user feedback, as well as who will be the main point person to alert all interested parties when a resolution has been reached. When it comes to communication and problem solving, it’s critical that everyone is on the same page.
_6. What’s the rollout communication strategy? _
Every rollout will be different. If there are specific people who should know about the launch in advance, you need to determine who they are and how you will notify them. You may want to release the product in stages, giving your “super customers” first dibs and later opening it up to the general public. All of these scenarios will require coordination on your part.
Once you have the answers to these questions nailed down, you’re ready to finalize your checklist. It might feel like you’re spending a lot of time preparing, but it’s necessary work. Because there isn’t a standard launching procedure that works for all projects, proactive planning is the best way to avoid mistakes, speed bumps, and roadblocks.
Stay tuned for part 3 of our series, where we’ll explain what comes after your big launch.