Start up business challenges of ISVs - Timing of product release

A product release is one of the most important events in the product lifecycle and the product management process.

 

 Deni Harrewijn, Intercept


A product release is one of the most important events in the product lifecycle and the product management process. Last in a row of series, we end with an article about the timing of the product release.  

If you find yourself in one of the following topics, let this article guide you with your product release

  • releasing an existing product onto a new platform 
  • having a new idea and are launching this for the first time 
  • introducing new features to current customers 
  • introducing new features to new or different customer segments 
  • re-releasing your current product using different technology 

Nice 2 read: “How to write a Product Release Plan” and “The product Launch Book”. 

A product release


A product release is a new product launch or a set of new features that will provide value to customers and its users and it will help teams plan their work and launch new great products. 

A well-prepared release is not only about the providing access to new technical functionality. It’s a final date when your team is able to deliver a new customer experience and support interaction associated with it. A release is not only a technical release, it include all side tasks and activities, such as marketing, PR, internal processes and systems, existing customers etc.. 

The main goal of release management is to create, test and deliver capabilities to provide the services that will accomplish all requirements and deliver the intended objectives. 

A product release consist of a product roadmap and release plan.

Let’s start with the product roadmap:
 

The Product Roadmap 


A product roadmap should serve as a high-level, visual summary of the product’s strategic objectives and expectations. When you build a roadmap it should contain milestones and goals, timeline based and the ownership, i.e. enhancing performance, increasing customer satisfaction, increasing revenue, internal optimization, improving security, etc.. 

Besides it can also be a valuable tool, i.e. it can help you present the plans internally, it can help defining the communication for the product’s strategic vision and goals, it can help in the planning throughout the product’s development, to ensure everyone is still executing according to plan. 

When lacking the product roadmap you will have no clear vision of the developments and who is responsible for what. It will challenge you on the deadlines and focus on the steps to build you next release.

The Release Plan

 
The product roadmap will be translated into a release plan containing a more detailed action plan. The release plan communicates those features and enhancements slated for your product’s next release (or the next few releases). This is like a project plan with an explanation of all the milestones and goals. When building more products you should keep in mind to address one plan per product, where every product can have multiple projects being described in the plans. When starting to build your roadmap, go and find some templates on the internet which can serve your purpose, there are many to find. Lets get started with the planning of the release plan.

The planning

 
Before releasing a product we need to plan. A release planning session is part of the product roadmap. Therefor the company should first decide what initiatives it wants to deliver on. Planning is essential for establishing shared goals and shared knowledge that can span the product development timeline and better ensure a successful product launch. Include all key representatives from different departments and with different skill sets to serve the outcome. 

Keep in mind not to include too many people, an approx. of 8 people will do the trick. 

Why

 
When starting with the why, we will take a look at the product roadmap.  It will explain why the release is important to the business. When developing a product roadmap we can ask our self, why does the release matter? How do we measure success? Do we all buy-in the shared purpose? 

Who

 
A release planning session is perfect for pulling out your user personas, important here is to keep in mind who the product is for and why it matters to them. To approach with different users and use cases, you can segmented based on roles, i.e. the end user from marketing, the end user from sales, the actual purchaser, the implementer, and so on and so forth.  

As we have been centralizing our customers during this series, feel free to questionnaire and summarize your customer’s needs here too if not already done. Do not include features users don’t need and also find out how often the users would like to have an update and when, is their use specific to certain times of day or moments in their life? These details may seem trivial, but you will soon discover they play an important role in prioritization. 

What

 
During the what phase we can bring the product features on the table. Guide the discussion about features by considering the following questions: 

  • What is the need for the user, what would they like to do 
  • Who is the user 
  • Why is this feature making their job easier, will they become more productive 
  • How often will they use this feature 
  • Is the feature a necessity 
  • What value does this feature bring 

Value will be defined by prioritization. Therefor we need to define the value and find agreement during the planning phase about how important the features are to the users. Value can be described as an outcome and should be resulting in a satisfaction. 

Mapping


Mapping is a method what helps you quickly and collaboratively mapping out the features of a release. Start by mapping the story of your product from beginning to end. I.e. user opens app, users sees welcome and menu, clicks new, project will start from template, etc.. important to do this is in the relative sequence. As developing software is way more complex and there is not always a relative sequence, this will not affect this exercise. It will describe a full routine and exceptions and side tracks can be handled in a later stadium.

You can horizontally map the primary actions of your product story and add details vertically. 

When the mapping has been done you should review your total features, you can identify what features should be in what release. Which one are the most important and which ones can be postponed till the next release. We want to avoid adding too many changes and/or updates in one release. When developed your release plan and you hit the final milestone, we should be getting ready to launch, now let’s understand how to make a good impact.

In this phase you can also make a different between a minor and major product release. A minor release should drive the value every period for you customers, this doesn’t need a “big bang” to get attention. Nevertheless you could make attention around this event. A major release can be a whole new version of a product, here we need to create a big event and get a lot of attention.

Ready to launch!


Now we have the product release, the product is technically complete and ready for customers to use, we can start with the product launch. Your company is ready to tell the world about the new release. It includes business operations like training, legal considerations, sales activities, marketing, etc..).  
Are you curious about what to take into account during the product release? In the following article we will tell you more about the best practices about te product launch. Don't want to miss this? Register here for our Intercept Insights and you will receive a new article in your mailbox every 2 weeks.