Product launch timelines visually represent the project plan to successfully release new products. The goal of the timeline is to ensure a successful product launch that improves the brand image, expands the customer base, generates buzz, and ultimately leads to revenue growth.
Role of the product launch timeline
A product launch may seem daunting, but they’re well worth the effort, whether it’s a brand-new product or just a big update to an old favorite. A well-crafted timeline helps break major activities into smaller, more manageable parts. This provides clarity and accountability for the individuals and team responsible for each.
The creation process also gives the product launch managers a better understanding of how long each step takes. With this, they now know who owns each step and any dependencies that will affect the sequencing of tasks.
By maintaining and publishing the timeline internally, everyone knows which tasks they own. Moreover, each task remains visible to everyone, whether or not a task is on time or delayed. Transparency around status holds colleagues responsible. The launch leader is now free from the time-consuming task of providing endless status updates.
How to craft a product launch timeline
A new product introduction should be an extension of the product vision and strategy and must be led by product. However, a crackerjack project manager—also known as a launch manager—can help ensure the process goes as well as possible. Maintaining alignment of the product launch timeline with the product roadmap ensures the pieces come together smoothly.
Project launch timelines become the single source of truth, providing accurate visibility to the entire organization. By documenting who will do what by when everyone stays on the same page and have the same expectations.
Don’t start from scratch, if you can help it
Organizations with a few launches under their belt should leverage their past experiences. More mature organizations may have a standardized process to use as a jumping-off point. This playbook minimizes the odds of something getting missed and spares the launch leader from reinventing the wheel.
That said, the launch manager must verify the plan accurately. The plan represents the current state of affairs and summarizes the final plan and timeline.
Plan well in advance
Planning four to five months in advance is fairly typical for startups and web-based products. However, the time needed to plan for a launch will vary significantly depending on the industry. A product manager in a heavily regulated market needs more than five months to confirm that regulatory requirements are met, whereas a cloud-based platform might push out an update in less than a month.
Identify launch scope and messages
The product may be baked, but marketing messages may get refined until much closer to launch as more beta feedback and A/B testing results come in, and the final target and buyer personas get defined.
Launch teams must differentiate the new offering from what’s already available and tailor messaging for each vertical market. They should identify who they want to reach, what they want to tell them, and how best to convey those messages.
Design your strategy
With a defined audience and messages, next comes execution and outlets. Launching a consumer product in a space with a passionate user base? Instagram might play a key role in the launch.
A large B2B technology launch, in contrast, may focus more on whitepapers and arming the salesforce with training and collateral. Aligning who you want to reach and the pathways to those potential customers improves the chances of a successful launch.
Select a launch date
Sometimes launch dates are set far in advance to coordinate with a major user conference or other industry-specific rhythms. However, sometimes the team needs to choose its own day for the big reveal. Circulating a proposed launch date well in advance helps avoid snafus and conflicts.
Meet with all the internal stakeholders
Launch date in hand, the launch leader can begin working backward from that date, defining task duration, dependencies, and sequencing. Cast a wide stakeholder net, including the obvious partners like sales and marketing, as well as other stakeholders such as legal, channel/partner management, customer success, and support.
Avoid making assumptions and check in with each stakeholder regarding their deadlines and expectations to create an accurate, workable plan. Once a draft timeline is in place, circulate it one last time to allow stakeholders to catch mistakes or misunderstandings before the big day. Making those feedback-based adjustments shows stakeholders their contributions are valued, which should lead to fewer disconnects as the launch preparation progresses.
As discussed above, communication and transparency are important tools in keeping people and tasks on track. Determine the cadence with which the timeline and status will be updated. Ideally, the plan is a living document in a shared workspace that is always up to date. Still, any routine that helps stakeholders get in the habit of checking in on progress on Thursday, for example, will be beneficial.
Engage with affiliates, channels, and distribution partners
Internal stakeholders aren’t the only ones to engage in launch planning. Affiliates, distribution channels, and partners all play their part in getting the word out and ensuring the product gets traction in the marketplace. Each of these external stakeholders has its own processes and timelines, so coordinating well in advance lets these partners leap into action when the time is right.
Likewise, close the loop with operations and finance to shore up any supply chain or distribution issues while guaranteeing billing and accounting systems are ready for all those new orders.
Content provides storytelling support for the launch. Web pages, white papers, slide decks for sales, advertisements, and sell sheets are all assets that help tell the product story and complement each other. Creating the content may be the domain of others, but product has a clear role to review content for accuracy and timeliness.
If ad buys or paid placements are part of the plan, include that step, as well.
Train sales and build the sales funnel
Successful launches build awareness and then convert people into prospects. Arm the sales team with the knowledge and tools to best sell the product and verify they know how to use them effectively, so they don’t squander the opportunity.
The sales and marketing teams also contribute to defining the sales funnel for the new product and which type of touches and content the prospect receives at each point in the process.
Preview the launch to get the audience excited
Some organizations like launching their product on the market unannounced; however, most companies benefit from alerting their user communities and media. Previewing gets those folks excited and builds launch momentum, while also reinforcing that customer needs were incorporated into the new offering.
Check once, twice, and three times for safety
As the launch date approaches, there’s still ample opportunity for things to go sideways. Avoid broken landing pages, invalid promo codes, and other unforced errors by testing, checking and then checking again. Employing a maker-checker structure—where one person does the task and a second person independently checks it—reassures everyone that launch day will be drama-free.
After all that hard work, pop the champagne and enjoy your success! Don’t forget to thank and toast all those who contributed to the group effort.
Don’t forget the post-mortem
After sweeping up the confetti and handing out the launch swag, the final step is conducting a post-mortem with the relevant stakeholders. What went well? What didn’t? Did your product team learn anything? How might this learning impact future launches?
If the organization lacks a standardized launch plan, post-mortems are a good time for building that out while everything’s fresh, so the next launch leader isn’t starting from scratch.