Product Launch Checklists: They’re More Important Than You Think

Before we get into product launch checklists, let’s talk about embarrassing business blunders. As we’ll explain in this post, the two concepts are related.

In 2021, Citibank accidentally made a nearly $1 billion overpayment on behalf of a corporate customer. Ouch. Then a judge ruled that the recipient had the right to keep the money. Double-ouch. But that might not even be the worst part of the story. It made national news headlines, which dealt a blow to Citibank’s reputation. The New York Times covered the story. So did CNN. The company became a punchline throughout the business and finance industries. Triple-ouch.

A Product Launch Checklist Can Prevent a Horror Story

Time for a thought experiment. Imagine Citibank had a checklist of steps every employee had to follow before executing a wire transfer. Assume one of those steps was that two people needed to review a wire transfer above a certain dollar amount before either employee could hit Submit. Now, do you think the company would have made that mistake? If you take just a moment to examine the dollar amounts, you’ll notice that $8,000,000 (what they meant to pay) looks very different from $900,000,000 (the amount they wired).

But unfortunately, Citibank did not put that checklist in place. Or, if they did, they didn’t make sure their employees followed it each time.

That proved to be a terrible mistake. Checklists are invaluable tools for many aspects of business: from everyday processes to product launches.

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What Can Happen If You Don’t Use a Launch Checklist?

Read These Product Launch Horror Stories to Find Out.

Speaking of product launches, there’s a great TV commercial from the boom days of the dot-com era. It depicts a product release that goes bad because the team failed to follow a checklist that would have included one obvious risk.

The ad takes place in the offices of a startup. The whole team gathers around a computer, watching their website go live. One employee calls out the countdown: “Three, two, one. We are officially open for business.”

The team waits, hovered over the computer, watching the ‘Orders Taken’ field, which reads 0. One employee is so nervous that he’s breathing into a paper bag. Then, after what must seem like an eternity to the staff, the Orders Taken field ticks up to 1. The whole team breathes a sigh of relief. Then almost immediately, it jumps to 35, and then to 474. Now the team is cheering, high-fiving, jumping up and down. They did it!

But a second later, the ‘Orders Taken’ field shows 75,671. Then 126,074. Then the number just keeps growing — past 200,000, past 300,000. And now the team isn’t cheering. They’re panicking.

Finally, the voice-over comes in to tell us who created this clever ad — UPS — which, the narrator explains, “Can help you plan for it, manage it, and deal with it.”

(You can watch the UPS spot here.)

Product Launch Checklists Are Necessary to Help You Prepare for Every Outcome

Why did we open with a discussion of Citibank’s embarrassing $900,000,000 overpayment and the story of that UPS commercial? To illustrate that no matter how well you plan your product launch, you will face uncertainty. How will your customers respond to the product? What will the media and analysts say? What about all the other outside forces in your market or the broader economy that could affect how well your product performs? You won’t have those answers in advance.

Given all of that built-in uncertainty, and to give your product the best prospects for success, you want to leave as little as possible to chance.

Product launch checklists help you think through all of the processes, steps, assets, and other things your team will need to do and prepare for, including possible mistakes, before your launch. With a checklist to follow, you won’t have to worry about skipping an important step or forgetting an asset along the way.

Ideally, you want to develop a product launch checklist, such as the one we’ve prepared below.

20 Ideas for Your Product Launch Checklists

The following list is far from exhaustive, and the items on the one you develop will likely vary a great deal based on your industry, company, and product. But we hope this product launch checklist can serve as the beginning of your own, and perhaps your inspiration to keep thinking up additional items. It’s far better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

1.) Your product has been tested, run through QA, and proven capable of holding up.

2.) You’ve completed, reviewed, and distributed all needed sales collateral.

  • You’ll also want to have backups ready — because what if everything goes right and you need more in a hurry?

3.) You’ve trained your sales team on using the product, conducting demos, answering common questions, and articulating the product’s value.

4.) Your customer support team has been properly trained on the product and is ready to assist new users through common questions, issues, and problems.

  • You’ll also want to develop an escalation process for more difficult product issues or more difficult customers, and you will want a process in place to document all contacts your support team has with users.

5.) Your support documentation has been developed, reviewed, and made easily accessible.

  • This can include FAQs on your website, a help section built into your product itself, a print product owner’s manual (if you’re selling a physical product), etc.

6.) You have developed (and are prepared to explain and defend) your go-to-market plan.

7.) Your marketing team has been briefed on the product and understands its unique value proposition to user and buyer personas.

8.) Everyone across your company is aware of the launch and ready to handle questions or requests from customers or the public that come to their teams.

9.) You’ve developed your plan for tracking user behavior and can track the metrics that matter to your team.

10.) You have developed and stress-tested every prospect and customer touch-point — such as the signup form if you’re offering a web-based product.

11.) You’ve developed and rehearsed your 5-second elevator pitch for the product.

12.) You’ve developed and rehearsed your 30-second elevator pitch for the product.

  • You never know under what circumstances you’ll need to discuss the product, its reason for being, its main benefits, who its main competitors are, who it’s for, etc. If an analyst or prospective customer at a conference asks you to describe the new product, you might have a full minute or even longer. But if your CEO stops you in the hallway and asks you to explain it, you might have to do so in just a few seconds. You need to be ready to make your case — and sound intelligent — in both instances.

13.) You’ve established (and are prepared to explain and defend) the product’s pricing structure.

14.) You have worked with marketing and public relations to create a compelling PR campaign for the launch.

15.) You’ve implemented your plan for shipping and order fulfillment.

  • In that UPS commercial, the team that had just launched their product was unprepared for the flood of orders that came in within the first few minutes of going live. In that fictional scenario, it turns out they hadn’t prepared their shipping infrastructure for that level of success — which was where UPS would come in. But the problem could just as easily have been that the company was working with a manufacturing partner that wasn’t large enough to meet that level of demand. Or that they had not partnered with a third-party fulfillment house capable of handling such a large client. The point is, you need to prepare as much as you can for even hard-to-fathom outcomes of your product launch — such as overwhelming demand.

16.) You’ve implemented a means for users to offer direct feedback on the product.

17.) You’ve developed goals for the product launch and shared them with your stakeholders — so that everyone knows what success will look like.

  • These goals could include a specific revenue number within a certain timeframe, a minimum number of new customers or trial users, or other success metrics.

18.) Your customer contracts, terms & conditions, and other legal and regulatory documentation are all in place and your legal team has vetted them.

19.) Your launch date is set and has been communicated to everyone throughout your organization who needs to know.

20.) You’ve shared your product roadmap with all relevant parties.

Your roadmap serves as your guiding strategic document, communicating where you want to take your product down the line. Make sure that your stakeholders understand the long-term product vision, and notify them of any shifts in strategy.

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