Product Launch Checklists: From the Oscars to a Software Product Release, They’re Necessary

Before we talk about product launch checklists, let’s do a quick thought experiment. Do you think that if the producers of the 2017 Academy Awards had developed a checklist covering every step of the ceremony — a checklist that every presenter and nominee had to review and learn — they would have been as likely to suffer that massive screw-up of announcing the wrong winner for Best Picture?

Or consider this: What if the Oscar ceremony’s producers had simply written out a protocol covering the steps presenters should take if they ever found themselves holding the wrong envelope? Rather than just standing there, completely unsure of what to do — or, as actually happened, calling out the wrong name — those 2017 Best Picture presenters would have been able to calmly take the appropriate steps to ensure they had the correct envelope before announcing the winner.

Going a little further back in time, there’s a great TV commercial from the boom days of the dot-com era. It’s set in the offices of a startup, and in the opening seconds the whole team gathers around a computer, watching their website go live as one employee calls out the countdown: “Three, two, one,” he says. “We are officially open for business.”

The team waits, anxiously, hovered over that 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 just 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.)

Learn the Anatomy of a Product Launch ➜

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

Why did we open with a discussion of the 2017 Oscars and the story of that UPS TV commercial? Because the theme of this post is that no matter how well you plan your product launch or any big unveiling, you will face uncertainty — how your customers respond to it, how the media and analysts respond to it, and other outside forces in your market or the broader economy that could affect how well your product performs.

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.

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“Leave as little as possible to chance when you launch a new product.”

Product launch checklists help you think through all of the processes, steps, assets, and other things you and your team will need to complete and be prepared for, including possible mistakes, prior to your product launch. And it means documenting all of these things — so you don’t have to worry about skipping an important step or forgetting an asset along the way, which can certainly happen when you’re simultaneously responsible for so many other steps and assets.

Read the Essential Feature Kickoff Checklist ➜

Ideally, then, you want to develop a product launch checklist, such as the one we’ve prepared below. This is far from an exhaustive list, 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.

Ideas for your Product Launch Checklists:

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 at-the-ready backups in case, like that poor startup team in the UPS commercial, you find yourself in the enviable position of needing more in a hurry.

3. Your sales team has been properly trained on using the product, conducting demos, answering common questions and objections, and articulating its key value propositions to its various user and buyer personas.

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 fully briefed on the product and fully understands its unique value proposition, its user and buyer personas, how it fits into the competitive landscape — and whatever else they will need to generate compelling, on-point materials and to execute successful campaigns for the new product.

8. Your entire organization — executives, marketing, sales, customer support, development, manufacturing, accounting, HR, compliance, etc. — is aware of the product launch and ready to handle questions or requests from customers or the general public that come to their teams.

9. You’ve developed your plan for tracking user behavior and are able to track the key metrics that are most important for your team.

10. You have developed and stress-tested every prospect and customer touch-point with your new product — such as the signup form, for example, 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 10- to 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, if applicable, marcom or public affairs) to create a compelling PR campaign for the new product launch.

15. You’ve implemented your plan for manufacturing, shipping, and the other applicable details of order-fulfillment.
In that UPS commercial, the team that had just launched their product was clearly 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 simply 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 (several means, ideally) 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.

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“Develop and share goals for your product launch so that everyone knows what success will look like.”

18. Your customer contracts, terms & conditions, and other legal and regulatory documentation is all in place and has been vetted by your legal team.

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

20. You’ve developed and communicated your software roadmap to all relevant parties (across your company and, if applicable, even outside).
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.
Download the Guide to Roadmap Software

Get started with a product launch roadmapProduct Launch Plan Template by ProductPlan

Do you have additional ideas regarding product launch checklists? Please add them in the comments section. Let’s build a comprehensive sample checklist together.