I’ve had the pleasure to work on some very great projects with equally fantastic companies and teams. As a consultant, I’m usually joining projects that are already underway and it is very common for me to find teams so wrapped up with day-to-day tasks that they have forgotten or just don’t have time for some of key pillars of their product. This is not typically because teams are lazy or not aware, these blinders appear overtime.
The following are some of these key pillars to focus on for a successful product launch:
- What is the product supposed to do? Why will customers pay for the product? What makes it novel but also what makes it lasting? A product description usually defines what customers want including the primary features. Do you have a product description and has it been reviewed to address changing requirements or market? Keep this definition updated to demonstrate commitment to the product and maintain unity of the teams. You’d be surprised how test and training teams get discouraged when product definition is not available or not maintained.
- How will the product be designed? An engineering type document such as software/hardware requirements define the how. Don’t forget the core features/functions that customers want and will pay for and make sure they are solid.
- Competitive product analysis to describe other products that may be similar and customers may use for comparison. Has the market changed? Products usually take time to develop and industries change. Making sure your project remains relevant and timely. This type of analysis is very beneficial to the Sales team who need to explain why your product is superior to current competitor products.
- Product and project reviews are one of the key pillars to make sure the product is on track as defined (‘as defined’ refers to the first three bullets), teams are well engaged and active in the project and course corrections are taken and supported.
The reason this post focuses on product launches is to narrow the discussion to activities related to testing, training, launching and supporting new products. With that said there is a huge dependency on engineering to be fully supporting any launch activities and I will try to bridge that dependency throughout the discussion.
The following provides more details of areas to enhance definition or reporting to prepare for and support product launches.
Product and Project Definition
A very common challenge in product development is lack of having and maintaining definition. I’m actually amazed at how this simple yet challenging activity is overlooked or simply not used. The following should be well defined for your product planning, testing and launch:
- Product Definition: what is the intended use and what are the product features…why would customers buy the product?
- Software/Hardware Definition: understanding the key architecture and design is critical to identifying areas to focus testing requirements. The lack of definition happens too often and causes test teams to struggle determining what and how to test. They basically have to ‘figure it out’.
- Performance Monitoring: Most connected products today should have ability to collect and report diagnostics data to measure product performance and reliability. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are important for defining how the product will be measured. There are security and privacy concerns that are usually able to be addressed.
- Risk Assessment: this is a critical yet structured activity to find potential weakness in technology that could impact product reliability, performance, acceptance, reputation or customer satisfaction. It is very important to find key risks and develop mitigation plans before product launch and review these over the course of the project. Not knowing what could fail and not having a plan to address key failures could have serious and costly impacts to support and customer experience.
- Testing: in many companies the product testing belongs to different groups, e.g., hardware testing, software testing and user testing. Hardware and Software testing are usually very quantifiable, meaning there are usually defined tests of features or functions that either pass or fail. Testing of integrated technology and systems is more challenging because creating a real-world customer environment with live data or user input is very costly or limited in ability. Having a clear set of requirements and full risk assessment is very important to ensuring adequate testing has been performed before launching a product. Your team is critical to this type of testing because it requires some level of creativity. Spending time with the product team, engineering team and with the technology allows the test teams to become adept at creating test solutions to best prepare for product launches. The point, it is not always necessary to create a real-world customer environment when you are aware of the product design, risks and capabilities…and when you have the ability to collect KPI data in near real-time.
One more thought on testing, many test groups do not use a common test definition method: input, processing and output. This is a very simple method that considers all features and functions at a very basic level while allowing for comprehensive testing. This method is the building blocks of overall testing and is also very effective for performing risk assessment and test coverage.
- Training: this is another critical task to insure support teams and customers understand the technology. I have found in some occasions that support teams are overlooked during training and end up ‘making things up’ to adapt to their lack of knowledge and to try to stay within metrics they are held to such as handle time and repeat contact rates. The use of videos is a great way to simplify the use of new products and how to take advantage of all the great features of the new product. Effective training helps to demystify a new product or technology and really creates an engaged attitude within the company.
- Product Launch Team: The product launch team should include key people who can take ownership of the launch success and who thrive on each success. Depending on the company’s organizational structure the product launch team could include key people from Operations and Engineering/QA. The best preparation I’ve seen for product launch and support involves key people from Sales/Marketing, Product Management, Engineering and Operations. The more engaged this team is the better the company is during product launch which does impact the key quality metrics. The key to success of this team is owning the entire product and launch. Each person has their key responsibility but as a team they encompass the overall product launch responsibility.
There is always a challenge maintaining product requirements and definitions. One method of ensuring key requirements are always maintained is through product reviews and the risk assessment phase that occur throughout the product life cycle.
Controlling and Measuring Product Launch
Any product launch needs to have predefined metrics to decide if the product is meeting expectations and is ready to move to the next phase, e.g., expanded launch. An example is defining metrics that include customer contact rate not to exceed a certain percentage of customers using the technology. If possible, collection of the KPI diagnostics data is a true method to measure product reliability and performance. Using KPI data combined with customer contact validates the KPI data actually identifies customer issues. The ability to collect diagnostics data in real-time with KPIs is one of the most overlooked, underutilized activities with products today. Without the ability to collect these KPIs there is no real way to know how technology is performing in a customer’s environment. The ability to monitor end-point-devices in real-time in a production environment has been my focus for several years and is the most effective method to really know how your product performs.
Throughout the entire product development and launch planning there needs to be critical reviews to insure the product and launch plan is still viable. Course correction is a good thing to support product integrity. Each phase discussed should plan for a review with the product launch team. How many times have you seen that a product requirement from Sales/Marketing cannot be met as it was originally defined? Taking the time to review and recognize the need for change then update the product document is critical to making distributed teams aware of changes. Maintaining critical requirements reduces product cost, keeps teams informed and engaged and gives you greater assurance of launching a successful product.
If you have questions, comments, suggestions or contributions please respond.
Bruce Winsatt, Winmoore, Inc.