How do you track and sequence the activities leading up to a product or feature launch?
You have to have a pretty streamlined process. It should be starting about three, four months ahead before launch day, and probably have three, two, five key milestones until reaching that day - the launch kickoff, a launch plan, the launch execution, launch readiness, things like that.
Again, there's a ton of frameworks that kind of talks about what each stakeholder is supposed to do for each of the milestones and also what the output and deliverables are. You can get as granular as defining the RACI for each activity in your BOM.
Finally, it goes without saying, but you need somebody who would own the program management aspect of your launch. That is the only way to stay on track and make sure we track progress against the plan.
If you take one thing away from this AMA, it’s that you need a source of truth for your launch activities. Please don’t run a launch without one, I’m begging you.
Unsurprisingly, at Airtable we use Airtable to do this. I’d recommend it, it’s worked well for us. But I won’t give you too much of a sales pitch on why since that's likely not what you're looking for. What I will say, is you need a place where you can list out every activity, the owner, the status, due date, approval activity, and assets in one place. That way you can have a view of where things stand at any given point in time and spot problems or missed deadlines. Hiccups, delays, and mistakes happen in every launch, you can't get in front of every single one of them, but you can make a system that makes those problems easier to spot, so you can fix them. We use our Airtable base asynchronously to keep an eye on progress and also bring it up during check-in meetings to see how work is progressing.
Cross functionally, I’d recommend a frequent cadence of check-in meetings that map out the main activities for each involved function. My product and CSM counterparts don’t need to see every line item of social copy or email hero image that the marketing team is tracking in our Airtable base, so our updates for the group are on the highest priority activities and anything we're working on that impacts other teams. Those check-in meetings might start once a month at the beginning of a launch process but get weekly or twice weekly as you get closer to launch. Our meetings included representatives from PMM, campaign management, creative, product management, product operations, engineering leadership, sales, CSM, support, and internal comms.
A few weeks before launch, you should create a “run of show” plan in partnership with product and engineering. This maps out exactly when things are going live, who is on the hook, and key dependencies between the two. For example, in our recent launch, we needed our website to deploy before we could push our feature live in product because we had links in our product experience that took users to our web content, and didn’t want to ship a product with broken links. We might have missed this step without creating that run of show. The side benefit of making that is that it’s really fun to cross each checkmark off of your run of show plan when you complete them on the day of launch.
We use Confluence, Jira Work Management, and Jira Software to track our launches.
We create the high-level plan of activities in Confluence, aligned to the relevant launch tier (launch tiers are our guideposts from which activities we'll do for each level of launch. High impact = all the marketing activities, lower impact = fewer marketing activities).
Then, we create tickets for our relevant partners, which usually includes creative/design, webdev, paid marketing, and content creation.
This allows us to tag all the owners and include relevant tickets in a single source of truth, with the status (ie: backlog, in progress, in review, done) in a single place.
We also provide weekly updates via Atlas for leadership. These are short summaries about what shipped, impact, and any blockers to keep everyone apprised of the progress: https://www.atlassian.com/software/atlas
I’ll keep this one simple. To track and sequence activities, create a “Run of Show.”
The Run of Show is a document that has every activity, who will do it, when, and if necessary the asset to accomplish the activity (i.e. email copy, social assets, pitch decks, etc.).
I just use a table in a Google doc to manage this. However any project management tool should work like Asana or Coda.
The key here is to invent the wheel once, and then modify it if and when there are changes to the type of launch. This will make your life a lot easier and more predictable, and help all the stakeholders you work with also have an easier time.
We start each launch with the same playbook - a set of activities that help drive a cross-functional team across marketing, comms, product, and more to help us through launch and to landing. Within that playbook, we have different tiers of launches, and the playbook, plus an understanding of our audience, helps us modify the actual launch activities.
What helps us decide the tiers?
Projected market impact - how differentiated is the product we are launching?
Revenue potential - how much value will this bring to the business?
Strategic value - how does this launch help further the narrative of our business for our audience?
In terms of tracking, we use internal project management tools that help us stay on top of our timelines and have ongoing communication through milestone meetings, always on chat spaces, sheets, and of course email. Make sure there's one owner for every activity to keep it clear what the roles and responsibilities are. There's no perfect tool - you should choose the one that fits the culture of your team and company. More important than what you use, though, is who has access to it.
Even when I was at a smaller company, I always found that staying ahead of your stakeholders with key milestone updates made everyone's life easier. Build in checkpoints in your launch activities to help your leadership, and even others on the team, take note of where they are and what's coming. It's a chance to celebrate all that's been done while also reducing the number of firedrills that may come your way from people asking about the status of your work.