The tools we use to make products shape how we think.
If you look at the saturated market of product development tools, the majority revolve around the planning and execution leading up to a launch. The apps cross a spectrum covering engineering workflow (e.g., GitHub), project management (e.g., Jira, Pivotal Tracker), cross-functional handoff (e.g., InVision), and big picture road mapping (e.g., Aha!, ProdPad).
In project management tools specifically, there’s great satisfaction in finishing projects. Marking things “done” provides gratification similar to removing no longer needed items from a cluttered room. With a feeling of “Mission Accomplished!”, you can now move on to the next hot priority that fits your most up-to-date thinking.
The problem is that when you launch a product update, your journey is far from complete. Greg Davis from Intercom puts it well:
As your launch day comes to a close, it’s natural to pat each other on the back and wipe your hands clean as you head home. The hard part’s over. You launched.
The reality is you aren’t done…
To extract maximum value from a launch, many opportunities come post-launch:
- Customer communication. A feature has little impact if users are unaware. There’s a diverse playbook of product marketing tools for notifying users ranging from in-line tours to email newsletters.
- Internal communication. Stakeholders need to understand the new capability. Internal launch communications is its own art form requiring messages tailored appropriately for each audience. Your sales team has different information needs than your customer support team.
- Measuring engagement and feedback. Through both quantitative analytics and qualitative feedback, you can assess the success of the launch and find inspiration for new opportunities.
- Collective learning. After you launch something and measure its impact, you can evaluate the results relative to the original hypothesis to eliminate false assumptions. It’s powerful when your whole team moves through the learning process together.
- Process retrospectives. Projects can go awry in a variety of directions. Post-mortems help teams untangle the factors that led to scope creep or creative tensions. Keeping a record of launches can help you optimize how you’re breaking large projects into bite-sized iterations.
- Ongoing iteration. When looking back at my career, my greatest regrets are times when we didn’t follow through on our ideas after the first launch. It’s easy to bail on a direction if the world doesn’t take notice after the first launch or if company strategy shifts. But most big ideas require grinding out iteration after iteration to achieve impact.
Our execution-focused tools, on their own, insidiously cultivate a “launch and forget” mindset. After we launch something, it should not disappear from view. Instead, launches should linger around. We should be guided by our tools to follow up, create tailored messaging for each audience, and extract maximum learning value from external feedback and reflection.
As I wrote in my last post, with strategy, the medium is the message. Adopting a tool that facilitates rigorous post-launch follow up leads teams to conceive launches that are fully thought through. Such reasoning is why Amazon created the practice of writing a launch press release before the project has even started.
Filling the post-launch tools gap is the vision for my project, Double-Loop. My mission is to provide a powerful place to keep a project after it goes live.
Double-Loop starts where the execution tools leave off. The Double-Loop Slack bot is automatically triggered when you deploy code. It prompts the team to record launch hypotheses and it reminds you to follow up on the results when time elapses after launches. Stakeholders stay in the loop through the automatically compiled launch emails.
This is just the beginning. I’m determined to demonstrate the lucrative whitespace in the post-launch phase of product development.