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A Product Manager's Role in a Product Launch When Launch is a Black Box

Product manager role in a product launch

There are organizations where the planning and execution of a product launch is a black box. In these organizations, it can be very frustrating for product managers.

They provide information about the product, and are invited to launch planning meetings, but have little control (or influence) over the process. At least they feel that way.

Let's explore ways to change that so PMs can influence the launch outcome.

The Launch Deliverable Factory

Companies that launch with a deliverable factory mentality do so to streamline their go-to-market operations. Often this is driven by the marketing team. A set of standard deliverables and activities are defined with little variation from product launch to product launch.

That kind of thinking works when products and markets are mature. That is, the level of unknowns is small. It works as long as you’re introducing familiar products into familiar markets.

It falls apart when you’re launching new products in unfamiliar markets with unfamiliar buyers.

The Role of the PM in a Product Launch

This article focuses on the scenario when a PM is not leading the launch planning effort.

They play a critical role on the launch team as the product expert.

The 4 primary roles on a launch team are the launch director, launch ambassadors, project manager, and executive sponsor. The size of an organization determines how these roles are assigned.

The PM is the product expert and the SME for the problems to be solved by the product in question. But there is so much more a product manager can do to influence the outcome.

Establish Clear Expectations

Be clear about what you (the product manager) are accountable for. Your role is critical to setting the objectives of the launch. Explain to the launch team what success looks like and how your performance is measured.

Remember that the product launch is for your product. You are ultimately responsible for its success.

Connect Product Launch Strategy to Product Strategy

Identify areas where an evolving product launch strategy doesn’t align with your product strategy.

For example, assume the product was built for and targeted at one specific industry. As launch planning progresses, you see the product launch strategy targeting other industries for which the product is not a good fit (product and company).

You have a responsibility to question the disconnect between product strategy and launch strategy.

Define and Socialize Launch Objectives

The single most important thing you can do to set the product launch in the right direction is to define clear launch objectives.

The second most important thing you can do is socialize those launch objectives with the launch team and with the launch stakeholders. Keep the launch objectives top of mind for everyone.

Keep the launch team grounded on what’s important.

Connect Everything to Launch Objectives

Challenge every activity and every deliverable that doesn’t contribute to launch success.

The process of planning and executing a product launch will introduce things that are not relevant. The way you identify the relevancy is by connecting the dots.

If a launch activity or deliverable contributes to launch success, keep it. If it doesn’t contribute to launch success, remove it.

Recognition for a successful product launch comes from achieving your product’s launch objectives. It doesn’t come from satisfying the personal agendas of the people who have no accountability for the launch.

Negotiate Launch Performance Metrics

Launch objectives define success. They define how the game is won. You also need to define the metrics that show that the launch is heading toward a successful outcome.

Use launch objectives as your center of gravity. Develop a short set of performance metrics that provide directional guidance.

The purpose of launch performance metrics is to know when things are going well and when they aren’t, so you can do something about it before it’s too late.

Influence the Outcome

Product managers have the ability to influence the outcome of a black box product launch. Your voice matters. Your leadership can make a huge difference.


Icons made by Good Ware from Flaticon 

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