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How to Manage Product Launch Activities and Deliverables with a Microsoft Teams Launch Board

Manage a product launch with a launch board from MS Teams

A product #launch is a big, cross-functional project. One of the biggest challenges of a successful launch is effectively managing the activities and deliverables across many departments. You can simplify the complexities of managing a product launch in six easy steps using something you probably already have: Microsoft Teams.

It's not uncommon for different departments to use various project management tools and techniques, making it even more challenging to get a unified view of the status of a critical initiative like a product launch.

Trying to manage a successful product #launch with a single collaboration platform is difficult enough. Using multiple collaboration platforms simultaneously only intensifies the difficulty.

A common approach to solving the cross-functional project management issue is to seek out yet another project management tool. There is a lot to choose from today, and they all have incredible capabilities. But adding a new project management tool means implementing it, training people to use it, and consistent adoption. Many of these tools have a design philosophy that isn't always followed by users because we like to do things the way we want to and force fit that into how we use a product.

Why MS Teams to manage a product launch?

I chose MS #Teams for this article because many organizations have it, but few use it for not much more than a glorified file system. It is capable of much more than that. While some reading this article will point out missing capabilities without pushback from me, MS Teams is a standard in many organizations of all sizes.

If you work for a company that has Microsoft Office as a standard, you have Microsoft Teams, and with it comes Microsoft Planner. This means you already have an option that works well and is integrated into your daily workflow (Outlook, PowerPoint, Word, Excel).

Microsoft Teams is a powerful tool that is used to manage projects efficiently. One way to do this is by using a board in Microsoft Planner. A board is a visual tool that helps teams manage work by breaking it down into smaller tasks and organizing them to allow easy tracking and monitoring.

Using Microsoft Teams to manage a launch is a simple process that can be broken down into six easy steps.

MS Teams uses a paradigm of aligning around groups of people who work for a common purpose—like a product launch.

Step 1: Create an MS Teams team for your launches

The first step in creating a launch board is to create a team structure within MS Teams. You do that by choosing the gear icon at the bottom of the MS Team screen or the "Create a team" button on the top right of the screen. Choose the "From scratch" option. Then choose either Private or Public. Choose Private so you can manage who has access.

Create a Team in MS Teams

Next, name your team, like "Product Launch", and describe the team. Then click the "Create" button. A Team will be created and added to the available Teams you can see.

You will be prompted to add members to the Product Launch team, but skip this until you've added the launch board.

By default, MS Teams creates a "General" channel. This is a general-purpose collaboration channel for things in your newly created Team. You can store files and documents common to all launches here and have all launch teams engage in discussions (posts).

Step 2: Create a product launch board

You create a launch board in Microsoft Teams in a Teams Channel. MS Teams is organized into Teams and Channels. A Team is a group of people working on something as a group.

Recall that when MS Teams creates a new Team, it creates a "General" channel for common team discussion and file storage. Each Channel has its own discussion and file storage separate from the General Channel. This allows for private conversations in the Channel that don't create noise in the General channel.

Create a new channel within a Team by clicking the "…" icon next to a Team, then choose "Add channel".

Create a Channel in MS Teams

Give your channel a name using a structure that makes it easy to find Channels later, like "YYQQ Launch", where YY is the year and QQ is the quarter. Don't worry about getting it perfect because you can rename Channels later.

Sample list of launch channels in MS Teams

Provide a description, and for "Privacy", choose "Private - Specific teammates have access". This allows you to manage who has access to the Channel. Note that the default is anyone who is a member of the Team has access to the Channel.

NOTE: a Channel in MS Teams cannot be changed from Public to Private after it's been created.

Then click the "Create" button.

After the Channel is created, you are prompted to add members. Skip this for now.

Once you have created the new channel, you can add a launch board by clicking on the "+" icon at the top of your newly created Channel.

Choose the Tasks by Planner and To Do to create a product launch board

Then select "Tasks by Planner and To Do" from the list of available apps.

Next, you will be prompted to create a new plan. Give your launch board a name, like "Launch Board". Then click "Save" This creates a new launch board that you can use to manage your product launch.

Create a launch board in MS Teams

TIP: As of this writing, Microsoft Teams cannot create a channel from a template, but you can create a new channel from another channel. An MS Teams hack is to create a "template" Channel in the Team that contains the common things you want to reuse: files, documents, plans, and so forth and use it as a model when creating a new Channel.

Over time you will discover some common activities and deliverables in every launch. To save time, create a channel called #Launch-Template to store the common things and use it to create the next launch channel.

Step 3: Add buckets to the product launch board

Once you've defined a launch board, the next thing to do is set up the buckets. A bucket is how MS Planner organizes tasks in a workflow, and each bucket represents a state in a workflow. This is how a #Kanban Board works. Kanban means "visual signal" and allows us to see the flow of work getting done.

In a Kanban Board, work is pulled through a workflow as resources are available.

I recommend you create five launch board buckets in this order: "To Do", "Ready", "Working", "Waiting Approval", and "Done". Those five buckets represent an effective workflow.

The "To Do" bucket holds tasks that need to get done.

The "Ready" bucket holds tasks ready to be worked on. Some tasks require prerequisites, special resources, or another form of vetting before the work begins. A task can be worked on if it is in the "Ready" bucket.

Tasks in the "Working" bucket represent things being worked on. They have been pulled from the "Ready" bucket to the "Working" bucket.

The "Waiting Approval" bucket holds complete tasks waiting for approval before committing to the "Done" bucket.

TIP: Keep the number of buckets to a minimum. Adding more workflow steps adds complication and resistance by team members. Remember that you are more interested in getting the sausage done rather than how the sausage is made.

Step 4: Add launch team members to the product launch board

Once your launch channel is set up, you can add the individuals of your launch team to the channel. Before you can add members to a Channel, they need to be members of the Team.

Click on the "…" icon to the right of the Team name and choose "Add members" to add the members you want access to this Team. Then repeat this process for the newly create Launch Channel. As you add members, they will get notified by MS Teams that they have become members of the Team and Channel.

TIP: Remind launch team members to turn on Channel notifications so they get notified of important events.

Step 5: Add tasks to the product launch board

After you set up your launch board, the next step is to add tasks. To do this, click on the "+ Add task" located at the top of the launch board and enter a brief description of the task you want to add. You can assign the task to a specific team member or prioritize the task or deadline.

The view of a task in a launch board

A lot of information can be added to a task. Think of each task as a self-contained unit that should hold all the information required to manage and complete the task.

"Assign" is who the task is assigned to. Multiple people can be assigned to a task.

TIP: Task assignments can be added as a task moves from bucket to bucket. This way, launch team members can be alerted of new assignments without checking.

"Labels" are a convenient way to add a level of organization in MS Teams that is often overlooked (or over-engineered). There are two ways I like to use Labels in MS Teams. The first is to identify tasks being held up or blocked. The other is to categorize the functional area responsible for completing the task. As your launch teams grow, you'll appreciate this capability. Since Labels are color-coded, it makes it easier to see (and filter on) the status. More on that later.

"Bucket" is the bucket's name where the task currently resides.

"Progress" I rarely use. Some people like it to use it. I don't.

"Priority" helps the team manage their work.

"Start date" is when a task enters the "Working" bucket, and whoever pulls the tasks updates the start date. It's helpful to see how long a task sits in a bucket without moving along.

"Due date" is when it needs to be done.

"Repeat" is if the task is a repeating task. I don't use it, but I see how it could benefit daily operations.

"Notes" are for a description and details about the task. This is often started when a task is added to the "To Do" bucket and refined once moved to the "Ready" bucket. It's also frequently updated by the individuals working on the task as they learn more.

"Checklist" is for tasks with multiple things that must be done to complete a task. This is useful for tasks with multiple steps, like creating content when there is a creation/editorial/approval process.

TIP: Break down your launch tasks into smaller tasks. This helps you track progress more efficiently and ensure nothing falls through the cracks. If a task requires multiple steps (like a mini project). Build out individual steps in a Checklist within the task.

"Attachments" are for any files needed to complete the task.

"Comments" are updates on the progress of the task.

Step 6: Move tasks across the launch board

To move a task across the launch board, simply drag and drop it from one column to another. For example, suppose a task is currently in the "Ready" column, and a team member is available to work on it. In that case, they move it to the "Working" column. Once the task is complete, they can move it to the "Waiting Approval" column.

Step 7: Monitor progress and make adjustments

The final step in using Microsoft Teams to manage a product launch with a launch board is to monitor progress and make adjustments as needed. This can be done by regularly reviewing the launch board and updating tasks as they are completed.

You can also use the launch board to identify bottlenecks and areas for improvement. For example, suppose you notice tasks getting stuck in the "Working" column. In that case, you may need to assign more team members to work on that particular project stage.

Regularly reviewing the launch board and making adjustments as needed ensure that your launch stays on track and that all tasks are completed.

Task labels: the hidden secret of MS Planner

I mentioned the use of Labels in tasks earlier. There are two ways I use Labels. The first is to identify a task's status and particular problem areas.

Using Labels in a launch board to track launch progress

It's one of the missing pieces of MS Teams, and I found a simple hack to get around it. Create two status labels. The first is "BLOCKED". I use the Cranberry-colored label (bright red). Once you define a label, you can reuse it on other tasks within the Launch Board. When a task gets a "BLOCKED" label, it means it cannot move forward, and there is no obvious path. This is a sign for help.

The second status label is "Waiting", and I like to use the Marigold-colored label (bright yellow). This status means the task can't move forward because the person working on it is waiting on something else to complete. Once that thing is complete, work on the task continues. In other words, while the task is technically blocked, there is a path forward.

The other Labels hack I use is to tag functional areas. I reserve one Label for every functional area with a deliverable, activity, or decision impacting the launch.

Managing launch status with Group by Bucket and Filters

What's cool about the Labels hack is how you can use it to manage a launch. Do you want to know which tasks are blocked? Go to the Filter options (upper right), click the dropdown, choose Label, and pick "BLOCKED". Only the tasks with the Label "BLOCKED" are displayed.

Let's say you only want to see the "Product Management" tasks. It's the same process as above with a different Label. Super simple.

Want to see which tasks are in a "Waiting" status from "Marketing"? Filter on both Labels.

Benefits of using Microsoft Teams for managing a product launch

The biggest benefit of using MS Teams for managing a product launch is that you have MS Teams if you are a Microsoft Office shop.

BrainKraft Product Launch System


Icons made by Good Ware from Flaticon 

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