Successful product launches are built on processes and methods that communicate your value proposition. They're designed to grow your business and, most significantly, to intentionally exceed the expectations of customers, channel partners, employees, industry analysts, and Wall Street.

Successful product launches shape those expectations and create the internal and external excitement that drives the market adoption.

Poor product launches cost you

Everyone "gets" scientific product development processes such as the Capability Maturity Model and product development life cycle.

But many organizations still approach product launches as art instead of science. Failure to commit enough people, technology, and management results from a lack of understanding of what makes up a successful product market launch.

As a result, many launches don't achieve expectations. In a world of shorter product life cycles, you can't afford months and years to recover from a launch that falls short or misses the mark.

Here are four pillars that will help you ensure successful—and repeatable—product launches.

1. Assign dedicated resources

Launch management has to be your team's day job for the duration of the launch. Successful companies dedicate teams exclusively to the challenges of building market momentum for a new product launch. Companies that excel at product launch strive for consistency. They use the same team from launch to launch, leveraging their experience and knowledge of shared processes and organizational decision-making.

Your launch plan will help you identify the right resources, when those resources are needed, and will drive your search for partners and team members with proven experience and demonstrated skill sets.

Include in this plan time for up-front preparation. This will assure that all team members are on the same page as you progress through the plan and will ease adjustments as the "unexpected" occurs.

Remember that sometimes the paperwork to bring people in can take weeks—especially in large organizations. That's a luxury your schedule can't afford. Include time up front for bringing in outside resources, establishing master service agreements, etc. so your team can start work immediately.

2. Don't over-commit your product

The old rule bears repeating: under-commit and over-deliver. The biggest mistake companies make on product launches is over-committing the product to customers, analysts, and employees.

To avoid disappointment or distrust, resist the temptation to over-sell your product's...

  • Capabilities and benefits to customers and your own employees
  • Differentiation or fixes to prior product gaps or deficiencies to industry analysts
  • Timing and magnitude of shareholder benefits to Wall Street

Deliverables are controlled by lead time, not budget. Period. What's true for product development is also true for product launches. You can do it fast or you can do it well, but not both at the same time.

Three planning steps will help you identify realistic deliverables for your launch.

  1. Identify the task with longest duration and highest importance. Examples are advertising buys, marketing communications production, enabling customer service to support the new product, or field service training.

  2. Create a work-back plan from your anticipated launch date. Once you define what the plan needs and its completion date, dedicate the resources necessary to deliver on it.

  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Keeping management and employees up to date on the details will allow you to successfully navigate the ebbs and flows of natural changes. Maintaining a trusted relationship with analysts will encourage their conviction on your behalf. Communicating with your customers will appropriately build expectations and reassure you are meeting your customer needs.

3. Implement a scientific launch process

Use the same proven, scientific processes with product launches as you do with product development. This means planning, managing, tracking, and measuring from the conception of your "product." You need...

  • Established end-to-end product development launch processes
  • Time-phased tracking
  • Product cost capture and measurement
  • Workflow management to share information across the product development stages
  • Process control component management

Best-practice companies start with a marketing product launch P&L. Then they measure marketing ROI with tracking that starts with the marketing bill of materials and follows through to customer use of the product.

This methodology makes it easy to move standard processes and procedures from project to project, gaining you...

  • Organizational cohesion and consistency across product lines and functions
  • Alignment of cross-functional activities
  • Effective transitions from engineering to marketing
  • A knowledge "legacy" of documented best practices

4. Leverage collaboration tools

Globalization, downsizing, and telecommuting have changed the way enterprises operate. Organizations are spread out and you can't do things the way you did when everybody was in the same building.

Technologies like Web conferencing and collaboration environments let widely dispersed teams bridge the geographic gap and work together easily. And, today these services come at prices that are affordable for organizations of any size.

Collaboration technology unites dispersed team members:

  • Conduct remote meetings
  • Share calendars, files, and documents
  • Train new employees at will

And, by expanding communication, this technology...

  • Facilitates cross-functional integration
  • Automates activity management and work flow
  • Tracks tasks and milestone dates
  • Builds a central repository of launch documents

This same model can be used to "virtually" organize the channel partners needed for closely integrated marketing programs. With controlled access logins, you can link VARs, distributors, systems integrators, industry analysts and publications, and even beta customers into your network by using the same toolset.

Launch planning pays repeatable dividends

Today's leading companies don't rely on chance for market success. They take a scientific approach, just as they do for product development, to align company resources and activities for maximum launch impact.

Don't fall short only because your launch had insufficient resources, misguided expectations, poor planning, or lacked coordination. Success demands high commitment from the early steps of product concept through the final steps of customer adoption and, in the best case, customer advocacy.

As margins grow razor thin and competition comes from anywhere, scientific product launches can help your company not just survive, but thrive.

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Rick Sklarin and Ling Gee have a combined three decades' worth of experience in new business and product launches and business strategy. Rick is a partner at Crimson Consulting Group ( Ling is a senior manager who has worked with leading companies and consultancies.