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Why a Release Isn’t a Launch

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Companies that target their products at the circumstances in which customers find themselves, rather than at the customers themselves, are those that can launch predictably successful products.—Clayton Christensen, author, The Innovator's Solution

The code is finished and packaged and tested. It’s ready to launch, right?


The product may be ready but is the market ready?

Developers can release products but they never launch them.

Nowadays, many product managers and marketers focus on a series of increasingly broad launches, not on packaging releases.

It’s helpful to understand that product release is the end of development; product launch is the beginning of availability. Developers work forward to a release date; other internal teams work backward from a launch date.

That’s why many product teams have a technical product manager (or a product owner) working with development to prepare the product for release while a product marketing manager works with sales and marketing to prepare the company for launch. And increasingly, the concept of a formal release is becoming obsolete.

After all, customers don’t really care about releases; they care about availability. Sales and marketing folks don’t care about releases; they care about launches.

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Your firm may do frequent or continuous deployment but it’s unlikely you’ll do product launches more than a few times each year. Most companies are only resourced to do one or two major product launches annually.

Launches must be aligned with the rhythms of your market, not the rhythms of your internal teams.

Nobody buys a house in November; they don’t care that the house is vacant and the owner is anxious to sell. Instead, at least here in the U.S., new home buyers start looking in May to buy a house in June, to move in in July, so they can put the kids in school in August. That means we need to put the house on the market in April, not in November.

Product marketers should align availability with customer demand.

We’ll need to know about which features are most exciting to our customers, how new features are used to solve customer problems, and how they talk about the feature. We want to get a few early-adopter customers to put the product in production so we can have success stories and references to use when the product is available to all of our customers.

You can do limited availability any time of the year but broad adoption takes place when the market is ready, not when development is ready.

It’s time to reconsider the old concepts of release, launch, and availability. Product managers and product marketing managers should focus on availability in sync with market rhythms.

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