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Incubation & Commercialization

Enterprise-Scale Product Management (Part 2)

How to build and launch an enterprise-scale product was my attempt at listing down all my learnings and thoughts on, as you guessed it, how to launch a product within the settings of a multi-national corporation, possibly for B2B clients eg. Slack for enterprise clients, Atlasssian for enterprise etc.

The article covered the first two phases of the product lifecycle — Innovation & Ideation. Herein follows the last two phases of the product development process — Incubation and Commercialization.

Incubation

Once a problem has been validated, gained traction within your team and received approval to carry on with the execution of your hypothesis, we get into the incubation or the “execution” phase.

1. Sprint or Development Cadence

Whether you’re trying to implement a timeline driven project waterfall–style or an iterative product in an agile setting, you need to figure out what will be your method of execution. Will you do 2 week sprints with a monthly release cycle or a month–long sprint with continuous integration? All this depends on the context of the situation, what you want to achieve for your product/project, resources available, priorities placed and product/technical strategy.

Once a cadence is set with your project manager, you can communicate this with your broader execution teamyour developers, engineers, business analysts, QE testers, maybe even your business stakeholders — receive feedback and freeze your process. Better still get them to sign an “Agile agreement” or a cadence agreement to make sure the entire team is onboard with this way of working.

Set up recurring sprint meetings for the foreseeable future — daily huddles/stand–ups, sprint planning sessions, strategic backlog meetings, backlog grooming meetings, sprint retrospectives and product demos. These meetings will help your team to get into a regular cycle of understanding requirements, executing on the ideas, receiving feedback, doing recurring demos and iterating.

2. Regular stakeholder touchpoints / feedback

Product development is incomplete without regular feedback from your stakeholders — whether you call it agile or whatever other name you want to allocate to it. It becomes imperative for you as a Product Manager to test the stories and defects yourself if time permits or at least attend a demo at the end of a sprint cycle along with other stakeholders in the broader group. This helps you to make those minutiae tweaks right at the bud of the development cycle rather than it getting further along and turning into a long term defect, or worse still a technical debt.

These regular touchpoints with the development team and the broader group of stakeholders brings you full — cycle in the product development lifecycle at an early stage, so that you keep on iterating your product swiftly to produce a better quality product as you go further along the chain.

3. Beta testing

For an enterprise–wise product that has the potential of reaching thousands of users right from Day 1, it becomes imperative for you to be careful with what you’re rolling out, lest some incomprehensible edge case screw your launch.

Having a community of beta testers helps you test your product with a friendly group of users who can provide feedback, catch and report defects — basically groom your product.

Better still if you can have a phased launch every couple of weeks/months (i.e. launching to a different set of beta testers every few weeks or months), you can garner better confidence in the wellness of your product.

Now you can gauge how your product is being received from smaller sets of users, receive feedback continuously, fix and tweak things and catch the ‘oh-shit’ moments earlier on. That doesn’t mean that edge cases might not come up at all when you launch fully, however you’re better prepared if you’ve already done some pre-work, and some ‘holy cow’ issue doesn’t faze you in the least.

4. Guerrilla testing

When your product is still undergoing incubation (or when at-least a sizeable size of your product is ready to go into production), you can start some Guerrilla testing in parallel with the beta /friendly testers earlier on, as mentioned in the earlier section. This activity runs in parallel with the phased launch of your product. Either you can have dedicated “measure and learn” sessions with users or do some random interviews and discussion sessions with users that you can catch hold off.

You start logging this feedback down, understand what the users are trying to solve or say with their feedback, and either feed the tweaks/enhancements into your product or add them to your “big-rock” items for phase 2 of your product (ideation/incubation phase).

5. Getting more work – streams involved

In this phase of incubation, a Product Manager should have the foresight to start involving (if not already done so) other parts of your team/company — marketing, risk and compliance, sales, customer support, production support etc.

These will play a major part when the product is launched and need to be prepared before hand with the product.

Marketing will have to start looking into a go–to– market strategy, launch plan, value propositions for the marketing collaterals, arranging launch events, demo sessions, acquisition strategy for this new tool/product etc.

Account Managers, Inside / Outside Sales Reps will need to be trained on the nitty – gritty of the product itself, since they’d be the ones actually generating leads and selling the product to the enterprises clients.

Risk/ Compliance/ Legal/ Info security partners would need to be consulted early on in the product lifecycle (in the ideation phase itself) so that they can validate if the solution you’re proposing presents any risks and how you can mitigate those before you start building out your solution. This may include adding the necessary consents in your product, making sure the architecture is secure enough to handle potential attempts at data breaches or security loopholes, ensuring you’re compliant with industry or regulatory standards (especially if you’re in a highly regulated organization such as a bank).

Lastly, but not the least, you’d need to have a customer support team ready to handle customer queries or issues when you launch the product. This team would have to work in collaboration with your production support partners (if you have a dedicated prod support team) who’d look at production issues when they arise and make sure your product is up and running constantly.

Commercialization

Commercialization is basically the process of getting a product or service to market. We need a market — ready product to get in the hands of the end clients.

1. Promotion

As mentioned in the previous phase, it’s better to bring your marketing team to the table as early as possible. Your marketing team needs to be successfully enabled to bring awareness for your product, ideally much before the actual launch. This can mean showcasing product demos at a pre-launch event, at trade shows or conferences.

2. Go to Market

Before you launch the product, the Product Manager would need to work with the Marketing team to craft up a go-to-market strategy. This includes targeting the customer segment for client acquisition, developing the value pro, creating competitive positioning whilst understanding the current market landscape, leveraging marketing channels (basically the <x> Ps of marketing).

At this stage, you might or might not have a pricing strategy nailed down — ideally you need to start looking into this when you’re in the ideation / incubation phase. But as you launch your product and start acquiring the initial set of clients or go through a phased launch, you’ll have a better understanding of what price point your product is most likely to stick at.

3. Launch

You can have a phased launch of your product as mentioned earlier and/or do a full launch at a later date when your product is more stabilized. This full launch will also mean a gradual rollout across your various distribution channels, free trials of your product to potential prospects, refining your pricing strategy, having a launch event etc.

4. Client acquisition and onboarding

Depending on the kind of product or service you’re offering, every newly acquired client would need to go through some kind of an onboarding process e.g. having a dedicated account manager building relationship with the client, getting the client familiar with the product, soliciting feedback or just engaging the client to provide a great customer service experience.

This may also mean up-selling the existing set of products/services to the client or providing early –adopter pricing discounts. Ideally your sales enablement, account management and customer service teams should have internal processes set up to migrate a new prospect/lead through the onboarding journey to convert them into a full-fledged client of the product.

5. Product usage / Behavioral data/ Measure and learn / User feedback

Getting user feedback continuously and keeping track of your quantitative data (after your product launch) to validate your qualitative findings will help you calibrate the success of your product.

Keep a user and stakeholder feedback loop open because great ideas can come from anywhere! Set up your analytics so that you can start measuring the user journeys and activity inside your product as soon as the first person onboards. These two sets of data (factual and hard facts) will need to be used in conjunction to formulate your problem statements and hypothesis for your next set of big rock items for the product.

6. Phase 2 of post-launch

After you launch and get some traction, you’d have to start thinking about the long term plan for your product: what needs to be included in the next phase or the next year, what support/budget/resources you need to keep this product in the market?

The measure and learn sessions/user feedback and your success metrics will keep feeding your product. Your success metric will metamorphose from client acquisition to engagement and retention to growth during this journey.

7. Maintenance of the product

The most critical part of any product lifecycle is what you do post-launch and maintaining your product is a critical activity in this regard. Whether having a production support team ready to solve some pesky issues or having your customer service reps trained well in order to handle customer queries will stand you in good stead.

If you like this article and have questions or feedback regarding product management in a corporate setting, leave a comment below!

And also let me know what processes you follow and challenges you face in your organization.

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