A Step by Step Guide to Product Release Plan

“Are the slides for the release ready?”
“Can we create big noise with analysts and media about our upcoming release?”
“How about creating some buzz around the product?”
“Is everyone on board the messaging for the product – so who is training the sales teams?”
“What about the press releases & CEO’s note?”

In general, there is a lot of ambiguity around what a product marketer does, especially because they take on different roles and meanings in different organizations. Often the onus of defining the product marketing team’s role and its contribution falls on the product marketer who does so on the basis of the maturity of the company, its growth stage, line of products, who they are reporting to, and more. 

But one thing that invariably comes under the gamut of most product marketers (if not all) is the launch of new products and features in the market.

Product releases are organized chaos.

No matter how well-planned or organized you are as a person, launching a product or doing a major annual release is bound to be chaotic. And as a product marketer, you don’t just straddle this fine line between structure and chaos alone. You have got to take the entire organization along with you on this ride. And that’s no easy feat. 

From nailing the positioning statement, ideating the messaging to listing out the release activities, collaborating with various teams, creating the assets and collaterals, and prepping everyone involved in the release, you have a lot to manage in the weeks and months leading up to the launch.

And naturally, with all the dynamic things you’ve got to handle, launching your product, whether it be a big or small release, can be very tricky.

But as a product marketer, I like to believe we choose this chaos for ourselves. It is a worthy trade-off to make for the exhilaration that follows a successful launch.

Product Release Plan

Now, for anyone who is starting out or looking to bring a little more structure to your product release chaos, here’s a simple 5-step process that could guide your next product release from planning to categorization to launch.

  1. Start with the ‘Why.’


    The first step towards any product release is building a strong foundation – the product/release launch plan. And what does this foundation consist of? An understanding of ‘why’ this product/release is important for your customers.

    One of the best and only ways to key in on the why is by working towards building a product vision statement. Walk side-by-side with your product manager to gather deep insights into the product and finally, sit down with them to write your product’s vision statement. 

    Some of the questions that you should be asking your product manager are:
    – Is there a need in the market for this product?
    – Is it a unique offering?
    – What is the USP?
    – If there are competitors, are there features that will differentiate us from competitors?

    Answers to these questions are critical in deciding whether this product/feature needs to be introduced in the market at all. And as someone who has in-depth knowledge about the customers and product, product marketers shouldn’t be afraid to make this call and communicate the same to the rest of the organization’s decision-makers.

    If you’ve got satisfactory responses from the product manager in terms of the uniqueness and need of the product, the next step is defining the vision statement.
    – So, what should this statement include?
    – What problem is this product solving?
    – Who are we solving this problem for?
    – Why is now the ideal time to solve it?

    Your vision statement summarizes your understanding of the product and its customers in a few words that will enable you to further plan your product release.

    Here’s an example from Microsoft:

    For the business user who needs to be productive in the office and on the go, the Surface is a convertible tablet that is easy to carry and gives you full computing productivity no matter where you are.

    You can see in this example that the target audience, the problem and the criticality of releasing the product now are clear from the vision statement.

  2. Categorize the release.


    Not all product releases work the same way. A new product launch will look very different from a new feature upgrade. For product marketers looking at multiple releases throughout the year, categorizing releases can be very helpful. Such priority-based categorization can help you bring more definition to your release planning. Eventually, you can work out standard templates for each type of release that can simplify the planning process.

    Here’s one of the simpler ways of segmenting the releases.

    On the scale of priority, Tier 1 represents your major releases, mostly of a collection of new capabilities that is high on the scale of innovation and will attract new customers. Tier 2 comes in second and can be representative of a feature upgrade for existing customers or a ‘me too’ feature to attract new customers. And at Tier 3 are your internal sprint releases that ensure you are keeping up with market changes and competition.


  3. Plan the release roadmap.


    Your release roadmap will forecast how the days leading up to your release is going to unfold.  Mostly, a release roadmap identifies goals, designates tasks to different teams or members, and sets a timeframe for completion. This way, you can keep track of the progress and align with every other team working towards the release.

    Now, there is no one way to do this. Product roadmaps can come in different shapes and sizes although the objective remains the same – to manage all the tasks and timelines leading up to the release. 

    And most importantly, your release roadmaps are agile, always set up for quick reassessments and adaptations.

  4. Ideate product positioning and messaging.


    Now that you have the product vision statement in hand, the release priority established and a roadmap ready, it is time to define the positioning and messaging, both of which are go-to-market staples. 

    Now how are the two different?

    Positioning articulates how your product is unique and different from that of competitors. Keeping the customers in mind, the positioning statement will guide you as to which product features need to be highlighted and what the overall messaging should be.

    Messaging reinforces your positioning statement and will lure your customers into buying the product. Now, while your positioning will remain the same, your messaging can take different forms and even evolve with time.

    As innovators who have spent months and years developing a product, it is but natural that your product teams have an affinity for the product over customers.  

    As a product marketer, defining the product’s positioning and messaging will help shift the focus 
    • from the product to the customers and 
    • from technical features to actual business benefits and customer impact

  5. Get, set, implement.

    Finally for all the real groundwork. From coordinating with teams to developing assets and collaterals, prepping teams for the release and more, you will find yourself involved neck-deep in the release activities. 

    It always helps if you have a core set of activities classified for each priority level. This standardization eases coordination efforts and brings some order to the chaos. 

    Here’s a sample template that you could use:
    Product Release Plan Template Example by PMM Hive

You can download the Product Release Core Activities Planning Template to help your next product release plan for free.

Finally…

You are the show-runner when it comes to product releases. As a product marketer, and since it is a comparatively new field, you’ve got the flexibility to define the way products are released by your organization. Of course, there is no hard and fast rule on how it should be done. But if you are responsible for bringing structure to the process of continuous product releases at your organization, this five-step process should be helpful.

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