Product launches have that two minutes left, trailing by a touchdown feel reminiscent of a late November college football game, where our most vivid professional memories are often the specific colleagues and high-octane situations from successful or unsuccessful product launches. And with everything on the line during product launches, like future company promotions and profits, your team can drive the ball down the field and keep your team in the game.
As University of Michigan Head Football Coach Jim Harbaugh would say, there’s opportunity for “addition by subtraction,” to simplify your game plan. After all, product launches consist of diverse sets of team members performing various tasks that need to be seamlessly coordinated and executed as a team to win. The specific tasks by themselves aren’t always the difficult part per se, but it’s the execution of these tasks, week in and week out, and at the right time, that can prove challenging.
Below are five hacks to help your team take it to the house and crush your next product launch.
5 Hacks to Crush Every Product Launch
1. Launch an MVP First
According to Eric Ries, new product launch guru and author of The Lean Startup and The Startup Way, “If you can conceptualize your work not as building features, not as launching campaigns, but as running experiments, you can get radically more done with less effort.” Part of the pressure we feel launching new products stems from product development. Specifically, the common last-minute addition of product features that weren’t part of the original launch plan. Change will inevitably occur, so the determination of success or failure will often lie in our planning and preparation to manage these changes.
“Use a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) philosophy to launch your product quickly and make it better after the initial launch,” says Dr. Muddassir Ahmed, an experienced supply chain executive, consultant, and Founder of supply chain blog SCMDOJO. Focusing and sticking to your plan launching an MVP to start can be a great way to reduce the complexity and risk of your next product launch. MVP doesn’t mean “not as good”, but rather it’s launching the specific set of features your customers want most, though shortlisting the critical-to-customer characteristics highlighted in your customer discovery. It’s better to launch the exact product your target customers want first instead of trying to be everything to everyone and launching later.
2. Formalize a New Product Introduction Process
Football teams run different styles of offenses; some businesses launch new products frequently and some don’t. Reflecting on your organization’s frequency and new product launch supporting capabilities is essential if you’re a leader taking a new product to market. In addition, if you find your team working on unfamiliar tasks, on new technology, in new markets, on a new product type, or with a new manufacturing process, by default you and your team will be required to support these new projects with new processes.
Every business, industry, and product are unique, so best practices for new product launch approaches should be tailored to meet your specific needs to capture maximum, efficient gains. Your new product launch process should organize tasks into an overarching game plan offering your team and company a consistent, repeatable battle plan for success.
“A wide range of complex elements must be carefully managed via a solid New Product Introduction Process,” notes Muddassir. Make sure you have the right talent and capabilities to win. If you don’t have them, secure them externally through new hires or service providers. The best time to seek external support is at the onset of a launch, where greater impact and lower costs are more likely to be experienced along with a lower launch risk. Even if you have a process in place, review it and challenge every step; team member understanding and thorough application of your existing process tend to be areas that can generate quick wins.
3. Develop Clear Design Requirements
We need the same clarity in our launch plans to win in the game of business as college football teams need in their game plans to win on Saturdays. But there’s a seemingly endless number of challenges that arise when launching new products. “As supply chain professionals, the new product launch challenges we face can include sourcing, costing, lead time, desired quality, design acceptance, capacity availability, industrialization, demand forecasting, launch stock build, and market adoption,” adds Muddassir. Developing clear design requirements up front, including the desired ideal tradeoffs between cost, time, and risk, will provide a constant target for the team to march toward as a program advances through launch.
It’s not usually the tracking of the several launch data inputs that causes us to slip up, but last-minute changes instead. “The eleventh-hour versions of minor design changes force late approvals and cost changes, which in turn cause product launch delays,” says Muddassir. Consequently, if you want to crush your next launch, then you need to document detailed product requirements and over-communicate your plans early and often. Further, once requirements are clearly outlined, each member of the product launch team needs to clearly understand his or her role and responsibilities. The communication of grey areas, like who’s leading what, will cause delays.
4. Gain Visibility to Properly Forecast Demand
New product launches can be complicated further if a product is truly all-new with no prior market adoption sales history. “A common pitfall I see is poor demand forecast for a product launch, either too much buffer inventory or too little,” observes Muddassir. Analysis can be complicated at times by using historical data to forecast new products to de-risk your launch, resulting in more noise than clarity.
The quantity, pace, and complexity of the commercial data that’s required by supply chain professionals to digest today is staggering. Your team will likely need more than simple manual analysis tools – i.e., Excel – to assemble, present, and share data; they’ll need real-time software tools that provide analytical aid to do more in less time.
Further, companies are now starting to push what’s possible with artificial intelligence (AI) tools to help their teams further with tasks, almost like having an extra player on the field. These AI tools won’t replace supply chain professionals, but instead will replace our manual, low-level tasks, freeing up our time to think more strategically and make better decisions. This new wave of Industry 4.0 technologies will foster an era of lower cost innovation for the leaders who incorporate these tools into their companies’ existing new product launch playbooks.
5. Leaders Should Take an Active Role
It’s not uncommon for leaders, usually a mix of high-ranking company executives and local political leaders, to tour the facility of an all-new product during launch to help send it off as it ceremoniously leaves the factory on its way to wild success and mass-market adoption. But true leaders need to be active participants during all four quarters, not just during the last play.
As with any great coach, supply chain leaders need to take early interest in the staffing of their teams to support products as they transition from product development to launch. These are critical times and the best managers encourage and help nurture future products to success.
“Every business leader and team should be involved in product launches,” says Muddassir. As you build and improve your new product launch “dream team” of the future, it’s vital to consider the skill sets that’ll be required to succeed in the future. Supply chain professionals and supply chain software engineers are increasingly being asked to write code, use cloud collaboration technologies, and contribute to product development, so when you recruit the best and brightest team members and supply partners to join your elite launch team, look for these skill sets to give your team an edge.
With the time it takes to develop new products constantly being compressed, the companies who’ll win will do so by consistently out-launching their competition. This methodical day in and day out execution will need to be grounded in team member talent, swift new product development processes, and software technology that facilitates efficiency for taking new products to market.
“Product launches are the driver of business growth, company’s futures demand it, so it should not be left to other departments to solely manage,” remarks Muddassir. Supply chain is uniquely positioned to expand your organization’s value-adding capabilities by infusing market commercial data earlier into product launches. As a result, this earlier cost, supplier, manufacturing process, timing, and risk data will prove to be a crucial asset for any company.
Launching new products is demanding and stressful, but it doesn’t have to be painful. The above hacks will remove some of the drag when taking your next big idea to market, so use them moving forward to put yourself and your team in a position to crush your next product launch and win in the game of business.