10 Ways to Identify an Impending Product Launch Disaster

Here are ten easily identifiable signs to watch for that can help forecast if a product launch may be in trouble and suggested course corrections to make before it’s too late.

The process of introducing a product to market is a serious undertaking, but for many companies it’s an afterthought. The level of effort and resources applied to the creation of the product often dwarfs that of the product launch. It becomes a “throw-it-over-the-wall” process with dismal results, followed by blame storming.

Here are ten easily identifiable signs to watch for that can help predict if a launch may be in trouble.

#1 - There are no goals for the product launch

Launch goals are the cornerstone of a successful product launch, yet so many companies fail to establish them. All CEOs have an expectation of what success looks like, but often those expectations aren’t translated into goals understood by the people entrusted to plan and execute the launch.

Establish launch goals as early as possible with the management team and communicate them in meaningful ways throughout the organization.

#2 - The launch strategy is based on a set of deliverables from a launch "checklist"

A launch checklist is not a launch strategy. An effective product launch checklist is developed after establishing launch goals and then choosing the best strategy to support them. A launch checklist usually gets created after a botched launch. Someone goes around the organization asking each department what they need for a successful launch. The result is a bloated wish list of deliverables and activities with questionable value often growing with each successive launch.

Once launch goals are established, formulate the launch strategy and then define the deliverables needed.

#3 - The launch plan contains unrealistic timeframes and expectations

Optimism is wonderful but it can blind you to the realities of constraints and capabilities within an organization. It's wise to evaluate the organization within the context of the product being launched to identify readiness gaps. Once identified, allow enough time to address the gaps before they develop into problems that negatively impact the launch.

Acid test launch goals against the ability of the organization to execute. Then develop a plan of action to fill the readiness gaps.

#4 - Sales enablement training is based on product features

Sales enablement training is one of the most critical components of a successful launch. Unfortunately most training sessions are packed with information about the product with emphasis on the newest features. Successful salespeople solve problems for their buyers, they don’t sell features. Inevitably some of the product features your buyers find most valuable are not necessarily the newest ones.

Become experts on your buyers, why they buy and how they buy.

#5 - Significant effort is spent creating collateral  for people who never read it

Ninety percent of sales tools are never used by salespeople, yet marketing teams keep producing them. They also include a staggering amount of gobbledygook. Does it really matter to your buyer that you’re “the leading provider” of anything or that your software is “robust”?

Break the cycle by focusing on a deep understanding of your buyers, then build sales tools to influence them through the buying process.

#6 - No single person is responsible for driving product launch results

Many organizations have just one window of opportunity to launch per year, yet don’t give it the high priority they should. Accountability for results is fundamental to the success of an organization and without it the organization loses focus. A launch owner provides a single point of accountability ensuring product launch planning and execution have the high priority they deserve.

Assign the responsibility of achieving the launch goals to a launch owner, and provide them with the flexibility and resources to make it happen.

#7 - The launch plan is based on hunches, not market evidence

Hunches may be great for the casino but not for successful product launches. Hunches are based on "gut feeling" not market evidence, and are guesses. With an initiative as important as a product launch there is no room for guessing. Watch out for “I think we should…”.

Make launch planning decisions based on market evidence not guesses.

#8 - The launch plan mimics your competitor

Just because one company chooses a particular launch tactic doesn’t mean it will work for another. The easy way to launch a product is to mimic competitors and expect good things to happen. However, there are too many factors at play to guarantee the same tactic will have equivalent outcomes. Mimicking a competitor assumes they are smarter than you.

An intimate knowledge of buyers and the buying process provides the best guidance for the most effective launch tactics.

#9 - Existing customers are not adequately considered in the launch plan

It’s staggering how many organizations fail to recognize the impact a new version of a product can have on existing customers. They get so focused on acquiring new customers they forget about existing customers who, if not properly nurtured through the migration, may feel compelled to evaluate competitive alternatives.

Existing customers need special consideration from buyers. Ignore them at your own peril.

#10 - The launch team isn't a team

It’s Susan and she’s overwhelmed. Product launch is a team sport involving a range of expertise. No single individual can possibly know all the details, especially in large organizations. This necessitates the creation of a cross-functional launch team, where individuals with unique perspectives and experience can contribute to a successful launch. The reality though is team members have full-time responsibilities outside of the launch team impacting their timely contribution.

Make participation in a cross-functional launch team a priority and reward their contribution.


Checking another completed deliverable off the launch checklist isn’t a product launch. A successful launch is about generating sales velocity. But it’s easy to slip into a routine of committing resources and budget to produce deliverables, without ever questioning their value. A successful product launch is anchored in goals clearly understood throughout the launch team, using a strategy that supports these goals with an understanding of the operational constraints of the organization.

Slides from ProductCamp Austin

The slides from my preso at ProductCamp Austin Summer 2009 are up on Slideshare. You can view it below.

Watch the webinar

I delivered a webinar on this topic where I went into more depth.

David Daniels

David Daniels

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