Product Management | 3 min read

Launch mode vs iterate mode

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The things that make a product team successful when launching a product are exactly the things that will make them fail after that product is launched.

We recently launched Educate, a brand new product for us at Intercom. The launch allowed us to reflect on the differences in how you must work when in launch mode versus iterate mode. Post launch, the team has a very different job in front of them. Our messaging to the team is below, outlining how we think about the differences.

“Congrats on the launch! It has been tremendously successful and everyone should be really proud. The launch has taught us that (1) there is huge demand for a new and better product in this space (the opportunity is big) and (2) we have much to learn and a long way to go to fully meet our customers’ needs.

We had a really successful launch, with hundreds of customers now using it in production, but we don’t yet have a successful product. We must obsessively work to understand how our customers are using the product, what is working well, what needs to be improved. We need to talk to many prospective customers or customers on trial and understand what they need us to change for them to adopt the product.

The very things that made the launch successful will make us unsuccessful in this new mode.

Launching a product, and iterating a product, are two very different things and they require the team to think and operate in very different ways. We have been in launch mode for many months, and it is now critical to change into iterate mode. This is a really hard thing to do because it means breaking all our habits and ways of working and thinking in the team. The ability to do this asap though will define our success over the coming months. The very things that made the launch successful will make us unsuccessful in this new mode.

When we are in launch mode, we are ruthless about scope. We are narrowing and narrowing. Deciding to do anything other than the defined launch list requires much deliberation. “No” is the default answer to new things. We are necessarily risk averse.

Iterating a product is the opposite. We need to be very open minded and try many small things. We need to make changes to the product based on customer feedback, knowing that we may roll back those changes or change them a second or third time. Success for Educate in 2017 means changing much of our product. We ship to learn. We know that the product has a long way to go.

We worked so hard to get the product to a level that we were proud to launch. Now we need to revisit many of those design and product decisions based on our customers’ feedback. The product is now out in the world ready to be improved across the board.

In launch mode we bucketed up everything into one release, in iterate mode we need to release many small improvements independently. Many of these changes will not need an Intermission (Ed: project brief) because they will only be a few days work. Many of them will be gut decisions driven by customer feedback. Many of them will be no brainer improvements that we should do fast. We shouldn’t second guess ourselves, we should be brave and move fast and change things.

Customers love nothing more than seeing a product they use get updated constantly with improvements they need.

Competitors hate nothing more than seeing our product get updated constantly with improvements they can’t build as fast as us.

Shipping is only the beginning.”

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