As a product manager at startups, I am often put in charge of overseeing engineering and delivery schedules.  Along with the number of hats I wear, I am fortunately afforded more levers that PMs typically don’t have.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are 3 main levers in building and launching products.

leversFeatures

  • For a new product, decide what is the minimum set of features to include to determine there is a product-market fit.
  • For an existing product, assess the incremental set of features to meet immediate customer needs and differentiate from competition.

In both cases, it’s important to be “ruthless” in cutting out features that are not crucial.  In my last job at Reverb, I was tasked to launch the iPhone app as a follow-on release to the iPad version already in the market.  It’s both a new product (in terms of device/form factor) and an existing product (server-side functionality remained mostly the same).  After considering iPhone usage patterns, I decided to cut out an edit-heavy feature (creating and editing a collection of articles).  That significantly reduced the project scope and simplified the user experience.

Quality

At launch, I always make sure that there are no showstoppers/crashes (P1) and critical bugs (P2), those include illogical user flow, typos, functionality not working as described).  Assessing the criticality of each bug is mainly the role of a product owner (using Scrum speak), supported by a QA colleague.

Schedule

Most Internet software companies are adopting Agile.  At end of each sprint, there should be a releasable candidate (theoretically), but it’s not always the case.  While I respect the philosophy behind Agile, you really need to build in time for integration testing and device compatibility testing, particularly for mobile apps and responsive websites.

With all that said, holding quality constant, you are really down to two levers – features and schedule.

  • Schedule – it’s not in the spirit of Agile/Scrum to set a release date in advance, but it’s often necessitates by market timing (e.g. consumer electronics targeting Q4 in retail channel, promotion in time for Dads & Grads in June, etc).  In the case when a schedule is inflexible, push back on new feature requests and actively work to manage the scope of committed features.
  • Features – when a feature is crucial and must be included in the next release, the schedule becomes a secondary consideration.  When iOS 8/iPhone 6 were released, we ran into issues with an early release of Xcode 6 in terms of auto layout.  It then took several days before we resolved the auto layout issues to support both iOS 7 and 8 devices.  I held up the release and “ignored” our original launch schedule.

In summary, you have 3 levers, but cannot be prescriptive about all 3 at once.

I would love to hear what other considerations or levers you see in terms of building and shipping products.