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  • Jeff Cloutier

Product Success Planning Avoids Product Disaster

Good planning helps ensure successful products. Don't leave critical lifecycle planning as a time pressed, reactionary endeavor. Plan early and often for true product lifecycle success. OnTarget Strategy founder, Jeff Cloutier, discusses product lifecycle planning best practices in this webinar.


Hey everyone, Jeff Cloutier, here with OnTarget Strategy. A while back we shared a blog post that talked about Product Success Planning versus Product Launch Planning. Surprisingly, it got a lot of attention and feedback-- I guess I shouldn't say surprisingly I meant to say as expected our blog got a lot of attention and feedback. Regardless of the truth there, it was a topic that as I mentioned we've got a lot of feedback on so we thought it would be a wonderful one to go into more detail within this webinar here today. That's what we'll be talking about product success planning versus product launch planning.

We say one versus the other; obviously, we don't mean not doing product launch planning, because just saying that sounds dumb. Product launch planning is very important critical to an overall success of a product, gives you that initial market exposure that you want, helps identify those early adopters and get their support and build momentum. Obviously, we're not saying not to it what we're saying is extend beyond just the launch planning. There are so many more parts of a product's lifecycle, so many different stages like that growth stage and maturity stage and when you sunset a product.

There's a lot of value to planning for those more mature stages those latter stages early on even in the pre-launch of product. It's great to have a plan in place that, obviously, it's going to change. You're not going to be able to predict everything that's going to happen in the market for the life of the product, but by doing this early planning when those latter stages come about and things happen you just have an established well thought out plan to modify and divert from rather than having to come up with something at the last minute under pressure. That's what we're trying to avoid here is overall lifecycle product success not just in launch, but through the whole lifespan of a product.

I have a little story that I think really drives that point home. A couple of months ago with my wife and I were on vacation we met this interesting couple and when I say interesting I mean a little strange. They were bike packing riding their bikes from Alaska to Argentina taking 12 months of and essentially riding their bikes across all of North and South America. We get to talk and tell them about their planning for this trip. If they took on just the launch planning strategy maybe they would have planned from their trip from Alaska down to Jackson Hole Wyoming where we met them with the thought that, "Hey if we get this far we'll have a lot of experience behind us. We'll know what to do and for the rest of the trip we can just handle it day to day. When it comes up we'll just deal with it no problem there."

It's a possible strategy probably not one that you or I would adopt if we were on our bikes for 12 months riding across all of North and South America. Luckily for these two that is not the strategy that they took either. They planned out their entire trip from point A to point B in meticulous detail. I think it took them almost as long to plan the trip. I think they spent pretty much a year planning it out. By doing that they were talking about being able to avoid risks with road construction in South Texas. They were able to take advantage of positive things like a fiesta they wanted to attend in Mexico and make a stop in the diversion for that.

They're able to establish a very well thought out complete plan that gave them confidence for the entire lifecycle of their trip going from point A in Alaska to point B in Argentina. It's very easy then to translate those same strategies those same thoughts to a product plan. Point A is the introduction point B is the sunset or obsolescence of that product. We talked about just focusing on launch planning and leaving everything else for later. We're taking a similar approach that what we talked about we would all avoid. I was just planning for the introduction for the beginning and just leaving the rest maybe for chance or take it as it comes.

When we talk about product success planning a product lifecycle planning we're talking about very early on looking at every stage of a product's lifecycle because your actions from product management to pricing to marketing it's going to be a lot different at the different stages. What you do in introduction, obviously, is a lot different than what you're doing when you're sun setting a product, but it's significantly different than what you're doing to maybe during the maturity stage when you're trying to maintain market share that you have and fight off competition as opposed to the growth stage, where you're really focusing on acquiring market share and exposing your product to the marketplace.

A lot of value in the holistic planning and doing it even before you launch the product because as we know these days we're all super busy, have more things than we know what to do to fill our day. When you say, "Well, we'll handle it here" We all know that there's a 99% chance that something else will be competing for that attention either another product, another project. It'll never really allow us the time we need to give the additional planning for each stage. It's true justice that we're just going to react to fires that come up and try to get away with what we can because everything else that's going on. Another reason why to focus on the total lifecycle, total success planning even before you launch it [inaudible 00:06:34] in most cases that's really the only time where you have attention and a lot of times the support of the other cross-functional areas which we'll talk in a little bit here.

What I'd like to talk about now is the template that we use here on target strategy to walk through our own product success or product lifecycle planning with our clients or for our clients. They like to go through the templates, some of the key areas and rationale behind it. Most importantly at the end show you where you can go to request a free copy of our template to use during your own planning or within your own consulting with your clients.

Briefly here here's what the table of contents looks like. The reason for showing this is just to point out that it's fairly complete with the theory behind that or the rationale behind that being it's better to consider something and then delete it than to not have there and then at the eleventh hour in hindsight, "Oh my gosh, I wish I had considered it" That's the theory behind this. A lot of times we start here and we will delete things ourselves it's not appropriate to certain markets.

Fairly complete template use what you like delete anything you think that is extraneous or that you don't need or it doesn't pertain to your market or field. If there's anything missing, obviously, add that. If you do have a moment we'd love to hear from you, if there's anything you can add because we really appreciate the opportunity to revise our templates and then send that out to the product group to all of our colleagues so we always can move forward in the effort of continuous improvement there.

Now, let's get into the actual template into the meat and potatoes here. First off, the product and service executive summary. Executive summaries I know we all dread writing these. It's something that we save to the end after we write the entire document to make sure that we have all the information we need. A lot of times you're sitting there at 11:30 at night with the executive summary still to write. Not only that you have to write that but in most cases, you have your kid's science project that you need to get done that night for the next morning also so you have a bunch of things competing for your time.

In most cases or at least from my personal experience sometimes we slight the executive summary. I'm saying don't do that here don't slight the executive summary for two reasons. One, a lot of times the people that you really want to read and appreciate your total product plan, your total success plan here is your boss and your boss's boss. Those are probably the most time-challenged people of anyone.

A lot of cases they're looking to your executive summary to understand the key takeaways in the shortest amount of time. Don't ruin the opportunity to impress the people that you want to impress with your executive summary. A poorly written executive summary it's pretty easy to see because you read it and you really don't feel like you understood anything about the product or the plan or the strategy.

Secondly, because there is a lot to a product plan into a product success plan. A well-written executive summary will really show a command of the material the command of the content. What I mean by that is very easy to make sure you cover everything in a 200-page plan. Because eventually either intentionally or unintentionally, you're going to cover anything around 200 pages but it's actually more difficult to make sure you cover all the key points that you bring up and highlight all the important takeaways in one of the half pages.

By being able to write a very complete and successful executive summary really shows you and shows your teammates and the rest of the organization that you understand the topic you understand the strategy and your stay in the marketplace. Very important there. Next is being able to link your product to the greater business objectives of your company or your business unit. If you can't link the two and show how your product supports the overall strategy, then it's time to stop and regroup and figure out hey, why are you are we actually doing this?

It helps you ensure that you're keeping the big picture in mind not only for you but for everyone that reads your document. Maybe they're not quite in tune with why you're doing the product and providing some information on the link between overall strategy and how your product is a cornerstone for that helps people support it. It helps get the rest of your organization the reader behind the need for your product. Something that I think is very important but sometimes [inaudible 00:11:54] product managers and marketers an effort to get on with the writing of the rest of the document we tend to slight this area also because heck we know it.

So, why do we have to write it down if we know it? Well, yes you might know what but as I mentioned, everyone else that's reading a document may not know it. Secondly, another important thing here is to remember than today's Agile development worlds we're not writing as many products requirement documents detailed product requirements documents. This overall linkage of product to business strategy helps those development teams and the rest of the product development group make sure they understand that overall business objective so when they go and create the product they can keep those in mind. Again, it's a repository for all that strategic information that you want the reader to know.

As you can see here too that I have milestones and schedule pretty early on in the plan; ‘Wow, shouldn't this be at the end after we cover everything?’ Well, no because this is probably one of the most critical areas where people fail in overall delivery of a product. The proverbial product graveyard is full of great ideas where a product manager or a marketing manager or project manager just couldn't execute. They couldn't deliver it on time or on budget or meet the performance goals and they just decide to cancel it.

Very early on it's good to make sure you understand not only what you're going to do, which is the majority of what we talk about but how you're going to go about doing it/ When are things going to get done? What resources do you need to accomplish your goals? Who is going to do it? Not only the crew from your standpoint, but sitting down and talking with those resource managers those functional managers that you need to get support and buy-in from to get access to those resources. From my experience, it's a lot easier to have those discussions with a functional manager eight months six months before you need a resource.

Than when you're talking to them a day before you need it. The conversation is totally different. Eight months ahead of time they're really appreciative of the collaboration you reaching out so early, incorporating their opinions, letting them take charge of their own work, and putting their own stamp if you will on the plan. When you come to them and not request but demand resources a day ahead of time because you have no other option, the conversation sometimes doesn't go very well. The volume often is a lot higher is not very good. The tone is sometimes not quite as friendly.

So, get ahead of the game here and that's one of the values of playing for those latter stages early on is you can have those discussions and have multiple discussions and work through issues and not have time via constraint. Just like we talked about making sure you understood the business strategy, understanding the market in the competitive landscape is also important for obviously a lot of different reasons. That's something that you need to know yourself but again don't get too comfortable with your knowledge.

Sometimes we get complacent with markets and competitors that we know or we've been working with for a long time, but markets change so much these days and maybe not in the macro sense, but definitely in the micro sense. It really does behave even the experienced product manager or marketing manager to go through the exercise of reviewing the market because sometimes you can tease out these key micro changes that can help you accelerate market share or a certain messaging positioning that helps get the attention of those early adopters or ideal customers a lot sooner.

That's one of the reasons here, don't get complacent and think you know everything about the market place, because that's exactly what your competitors are hoping you're going to do. Then secondly, repeating what I mentioned before in today's Agile environment, very, very important to ensure that you have some key description and some background on the market and competitors for your development partners for those development teams to reference back to something where they can understand how to create use cases and user scenarios to create the right product.

Again, if you're still using a waterfall method you're still creating a lot of really detailed product requirement documents then maybe this isn't as critical in some other cases but I have a feeling the majority you are using a very Agile development methodology. Agile development is not just for the R&D folks, but Agile development is really an organizational option and marketing needs to make sure that they're doing their part. Product management it needs to make sure they're doing their part just as much as the R&D of the development side of the house.

Again, what makes it too much here because it falls on what we're just talking about but making sure you understand the messaging positioning. A lot of things I agree stay the same in a market place from a macro standpoint but for micro standpoint, things are changing everyday don't get complacent there. You can see here I have a quadrant map that a lot of us are familiar with a lot of us use, a little strange to see this early on in a plan and overall product strategy. I understand that but I've always found it to be valuable to look at these two particular attributes very early on. That's cost versus value or cost versus differentiation.

If you're not familiar with these quadrant charts, each box has its own combination of attributes. Where in the upper right here which is where we all want to be is high differentiation high-value in the marketplace. Customers view your product with high values, so that they also want to pay a premium price for it. Where as opposed to the lower-left here more of a commodity-type product where there is low differentiation from product to product and it's a low cost because a lot of times cost is what determines if a customer is going to choose your product or not. Very cost centric.

What you do here is not only place your product in the appropriate box here but also all the other products in your marketplace to ensure you understand how you compare where you're compared to your competition. Again, don't just do this at the launch stage. Also create one for the growth stage and predict maybe what new products are coming on and that's what we talk about investigating the market even if you understand it. What are those changes those micro changes you see coming that might bring about some change up as your product gets into the growth stage?

Same thing for the maturity stage or the decline stage, do a chart for each one. It helps you as a product manager as a marketer to understand what your strategy should be but also a secondary benefit of this is understanding the conversation you inevitably going to have both with your sales force and with your customer. That's going to be a cost versus value discussion. It's probably going to come up then I'd say probably 10 billion times during the life of the product and you want to be prepared not only to talk about it at launch where everything's new and exciting and probably it's late in the marketplace.

But how is that conversation going to mature say, in the maturity stage when there is actually some valid competition? How is that conversation going to change as you're getting into the decline stage where maybe there are other products that are a lot better? What is the value messaging that's going to help your sales force to sell the product? What is that messaging that's going to help convince your customer to buy? [inaudible 00:20:42] myself with my mouse clicks here, but I think you get the point. I don't think I missed everything.

Also with branding not to mention too much here but when you're talking about branding just make sure it's something you're doing early on. If you are in a small company and you're also the branding manager, then hopefully, not much of a risk of agreeing with yourself. [laughs] Sometimes we do have them as a conversation with ourselves hopefully, outside of the o shot of co-workers but make sure that there's alignment there.

In some of the larger organizations, when there is a corporate branding team, you want to ensure that you're complying with the branding guidelines. Just get that out of the way early on because last-minute changes or last-minute conflicts can be costly and I'm just speaking from experience here. Where at the last minute sometimes you're telling sales representatives that their promised date of April that we're making them a liar and it's really going to be July. They're upset because they have to go back and tell the customer that the dates changed maybe your package [unintelligible 00:21:57] packaging in for approval and as already sent out in order.

So if there's maybe some branding changes there they're upset because you just wasted some of their budget and it caused delays. When you don't get the branding right not only do you affect yourself and your timelines, but there's a lot of other parts of the team that aren't going to be as happy. Just approach this early on check the box and get it out of the way. Now we move on to pricing. I think we all will agree that pricing is very important. It helps ensure that we hit our revenue targets for the product and by good strategy behind pricing ensures that it's competitive in the marketplace.

Ties well into the rationale behind doing this quadrant chart early on to make sure you understand how pricing affects the rest of the marketplace and the price acceptance but it is surprising that how many people leave this to the end and it's pretty scary to see that sometimes they just look to the market as a signal and price within the bands that are in the market which is very subjective. It doesn't have much of a database data backing behind your decisions and a lot of times pricing is going to come up in terms of this rationale. The senior leadership is going to want to know how you just determine your pricing.

You better be able to understand and explain why you chose the pricing that you did. A lot of times again that's just giving you and your team time to do it. Again, going back to look at pricing not only for launch early on but look at pricing for all the other stages of the product life. Don't become a martyr and go out and do this totally on your own, there's a lot of other experts within your company that should be helping there. Talk with sales, talk with customer service about the warranty, talk to your developers or your manufacturer engineers about the cost of goods.

Again, not only what they think they're going to be at launch but how things are going to change throughout the life cycle of the product. One great example that I continually bring up when I'm talking about this is a product manager that because of timing or whatever, he did a lot of the pricing himself and at the end of the day, a couple years after the product launch a profitability the margins on the this actual device was reduced by 30% because of an increase in steel costs. The product manager says, "Well, you know there's no way that I could have predicted an increase in the cost of steel."

"I'm not really you know I don't really feel too bad about this happening and I don't really hold myself accountable." The thought there is yes, you probably couldn't understand or probably it wasn't reasonable for you to understand the forecasting of steel, the price of steel but there was probably someone within your organization maybe a manufacturing engineer that probably did understand that and could have given you the right information to make those predictions and to better forecast what was going to happen to that cost of goods and the profitability of your product couple years out. Again, don't be a martyr don't go it by yourself get people involved early and often to make your planning more successful.

All right, always good to understand marketing operations strategy. Meaning what marketing tools what processes are you going to use not only at launch but again at all the stages of the product life cycle? One, it's good to know that because they are going to change and you don't want to be just by default left to tools and processes that you use at launch and the other stages just because you didn't plan for them. Secondly, in some organizations and some products that have large marketing budgets, you need to understand what those marketing budget requests are going to be with a lot of forethought. You need to give a lot of time to get backing and support and approval for those larger budgets. Sometimes it's not unheard of to have to understand that 12 to 18 months ahead of time to again make sure that it's budgeted appropriately, that you have that organizational support and understanding of the need, because of the last-minute asking for a large sum of money to complete your marketing up operations plan.

No matter how good of a crying performance you can put on, if the money is not there the money is not there and that can really throw a wrench into your plans for getting the market adoption at those different lifecycle stages. I'm moving on here I'm going to cover the next section pretty broadly. There's a sales strategy, customer support strategy, all the cross-functional areas that need to be part of your product lifecycle plan. Again, wouldn't recommend writing these yourself and then throwing them over the wall and saying here Mr. sales director or vice president of sales here's your sales strategy, go implement.

This that tends not to be received very well but when you get folks involved very early on, you not only talk about what the strategy needs to be should be getting their opinion on launch but also all the other stages or products life. The conversations go a lot better. They appreciate again the collaboration and the forethought and getting involved and a lot of times there's no issue of these different groups taking responsibility for these different sections of the planning because it is their area of expertise. Get the broader team involved reach across the aisle and do it again early and often to make sure that you're getting the right input and entering that into the holistic plan.

We talk about financials a lot of times not in passing but as probably the milestone that decision-making in a lot of organizations. No matter how strong the customer need is, if you're for some reason unable to translate that to financial or revenues, then there's a chance or a good chance that the products not going to get approved. A lot of our organizations the reality of it is that Jerry Maguire sits on the board of all organizations, and at the end of the day, all he's saying is show me the money. Not the not that customer value shouldn't be the focus, but you have to be able to then translate customer value to revenues.

Again, the way to do that is to look at the financial forecasting early and often and look at it very completely. Not just to come up with a single financial forecast because we talked about that. Who knows what's really going to happen in the marketplace over the lifecycle of a product? You're making predictions you're making assumptions but you really don't know.

In that vein, my suggestion and my best practice is to come up with a range of financial forecasting making different assumptions to come up with the worst case. If everything is doom and gloom, what is the financial return going to look like and is that something we can accept as an Organization. If it's all sunshine and roses and it's the best case, what does that look like in? What is that the best case we can expect to achieve?

And also the expected, a lot of times, someplace in the middle there. What is going to be the expected case and again making sure that all the assumptions that you make are very transparent and well-defined for folks to understand? This is important for two things. One, it gives your forecasting a little more credibility, trying to make people believe that you can predict net revenues down to the dollar, ten years out for a product with all the possibilities that can come about in the marketplace.

Secondly, it gives you as the responsible person some flexibility. That you're not just hanging your reputation on one number, it's more of a range and saying, "Here, I think we're going to come within this [unintelligible 00:31:07], all right?" I sleep a little better at night knowing that I'm hanging my hat on a range of forecasting rather than an exact dollar figure.

Performance metrics is what- this right here. Why that's important early on is to make sure that how you're defining success is exactly the way that everyone else especially your boss and your boss's boss is deciding on success. Take it for example in the early launch stages. If you're saying that a number of units sold is how you measure in success and your boss is saying its actually total net revenues that define success. Well, you may be successful in your eyes but may not be successful in her eyes.

So, making sure that there's alignment across the definition of success not only at the launch stage but how are you going to measure success in the other stages? What does success look like in the growth stag, and getting grim to that? What does success look like in the maturity stage and making sure that everyone's on the same page, so you don't run into any unfortunate discrepancies later on. And that when you go out there and when you're focusing on something, it's something that you're going to get rewarded for if you do it right.

And then lastly here, it's good to understand very early on how you're going to review the product plan and establishing those specific review points throughout the life cycle. We all know how busy we get with other things once the products launched. There's other products we're working on these other projects, there's fires we're trying to put out and a lot of times, we say we're going to put aside the time and effort to do these follow-ups and this plan refreshers, but we really don't.

But if you actually put it down within the plan and verbalize that it's going to happen and get agreement from the across functional group, it makes it a lot easier and it's going to make it a lot more of a successful overall efforts when you put information in there so you're able to look at. Well, how was the market change? Did the market change the way we forecasted it? Did something come about differently? How as the need for our product changed? How does the product changed itself? How has the competition changed? Putting in periodic established reviews that you hold yourself to is critical to that overall product success planning.

Again, it's not that you want to look at at each stage so set the milestones at the growth stage, at the maturity stage at the inclined stage and at trendsetting to understand if you're predictions have come true and if not, how you need to adjust that plan? Most importantly here, we just talked about a lot of different things and this plan can get quite voluminous if you will if you put everything in there.

Maybe you did this incredible focus group with customers and you just received the transcription for the whole 60 minutes of the focus group and you want to put that 300 pages of transcribed conversations in the product plan. Great, you know what? It's good to have in there as complete information, but for everyone's sake, put it in the appendix or the appendices and reference it in the document. Maybe tease out some of the key takeaways but don't put the whole document in there.

Save the plan for the important assumptions, the important evaluations, the important opinions that you're making and all the data that supports those opinions and decision making, put that in the appendix. If folks want to really read it, they'll go there but no one likes to see that they have to put through a 300-page product lifecycle plan to really get a good appreciation for what the strategy is. Cover the main parts in the plan and put the rest in the appendices.

All right, so there is a quick review of the product success plan itself. Covered it real quickly, if you have any questions or you want to talk about some more, please feel free to reach out to us at Happy to discuss anything at length, we love talking about this stuff. We kind of get geek out about it. Maybe a character flaw there, who knows? I'll let you make that decision but again, please feel free to reach out to us. So, if you do want to request a copy of the template, again, no obligation, use it as you see fit.

Go to our website at Go to the main menu here. Hover over the more. You'll be able to choose from a submenu down there. Choose Business Management tools, click on that. When you do click on Business Management tools, here's the page that you're going to get. Go about halfway down. In the teal boxes here, you can see that says, request free products success planning template. That's what we just reviewed. Put your name in here, enter your email. Hit get template and within 24 hours, we will send you a copy of the template.

That's what we have for you here today. I hope you found a lot of it of value. Maybe a couple things, a couple takeaways of value but we really enjoyed the conversations we've had already about products success planning. Again, please feel free to reach out to us if you have any other thoughts or comments or questions and hope to be talking to you again at another webinar about different marketing business management and product management topics. Again, thanks again and everyone have a great day.

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