Launching a New Feature: A Guide for Product Managers
Last year, Twitter made a change to how it served tweets to users. Instead of showing the latest tweets chronologically, the app defaulted to a “Home” tab that displayed algorithmically selected tweets. After four days and plenty of complaints, it rolled the feature back. Users didn’t want a new experience—they wanted their default view unchanged, with tweets appearing in chronological order.
This is every product manager’s greatest fear—working for weeks or months on a new feature that users end up responding to negatively.
How can your product team avoid creating and launching features that your customers don’t want or need?
Successful product launches require meticulous planning that starts even before your team begins building the feature. Not sure where to start? Let’s take a look at the steps your team needs to take in order to know what will resonate with your customers and ensure successful feature launches that make them happy and your product better.
What Is a Feature Launch?
A feature launch is a plan product teams create and follow when making a new product feature available to their customers.
This launch strategy requires thoughtful planning and coordinated execution before, during, and after the official feature launch. It also demands tight cooperation across all teams (product, engineering, marketing, sales, and support). Product and engineering must educate your customer-facing teams about the feature, so that they could convey its value effectively to users. In turn, your marketing and support teams gauge customer responses and field requests that gives product teams greater insight into what to create next.
Why Launch New Features?
Companies build and roll out new features for two reasons: to attract new customers and to retain existing ones. The “why” behind every new feature should always be customer centric.
New feature launches can successfully convert new users when they are seen as differentiators—features that address and fill an important need that competitor products don’t.
They can also potentially garner your product increased attention by way of press mentions, reviews, and word-of-mouth recommendations from existing customers that love your product.
Feature requests made by existing customers are often the guiding light of your product roadmap. These requests can reveal how customers use your product and what they expect from the product experience.
Use this valuable customer data to create new features and improve existing ones, enabling your product to evolve in lockstep with the needs of your target audience and key customer personas. When your product continuously provides what customers need it to provide, trust in your organization grows.
According to Harvard Business Review research, trusted companies outperform their peers by up to 400%, and customers who trust your company are 88% more likely to continue their relationship with you.
The pre-launch phase starts with feature ideation and ends once your team starts building out the feature. But there’s no point in building a feature that solves a rare or practically non-existent problem. The process of deciding which features to work on must be entirely based on customer needs and determining whether product-market fit exists.
The more users a feature can help solve a specific problem for, the more valuable it is.
Your strategy for determining the product-market fit of potential features during the ideation process starts with understanding your customers and their needs.
Research User Needs
The two best ways to understand your target users better are observing how they use your product and asking them directly for feedback. This process is often referred to as product validation
During this process, your goal is to uncover:
- What problems or challenges do your users face?
- Can our proposed features solve this problem?
- Will my customers want to use this new feature?
- Will this feature improve the user experience?
User behavior analysis tools can be used to observe how customers interact with your product.
However, you’ll get the most helpful insights for product validation by collecting and analyzing customer feedback through studies and surveys that engage customers throughout the product life cycle. Product and feature feedback provides actionable insights to help you decide which features you need to add (or remove) according to your customers’ most relevant and widespread needs.
Identify how much (if any) overlap exists between customer feature requests and what your team plans on building. Use these insights to prioritize features based on their potential impact and the time it would take to build them. With that data in hand, you’re able to build a product roadmap that prioritizes company goals and provides value to customers quickly and often.
Perform Impact Analysis
Also known as change impact analysis, an impact analysis helps your product team determine the potential consequences, positive or negative, of introducing a new feature to your product.
When you are able to identify and account for potential implications, your product team is able to make more informed decisions while planning a new feature. More importantly, you’ll be able to create a contingency plan that accounts for possible problems when you introduce the new feature.
Because software development is a complex process with lots of moving parts, small changes to products or services have the potential to cause big problems. Three standard methods of impact analysis will help you sniff out issues that could disrupt the way your software works and cause customers problems.
- Traceability impact analysis helps product teams discover links between different product components. The purpose of this method is to ensure that all the elements of a change are aligned so that the component being added doesn’t interfere with the functionality of an already existing one.
- Dependency impact analysis analyzes the effects a change could have not just on individual components but on the entire system.
- Experimental impact analysis looks at past disruptions to predict the impact of future changes. The method consists of analyzing historical data to identify changes that caused problems in the past in order to avoid them in the future or solve them easily if they do occur.
Impact analysis is a form of risk management for software teams. It helps them avoid potential problems and minimize losses that could result from missteps.
Set Feature Goals
Once you’ve prioritized future features and decided which one you’re going to work on first, it’s time to set key performance indicators (KPIs) that are going to help you measure the success of your feature launch.
Launch Campaign Metrics
- Trial sign-up rate measures the ratio of visitors to sign-ups and lets you know what percentage is either buying or trying your product.
- Trial-to-paid conversion rate measures the percentage of trial users who become paying customers.
Product Adoption Metrics
- Customer engagement score measures how engaged free-trial prospects and customers are with your product by surveying their actions, or lack of actions, in the product.
- Customer activation rate measures the percentage of converted users that engage with your product enough to realize its benefits and recognize the value of the product.
- Feature usage rate measures the percentage of customers using a particular product feature.
To keep the insights from these metrics as actionable and helpful as possible, be sure to make your goals SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound.
Map Out Development Plans
Whether you’re using a product development framework like Agile or you have your own methodologies, expectations must be set for when the new feature will be ready for release.
You’ll need to define the resources necessary to build the feature first, namely, which team members are needed (designers, developers, product managers, QA testers, etc.) for the project. Then clearly define their roles and responsibilities.
Map out your development plans to finally turn your feature idea into an initiative. Define deadlines for each development phase, important milestones, and an estimated feature release date.
Don’t forget about project documentation and release notes. Keep detailed records of your feature specifications, requirements, and guidelines that your entire team will be able to easily reference when necessary.
Once the development plans are mapped out, other teams that are important to the success of your feature launch (marketing, sales, support, etc.) will know how much time they have to prepare their own launch initiatives.
While your development team is creating the new feature, your marketing, sales, and support teams should also be hard at work preparing the customer-facing initiatives and assets needed for the launch to be successful.
The input of your product management team will be vital for this phase.
Develop a Feature Announcement Plan
Product and marketing teams should have already discussed feature positioning. Share your competitor analysis, market research, and customer feedback data with the marketing team to help them plan better.
What your team learned during the product validation process should inform marketing’s product announcement plan and how they’re going to alert current and potential customers (as well as the media and general public) of your new feature.
The most vital initiatives of a rollout plan are:
- Defining your messaging: Through collaboration with product, marketing should already be well-versed in what the feature does, who it’s for, and why your customers should care about it. Now it’s time for them to put these concepts into words that are going to communicate the value of the feature effectively.
- Choosing your channels: Decide on the most effective channels (social media, email, PR agencies, etc.) for getting the word out. Product teams should once again provide insights to guide this plan, especially in terms of where and how to announce the feature within the product itself.
- Creating campaigns: Put together your launch assets (landing pages, emails, videos, etc.). Provide team members with the customer and product data you’ve acquired as a product team to create product-led marketing campaigns that align with customer and market needs.
Ready Your Sales and Support Teams
Your customer-facing teams (sales and support) are going to be tasked with direct customer communication. Give them the knowledge and resources they need to help customers understand the feature’s value and increase adoption.
This is where investing time and effort in detailed, high-quality project documentation pays dividends. The product team’s role is to help sales agents easily communicate:
- The value and benefits of the feature
- What pain points it’s meant to solve
- How it compares to similar competitor features
- How it actually works
Customer support team members will need access to your project documentation when learning how to use the feature themselves and creating self-help resources like help desk articles, FAQs, and explainer videos for customer education.
Congratulations, your feature is now live! Take some time to celebrate with your team and allow your customers to learn about and interact with the new feature. The next step of the process for product teams is evaluating the effectiveness of the launch to see if the goals and KPIs you set for the feature in the planning phase were successfully met. Some key phases that should be analyzed are:
- Product marketing campaign effectiveness, which determines how successful you were in building an audience for the new feature and putting it on everyone’s radar. Look at data like email open rates, content impressions, social media post shares, and website traffic to determine campaign success.
- Feature adoption, which shows how successful you were in getting end users to engage with the feature and actively use it. Some of the ways to determine the level of feature adoption include: Watching user session recordings, monitoring usage of onboarding and training content, and reviewing customer support requests.
- Customer feedback, which should be encouraged and gathered post-launch to gauge user sentiment and initial reactions to the new feature. Send in-app surveys to gain direct customer insights, see if there are any bugs that need fixing, and identify opportunities for further refinement of the feature.
- Product impact analysis, which shows how your feature launch is affecting KPIs like customer retention, churn, customer lifetime value (CLV), user growth rate, and more.
Let Customer Feedback Guide Your Feature Launches
Customer feedback informs every phase of the feature launch process. From helping you decide which new features to build and prioritize to measuring the feature’s success and impact, every feature development cycle depends on customer feedback to function.
UserVoice is the perfect solution for product management teams that need to not just collect but also store and analyze their customer feedback better. Request a free trial today to see the benefits a centralized feature request and feedback solution can have on your entire product and feature development process.