Feature launches are one of the most exciting events in our office. When a new feature or functionality goes live for our customers, the whole team likes to party. We normally celebrate with loud music, a variety of tasty beers, and maybe a team Instagram or two.
Over the past year we’ve learned a lot of lessons about the organization, development, and marketing of new product feature launches, starting from that initial “Eureka!” moment all the way to launch day. Here’s a window into the way we do launches, and a few of the lessons that stick out to me.
Product updates are normally championed internally by one person. But if that person can’t get the majority of the team excited about the change, it won’t happen. There is no mandate from above about each new feature - we simply look at what’s exciting for us and what could help our customers.
This “group excitement” is critical in every part of the launch process. After all, you can’t design and build an intuitive product unless you have some excitement for it. Marketing certainly can’t write a useful post or script if they don’t understand why the feature is useful. The excitement carries through all the way to launch day (and beyond!). So while one internal driver might continually stoke the “feature fire,” it must be a group effort.
We’ve got lots of ideas. I think we could run for two years (or more, depending on how much coffee Max drinks) on just the ideas we have on the board right now. Every day, new ideas come streaming in from customers, new users, and team members. These are the lifeblood of our new development. New updates must be prioritized, which is why we’re so lucky to have Ben.
Ben, also known as our chief mixologist, is the guy who makes the trains run on schedule. For each new launch, he keeps tabs on where production is, makes sure marketing knows what the feature is and how it works, and updates support on what issues users may run into.
We’ve tried a bunch of different approaches for keeping everyone in the loop, like group meetings, and software tools like Trello. While those are all important, having a designated person to oversee and push features through is critical. Feature development can be a slog, and it’s good to have a Ben to keep things running smoothly (and kick some butts when necessary).
Video has become center to our new feature launch strategy. Video communicates the value of the new feature, how to use it properly, and gives viewers a window into our team personality.
There are lots of details to figure out when producing and marketing your video - while it gets easier each launch, there are a bunch of the lessons we’ve learned this year:
A view on your site is just plain more valuable. Make sure viewers see the video nearest to where they can take action, like signup for your newsletter or for a free trial of your product/service.
Having the video close to the feature also means you can mitigate confusion and help your users feel closer to your team. When we updated our stats interface, we placed a video inside each account to greet users. While we did a separate marketing launch on our blog (with a different video), we wanted to make sure we gave customers something special. Long-time users can get thrown for a loop when buttons are moved or pages are re-designed, so get to them early. This approach led to less confusion, which meant fewer support requests and happier users (double-win!).
When we concept and script a new feature launch video, we start with who should be in the video, and what the message is. It’s not until after the scripted live-action video has been shot that we record the b-roll of the actual feature updates. It can be really easy to get bogged down screencasting the app - and hard to generate an exciting video that way too. So pepper in app shots, don’t make that the only focus.
There is constant development going on inside the Wistia product. Many (if not most) of those changes will never be noticed by customers - and that’s by design. We’re constantly iterating on how we encode, deliver, and track video. We do it much faster and more efficiently than ever before. But to the customer, these changes should be mostly invisible.
It can be easy to get caught up in customer-facing launches, and we’ve certainly been guilty of this. But to support team unity and momentum, we make sure to celebrate even these ‘customer-invisible’ launches. This helps unify the team, and keeps busy folks up-to-speed on the latest developments.
With a high-speed and growing team, the feature launch learnings need to be shared, and fast. We learned the only way to internalize these new lessons throughout the whole team was by documenting the process.
After each big launch, we put together a Google Doc post-mortem on what worked, and also what didn’t. We supplement it with any and all data available, so it will be easy to come back to it in the future. As we get better at this process, our Feature Launch Textbook will mean practices that work get amplified, and those that don’t won’t get repeated (mega win!).
We already have plenty of features in the pipeline for 2013 - which (probably) means many more lessons to be learned (and shared!). I hope these will help with your next successful launch!