“The End”. It never is though…

Working towards a deadline can become an obsession. It can seem to draw you in with the pull of a black-hole to such an extent that everything else becomes irrelevant, invisible, meaningless. This can be a positive experience, putting ever-greater focus on the event itself and exhorting significant extra commitment from you. But it can also have the negative effect of blinding you, changing your frame of reference and altering your sense of perspective. It can lead you to incorrectly conclude that there is nothing beyond the deadline and leave you exposed, and under-prepared.

As is so often the case, it requires a delicate balancing act to wring the maximum from the positives, whilst simultaneously avoiding any potential damage from the negative effects. Those who manage this well will be best-prepared for what follows immediately after the deadline. With major product launches and public announcements of new releases, Product Managers need to be aware of the pitfalls of becoming overly obsessed with a date – the date.

GraingerWatkins winning gold_2

[Photo courtesy of International Business Times]

On 4th August 2012 Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins woke up as Olympic champions with gold medals reminding them that a day earlier they had won the final race in the Women’s Double Sculls at Dorney Lake. But now they felt empty, lost and on unfamiliar ground. For every day of the previous four years all their plans had been about working towards 3rd August 2012. Everything they did in training, every little detail they planned was all about delivering their best performance on that one occasion – the final – with no second chances. The only deliverable which mattered to them was a gold medal on 3rd August. All their plans ended on that date. It was as if 3rd August was the last day ever, and nothing existed after it.

The public announcement of a new product can feel just the same – with so much effort going into its planning, preparation and delivery. The weeks and months leading up to the big day involve pulling together all the marketing assets, the demonstrations, and the people for that one big event – the finale itself. It’s easy to forget that long before the champagne has lost its fizz, there will be plenty more to do and that it’s far from over: answering press questions; analysing public comment and online chat; dealing with any competitive response and on top of that, ensuring that the internal processes continue to deliver as planned.

The best product managers will be acutely aware of these follow-on activities and will plan accordingly. They will know that announcing something isn’t the same as actually delivering; that the gloss and the hype must be supported by something real and tangible. They will know that The Date is only one date of many, and that they will need to be able to work through it to the next key date.

In a “winner takes it all” contest such as rowing or any other competitive sport, athletes often finish the race with nothing left to give. After all, with nothing left on the plan, why would you want any resources left unused at the end of the race? Launching products is rarely like this, and product managers will usually need to continue working through to delivery, and then on to dealing with immediate post-launch issues.

Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins were swept away in a media frenzy and held aloft by the British public as examples of determination, grit and perseverance. They dealt with interviews for the Press and their sponsors; they supported their fellow athletes who were yet to compete. And of course they basked in the glory which comes from knowing that a job has been well done, before starting to reflect on future goals. Whilst the adulation from an adoring public might not be entirely evident in the case of most public announcements (Steve Jobs being an obvious exception), the fact remains that there is always something else following on behind a deadline, however big it is.

In next week’s post we look at the steps leading up to a successful product launch.

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3 thoughts on ““The End”. It never is though…

  1. Very well articulated.
    For a product company, I personally believe the product launch is the beginning… not the end. From that angle I would not compare Katherine and Anna’s achievement (which is the reward of several months and years of hard work) with a product launch.

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