For product managers, pulling off a big product (re)launch is a lot like conducting an orchestra. Both product managers and conductors alike are tasked with unifying a group of individuals (each of whom are playing different parts), making sure everyone stays in sync, and leading their teams to create something (new) together.
Jennifer Nan, Product Manager at Asana, took on this role last fall when the company shipped a major relaunch of its app. We recently talked to Jennifer about all the things that go into managing and executing a big relaunch—and why truly cross-functional collaboration is critical to success.
So, what did you relaunch?
We shipped a redesigned app (including a new visual language), new communication features, and a new logo and brand identity. We also pre-announced a new feature (Track Anything), launched a ton of corresponding marketing materials (e.g. our public-facing website, blog posts, ad campaigns), and hosted a press event at our headquarters. All on the same day.
How did everything go?
The relaunch went really well! Numerically, this was our biggest signup day ever. Users loved the changes and we got crazy positive reactions on Twitter and great press coverage. The relaunch also resulted in the biggest NPS lift in our company’s history.
Internally, the relaunch went surprisingly smoothly. There were no fires to put out.
That’s awesome. Why do you think the relaunch went so smoothly?
I think there were a bunch of small things that added up to making our relaunch go particularly smoothly.
First, we made sure that everyone on the team bought into the vision. When every member of the team deeply understands the goals of a launch and why we’re doing what we’re doing, it’s so much easier to get great results because we’re all moving towards the same destination.
On the execution side, we broke down the relaunch—which was a huge project—into smaller pieces of work so that people knew exactly what they were supposed to do, felt empowered to make decisions on those pieces of work, and could move as fast as possible. In other words, everyone felt ownership over how the relaunch went and were able to really shine during this project. And when your coworkers are super talented to begin with, this setup makes for some really stellar results.
Another big part of our success was working closely with teams across the company: Product, Marketing, User Ops, etc. The relaunch was a company-wide effort that required many different teams together.
I think most product managers would agree that collaborating cross-functionally is really important. But… how do you actually make that happen?
You have to adopt the mindset of “we’re in all this together” and share a company vision. We emphasized that the relaunch was an “all hands on deck” effort because it was a company priority, not just one team’s. (We even gave an All Hands presentation called “All Hands on Deck” to the whole company.) I believe adopting this mentality was one of the biggest factors of our success.
This made it easier to get everyone on the same page and rally around a common goal. For example, we asked every team to consider how they could help with the relaunch, and to prioritize their own work against the common goal. Two full product teams ended up volunteering to pause their own work so they could help out. I think it’s pretty cool that they chose to do this themselves rather than have it mandated from above.
What can a PM do to make sure everyone gets along, especially when working with lots of different teams (and personalities)?
Make it a priority to avoid the blame game. Whenever a product launch goes wrong, it’s easy for teams to blame other departments. Marketing blames Product for delivering a crap product, Product blames Marketing for telling a bad story, etc. With the relaunch, I knew accidental misunderstandings were likely to happen, especially with all the moving parts, and cause breakdowns in execution so I deliberately tried to minimize that.
One of the most important things we did was emphasize that each person working on the relaunch was 100% responsible for success. Blaming other people or teams was not an acceptable option. If someone felt like they couldn’t execute on their part successfully, it was their responsibility for coming up with a solution—including working with other teams!
How do you keep all the different pieces of a major launch on track—and moving forward?
Stay vigilant. Product launches, especially big ones, are going to involve lots of moving parts and dependencies. So it’s easy to get off track. If one thing slips, then there’s this whole domino effect. We kept the relaunch on track by documenting key milestones, dates, and dependencies in a “Launch Plan” project in the Asana app. This helped us understand exactly what was going to happen and see the potential impact of anything slipping.
We also had regular check-in meetings leading up to the big day. We did two things in these meetings:
First, each lead gave a status update on their team, which made it easier for everyone to stay on the same page, surface things that were falling through the cracks, and identify misunderstandings.
Second, we also discussed remaining risks and mitigations. This was harder to do, but probably more important. When there’s a lot riding on a product launch, it’s tempting to sweep problems under the rug and say, “Everything’s good!” even when they aren’t. So these check-in meetings were a chance for us to keep each other honest, ask hard questions about how things were really going, and discuss any remaining risks. This made it easier for people to get help if needed and get comfortable with each other’s plans.
I can imagine things getting pretty stressful leading up to a launch. How do you help the team stay productive during crunch time?
It’s so easy for leaders to just focus on the work that needs to happen for a launch and forget about the human side of leading a team. But keeping people empowered and happy is so critical to making a launch successful.
At Asana, we sometimes joke about how plans would be so much easier if we were working with robots. But we in fact work with other humans who are way more interesting and nuanced, and we need to account for that. It’s about matching people’s skills to the right projects, encouraging them to take care of themselves, and being there for them through the late nights, tough calls, ambiguity, and fears.
What did you do on the actual day of the relaunch?
The day itself was obviously exciting! I spent the first part of the morning in a product “war room” to make sure everything on the product side was running smoothly. As soon as we hit the button to launch the features to everyone, I ran over to the marketing war room to be there while they launched the announcement on our blog and see some of the early reactions come in on Twitter.
Before going to another part of the office to give a presentation about the relaunch to members of the press, I swung by the room where all the other Asanas were gathered to watch the press event unfold. It was super cool to feel the energy and good vibes in each of these rooms. It really felt, viscerally, like a true company-wide effort.
Know someone who’s gearing up for a product relaunch? Share this article with teammate or friend.
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