This blog post originally appeared on LaunchScience, a start-up focused on helping companies launch and commercialize new products.
Launching new products and features is inherently a cross-functional process. Whether you’re in a B2C, B2B, or a commerce business, the features you develop need to be commercialized across a variety of functions within your organization. That’s why one of the first steps in the launch process is to create a team.
Sometimes called a “Tiger team” or a “Launch Team”, it is the responsibility of the launch manager to collect the right people, with the right skills, and — importantly — the available bandwidth, to participate fully in the commercialization and launch process.
Who should be on the launch team?
In some cases it might be very obvious who gets on the team. If your company has one lawyer and you need legal approvals, get them on the team. But consider a problem like sales training and readiness. Many smaller companies don’t have a dedicated resource for sales training, so who should do it?
I’ve generally seen two approaches to this problem:
Option 1: Have a strong individual contributor join the launch team. This might be a top salesperson or an accountant from the finance group. This approach can work, but has two major pitfalls. First, the person may not actually have the time to dedicate to the launch, since they have a “day job” that demands most of their attention. Second, the person may not actually have the right skills needed by the launch team – not every salesperson is a good sales trainer!
Option 2: Give the responsibility to the department head, meaning the VP or CXO. This generally solves both of the problems above, since as a manager, they should be able to dedicate the necessary time, and should also have some skills that can be applied across their overall domain. The pitfall to bringing on the lead is that you could be creating a bottleneck for launch processes across many different initiatives. Your head of sales shouldn’t be spending hours every week working on launches for 5 upcoming launches, they should be focused on the things that really matter for their jobs.
How should the launch team get organized?
This depends on the size of the launch. For a bigger launch, the most common pattern is for the launch team to have a significant kickoff meeting. This might be a multi-hour session, ideally in-person, that includes brainstorming activities that will be required for the launch, and, importantly, asking what’s missing or what could go wrong with the launch plan. Following the kick-off, the team should meet weekly to review the plan, deliverables, etc.
For medium and small launches, this schedule should be tailored to your company. Maybe meet once every two weeks, and handle many activities through email and Slack/Teams.
Common pitfalls in commercialization teams
The two most common issues that launch teams experience are lack of time commitment from some members, and the problem of “tween” activities. We talked about time commitment above, and it’s important that the lead on the launch is clear with the members about expectations.
The second problem occurs when a launch activity doesn’t clearly fit in one members’ area of expertise and responsibilities. For example, if you are launching in a different country for the first time and you need to determine tax treatments — there may not be anyone on your team capable of taking on that task. Of course, that really is a symptom of a bigger problem — you have a big gap in your readiness for the launch that needs to be addressed outside of the launch process.
Finally, it would be a mistake to overlook the importance of recognizing team members for their contributions to the launch. In many cases the launch team members are working outside of their specific job responsibilities and put in extra effort, so they should be acknowledged. A great best practice is to follow-up any launch with a message crafted to thank all the members of the team.