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A “Hail Mary” Approach to Product Launch?

October 18, 2012 | By Jeff Lash

Many organizations struggle with product launch, ending up with ineffective and costly go-to-market failures. Similarly, some football teams run too many unsuccessful plays, struggling week after week to make any progress.

We are well into American football season here in the U.S., and while I'm normally not one for sports metaphors, it struck me that football provides good analogies for how companies bring products to market. Many organizations struggle with product launch, ending up with ineffective and costly go-to-market failures. Similarly, some football teams run too many unsuccessful plays, struggling week after week to make any progress.

Even if you're not an avid football fan, you may be familiar with the Hail Mary, a unique pass used when one team is losing while the clock is running down. All of the pass receivers head downfield, and the quarterback launches a long pass high into the air, hoping one of his receivers can miraculously catch it in the end zone for a touchdown. There is not much coordination between players, who often unintentionally jostle teammates, nor is there much strategy behind the play, other than to "throw and hope." No team goes into a game planning to throw a Hail Mary; it's a last-ditch effort when other plans have failed. It may be exciting for spectators, but history shows that 95 percent of the time, the Hail Mary fails.

This is how some companies approach product launch. Behind schedule or behind in the market and with options limited, they frantically throw a Hail Mary – little strategy, little planning, just "launch and hope." Members of the product launch team bump up against each other, the competition pounces, and the chances of success are slim.

Now let’s compare the Hail Mary to another (more common) play in football – the kick return.

In this play, a player from the receiving team catches the kick and runs behind a strong formation of his teammates. Successful teams work effectively before the play starts by setting a goal and strategy. They analyze the opposition's players, lining up their own players accordingly. They plan which direction the ball carrier will go, based on a number of potential scenarios, and as soon as the ball is kicked, they adjust. Once the ball is caught, the team moves down the field as a single unit, rather than a collection of individual players. The objective is to block the opposition and give the ball carrier room to run. Each player is clear about his individual role and how that contributes to the broader goal.

Successful companies opt for this approach to product launch. They define the outcomes they want. They plan ahead and analyze potential scenarios well before launch. They define roles and responsibilities, and how those relate to the overall plan and goals. They analyze the market and the competition and develop a strategy. As the product launch evolves, they adjust their plans. When it's time to put the plan into action, it’s executed as a coordinated group of activities, rather than a collection of checklist items to be crossed off.

As you think about your next product launch, ask yourself: Is our team running an organizational strategy, or are we throwing a Hail Mary?

Jeff Lash

Jeff Lash is Vice President and Group Director of Go-to-Market at SiriusDecisions, where he leads the Product Management and Portfolio Marketing Research and Advisory Services. A recognized thought leader in product management, he has over 15 years of experience in product management, product development, product marketing, and user experience design. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.

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