Lessons from Launching a Product on my Honeymoon

This past month, we shipped the new Shelby.tv iPhone app to the world. It was the culmination of over a year’s worth of work after we shut down our product over a year ago to rebuild it from the ground up.

As Shelby’s product guy, I was responsible for making sure that the team shipped a quality product on a date that made sense for the company. There was only one problem — during our optimal launch week I was supposed to be on my honeymoon. It turns out that didn’t matter, though.

I went on my honeymoon and we still had a great launch (you can read more about it here). And the team didn’t really miss me because we were proactive about preparing in the right ways from the beginning. After some reflection, here are the reasons why I think this is the case:

###Everyone is an owner Everyone on our team is good at something different. We each had a unique role to play in launch and as a result could each own different pieces of making launch a success. Trusting each team member to execute and own their respective pieces of launch was important. Had all the pieces had the same person owning them, we would have had a single point of failure during launch week.

###Time spent staying organized = less time spent executing Trello is a fantastic piece of software. We use it everyday for staying on top of product work and planning what’s next. Sometimes, as we learned, a good old fashioned spreadsheet does a great job, too.

For our launch, we kept a spreadsheet detailing what needed to happen at virtually every part of the company for each week prior to launch. Every Monday AM and Friday PM, we’d review the spreadsheet as a team to make sure we were leaving no stone unturned (much like we also review Trello).

A few days before launch, the team built an even more detailed spreadsheet that acted as an hour-by-hour script for launch day. Everyone contributed and cranked through it together on launch day to make sure everything was done in the right order and on time.

The team cranking through work on launch day.

###Practice like you play Ultimately, we instituted a lot of good practices shipping product prior to our iOS launch by slowly transitioning from our closed beta on the web to an open beta on the web. Carrying over these habits toward launch wasn’t much more than a natural extension of our day-to-day work. As a result, we didn’t put launch on a pedestal and were able to trust the rhythm we had already developed.

##Lessons for Product Managers I have a natural tendency to be a kind of self-deprecating guy,so at first I was a little bummed that the team had such a great launch without me. How much difference do I make at Shelby if the team doesn’t miss me when I’m gone for our most critical event in the past year?

After thinking about it a little more,I think this might be an indication that I’m actually pretty good at my job. Yes, a good product leader needs to be there to drive things forward, but product managers can only do so much (we’re not “managers” in the traditional HR sense). The manager in the “product manager” moniker refers to managing the product, not people, and I think it’s really important for PMs to remember this as they do their job.

As a PM, you are a leader who tries to set the course for product direction. With the right communication and organization tools in place, the team will move towards a common goal without you micromanaging them or cracking a whip. The hard work to do that happens well before any big launch event, so set your course early, and focus on building something sustainable.

I’m still learning and I’d love to know what you think of this post and my approach, so if you’re a product person, let me know what you think. I’ll keep this post updated with comments and questions, so feel free to chime in.