I recently spoke to a design colleague who shared a problem they were having with one of their clients. The leadership team wanted to make a big splash in the market by releasing their newest software product as a surprise.
Generally, that’s not a problem. A surprise launch can be a great way to keep competitors guessing and generate buzz around a new offering. But the leadership team believed that they couldn’t involve any end users or business stakeholders in the early development stages to pull the surprise off. They were concerned about ruining the surprise.
If they did keep end users out of the loop, they would be taking an even larger risk. After all, a surprise launch only works if the product ends up being something people actually want. If it didn’t pan out, the company could be drawing attention to a flop, joining the ranks of other surprise letdowns like New Coke and the Segway.
Do the benefits of a surprise launch outweigh the benefits of involving stakeholders during the product development process? Many business leaders have wondered about this over the years. But in my experience, these two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive.
It is possible to maintain the element of surprise while ensuring success by involving users. You just have to know how to do it.
These tips below will help you learn how to get end users involved without ruining your surprise software product launch:
1. Treat users as collaborators.
End-user involvement is sometimes seen as separate from the rest of the software product development process. End users are outsiders, and because of this, they’re often treated as such. This mindset can make it difficult to foster any trust between a company and its users and increases the likelihood that information will be leaked to the public.
You don’t need to involve a huge number of users to gain valuable feedback and validation. Depending on the size of your target market, you might need as few as five people. If your target market is large, you need several dozen to get a true sense of public reaction, you can separate these users into appropriate groups. There are a variety of roles end users can take on, such as focus groups, advisory panels, interview subjects, prototype evaluators, early adopters, etc.
It’s important to treat the people in each of these roles as collaborators working alongside product developers rather than as outsiders. This will create a close-knit bond that will help keep your product details within the family, so to speak. A more collaborative approach will also improve the likelihood of a successful product launch – a recent survey found that 78% of product managers who prioritized improving collaboration reported low product failure rates.
2. Test early and often.
It’s not enough to get user feedback near the tail end of the product development process. You need to bring stakeholders and user advisory panels in early to help you validate and test regularly. If you can make changes earlier in the process, you’ll spend less time and money in the long run, which increases your chances for a successful product launch.
Early testing doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice the secrecy of the big reveal. It allows you to communicate the need for secrecy to your stakeholders and users early in the process. This also gives you the chance to draft non-disclosure agreements to reinforce your need for secrecy.
3. Make end-users part of the big reveal.
Treating your stakeholders as collaborators doesn’t end when development is over. These users were an integral part of getting your product ready to release, so you should also make sure to include them in the celebration.
A user who’s been part of the development process can be one of your best advocates during a software product launch. They’re likely ready to revel in the big surprise as much as you are and want people to know all about their involvement. The early adopters and testers will be on the front lines telling people why they like your product and why they think others will too.
A few ways you could involve end users in the launch:
- Ask for their testimonials to share on the big day
- Give referral codes to share with others for a discount
- Be part of product demonstrations and Q&A
- Present a case study from their early-access use of the product
- Give them a special badge or avatar for use in online communities or forums
Planning a surprise software product launch is exciting for both leaders and product developers and can have many benefits. However, it’s important to consider the risks of complete secrecy. Instead of leaving success up to chance, aim to involve end users early on. It’s possible to balance the benefits of a surprise with the value of early feedback from users. And if you choose to do this, you’ll be certainly glad you did.