Efficient Product Management: The Definitive Guide to Smooth App Releases

Application development is a complex process involving a diverse group of people all doing their jobs. Developers develop, designers design, and testers test, while a project manager monitors everything and makes sure that the development stays on schedule and matches the project scope.

However, there is another role that is just as important as all the others, and that is the product manager, who is also referred to as the product owner in the Scrum methodology. The product manager sits in the center of a complex system, bringing together various aspects of software product creation – development, business analysis, marketing, customer relations, public relations, etc. When all these lines converge on a single point – a successful release – the product manager can breathe a sigh of relief… and start preparing for the next one.

Let’s look closer at what product managers do and try to draw up a list of the best practices for successful product management and a smooth release. We will use mobile product management as an example, as mobile application development is one of the most popular trends nowadays.

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Product management falls into three rather large chunks – pre-launchlaunch and post-launch. Each stage has its intricacies, and there are certain things that you can do at each stage of mobile application development to make the release go as expected. Moreover, at each stage the product manager needs to cooperate with different members of the team performing various tasks.

Pre-launch

In fact, the pre-launch stage also includes the “pre-development” activities, too. No matter whether you are developing a mobile app from scratch or enhancing your existing app with new features, there are a number of preparatory steps that need to be taken.

#1. Define the product value and its market

At this stage, spend time with the marketing team. They should have conducted market research to determine the product's target audience, the market sector your product is going to fit in, and customer needs and problems that the product can solve.

If you are not working on the release of a completely new product, but are creating an update for an existing one, listen to the customers who are already using it to find out what may be missing or what could be improved. From the customers’ feedback, you may get an idea of a new function or set of features to be implemented in the next release.

#2. Do the product discovery

Product discovery means determining the value proposition of your product, the business model that matches it, and the business goals it achieves. At this stage we’d recommend getting together with your marketing and sales colleagues, as well as UX designers and developers.

The product discovery is not about user stories or designing wireframes (that is going to come later), but about user interaction with the solution. The aim of product discovery is finding the way to build a product that users will want to use.

#3. Plan the project

With the list of features that you’ve put together during the initial research, join the project planning session with the project manager, solution architect, and designers. During the project planning, the development scope is going to be finalized and scheduled by iterations. This is when you are going to create user stories, break the scope into tasks, and build the development timeline. There are dozens of project management tools, such as Jira or Trello, which can help you structure and monitor the progress of product development with the maximum effect.

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It may be that not all features that you propose for the development can fit the scope of the upcoming release. In this case, prioritize the workload and make sure you include the most important features that your customers expect, or those that are going to showcase your new product. Postpone the rest of the scope for subsequent upgrades.

Project planning also includes determining the technology stack to be used for the development, and assigning the team tasks according to the scope and the selected technology. For example, if we are talking about mobile app development, always aim for iOS and Android support to fully reach your audience. Building two versions is going to increase the cost of development, however, the expected result should be worth it. Another option is opting for React Native, thus eliminating the need for two different versions, but still ensuring maximum reach while cutting development costs.

#4. Build and discuss wireframes and prototypes

Although wireframing is done by UX designers according to the approved scope, the product manager should also participate in the reviewing the wireframes. In this way, you will ensure that no important features are missed, and that the user experience corresponds to the product discovery findings.

#5. Verify the product consistency

If you are releasing a new version of the product, make sure that the new features do not conflict with the existing scope. At this point, you should also check to see whether new functionality may require a heavy redesign of the existing features and, if so, how such a redesign will increase the time and cost of development.

#6. Brief the team on the new release

Arrange a general team meeting to present the new release and describe the functionality that you are planning to implement. Explain what you’ve found at the discovery stage to communicate the business value of each feature or function. In this way, you will help your colleagues see the essential aspects of the product and develop it accordingly.

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Make sure you invite all of your colleagues working on the product for the briefing – not only the developers but also the architects, UI designers, and technical writers – as it is important that everyone gets the right message about the product. At the team briefing, discuss the development timeline, the most important features and the expected user experience.

Development and Launch

Although app product managers do not usually supervise the development process, they should always keep up to speed on the progress of the development work.

#7. Take part in regular team meetings

Attending development team meetings, you will stay up to date with the progress of the product, be able to ensure there are no difficulties hindering the project, and guarantee the team’s compliance with the scope and schedule.

Make sure that the most important features are built first, with enough time to finalize and test them. With this, you will come to the release with the essential functionality ready, and won’t miss any deadlines.

#8. Monitor and update the product backlog

Always make sure items in the backlog have realistic estimates. Revise them to better sort out the priorities and optimize the workload of the team. The product backlog usually includes both user-facing tasks and internal tasks, however, both categories are equally important and should be getting enough attention.

A good practice is reviewing the backlog after each iteration to update the lists with “done” and “to-do” tasks. You can change priorities and estimates; however, for the best results, it is recommended to keep such changes to a minimum once the team has started working.

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Image credit: Atlassian 

#9. Prepare for app store listing

Both Google Play and the App Store have their rules and requirements for applications that they accept for listing. Therefore, one of the tasks of a mobile product manager is to review the requirements and acceptance criteria and make sure the application conforms to them.

In order to ensure the release is not delayed due to a rejection by one or both of the app stores, check their requirements beforehand and share them with the development team. In this way, when the release date comes, you will be ready to publish.

#10. Look for beta testers

Beta testing is a great way to make sure that the application is working properly. Beta testers use the app just like it is supposed to be used. They do what the average user is expected to do and see whether any errors or poor usability events occur.

Beta testers, unlike QA engineers, can find inconsistencies that nobody even thought of. The QA experts know the functionality from the beginning and test it according to the established flows. At the same time, beta testers just do whatever they want, thus having a better chance of discovering unexpected behavior patterns.

It is a task of a product manager for mobile apps to engage beta testers for the product. A good practice is posting the invitation in user communities, such as Reddit, to enlist enough testers for the application.

#11. Monitor the product marketing

Marketing should start long before the release to prepare customers for the upcoming changes. Join the discussions of the product marketing campaign to verify that the killer features are showcased properly and that the business values are communicated correctly.

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The product marketing campaign should be paced so that it reaches its peak just in time for the release. At the same time, the product quality and content should match the advertising and not disappoint the users.

#12. Launch as planned

By the release date, all developing and testing activities must be completed with satisfactory results. The release should contain the bulk of the most important new features, while some secondary features can be postponed for later upgrades or discarded altogether, if the team finds them irrelevant or too difficult to implement in the current conditions.

Make sure you have prepared the Release Notes to be circulated together with the product launch. The Release Notes describe the most important features of the released product or version emphasizing their value for the users. If any major errors were fixed in the release, mention them in the Notes as well.

#13. Plan a roll-back

Even if the development and deployment go smoothly, there is always a chance that something goes wrong. In this case, there must always be a Plan B allowing you to roll back to the previous stable version without interrupting the operation of the product.

Post-launch

Congratulations, you have launched your product! However, the job of the product manager is not done yet (is it ever?). There are still some things to do while the champagne is still bubbling.

#14. Schedule a hot-fix

A hot-fix addresses the bugs that are discovered in the new release and may also include some improvements that did not make it in the major release.

Hot-fixes work best when launched within a week after the release to minimize negative user feedback and to repair the bugs quickly. It is important to notify the users of the upcoming hot-fix, so that they install the required update.

#15. Monitor user feedback

Work closely with the marketing team and monitor user feedback through the various available channels. In addition to direct communication with your most important customers, follow the masses through social media, as well as user reviews in the app stores.

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#16. Ensure proper support

Each new release may increase the number of users contacting support, and here it is critical that the support team is available, and that the response time is reduced to the absolute minimum.

Friendly and professional consultations will make new product adoption or transition to a new version smoother and easier for users. Needless to say, a professional support service adds to the positive image of the company and increases the users’ trust.

#17. Monitor product performance

Use the available tools, such as Crashlytics, to monitor application crashes, server issues, and performance levels. With a proper monitoring and diagnostic tool, you can proactively handle the issues and improve application performance.

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Image credit: Crashlytics

#18. Follow the application analytics

There are quite a lot of analytical tools that show various metrics related to the acceptance of your app by users. From the app analytics, you can gather such data as:

  • Number of app downloads
  • Number of app installs
  • Number of app uninstalls
  • Number of user registrations
  • Value of in-app purchases
  • Number of shares via social networks

These are just a few of the metrics that you can get with an analytical tool, such as Google Analytics. The analytical data can help you shape the future product releases.

#19. Start preparing for the next release

Yes, the preparation for the next release begins right after the previous one. Successful product managers waste no time resting on their laurels – they open their product backlogs to see what still has to be done, they monitor user feedback to identify what the users like or dislike and what they wish to have, and they watch the performance statistics to find what should be improved.

The lifetime of a software product is a constant cycle of regular updates. This is what brings it to life, and this is what users expect from it. No matter how good and convenient the initial version is, there is always room for improvement. And it is the task of a product manager to make it happen.

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