Qualify New Products for your Portfolio

In the spirit of agile development, new products should be created and introduced to the markets iteratively. In contrary to the waterfall model that products where the plan for development, production, and marketing, the agile product development is using the qualify phase or Beta phase in order to get feedback from the market.

To understand the traditional development and agile one please see the graph below:

In waterfal products are created in stages. The first working product is called ALPHA. When we find issues we make a BETA phase, which is more stable. Based on this feedback we create the final version with is the Gold Master. This will go into production, so this is the edition we share with customers to get their approval on the qualify phase. But what if the Gold Master one is not according to the requirements of the customers? In agile way of development though we use the Beta edition. This is an unfinished product that we provide to the customers in order to give feedback to improve it more. In this way we don’t spend resources, and time to create something that the end-users don’t need.

Validating what the customers need fro the first stages of the product development will make the work of a PM successful.  The qualify phase is not only about validating the product and feature requirements only but also about:

  • Product validation and product readiness:
    • Support/professional services
    • Packaging
    • Manufacturing
    • Distribution-
    • Reliable/stable
    • Completeness
    • Usability
  • Marketing Validation – strategy and tactics:
    • value proposition
    • pricing
    • messaging
    • positioning
    • collateral
    • sales tools

There are cases that qualify phase is neglected completely as companies and PM’s want to release features and products as soon as possible. This is big mistake and common reason for that are:

  • Lack of planning
  • starting too late
  • lack of documentation
  • Overly optimistic
  • Product not ready
  • Not enough time
  • Cross company resource issue
  • Development slips
  • Low participation
  • Ignoring beta site priorities
  • hard to find participants for mission-critical products

Be mindful to avoid all these roadblocks with the right planning and support in order to give the right attention to the qualifying phase. Sometimes a PM cannot fight alone to have a proper qualify phase but he will need support. This is usually from higher management. Like in the business case, in the qualify phase you have to convince them also of the benefits of Beta phase. Usually, the qualifying phase doesn’t need many funds, but good planning. To do that go with a good plan to the management. You can use the below list:

Include in your qualify document:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Recruiting customers
    • Incentives to participate
    • Criteria for starting the program
    • Schedule and deliverables
    • Support
    • Budget

If you complete with as many details as possible this document then you will get faster support to generate your Beta plan

Defining the goals and objectives is the most important step to document your plan. You should include especially the validation in the below areas:

  • top support issues
  • validate marketing
  • customer references
  • customer loyalty
  • Serious issues identified
  • product needs and further development

As always in every phase don’t forget to include success criteria. In qualify phase the format is similar to product requirements. An example is below:

Product objectives

  • all important functionality works 20 sites using product>4 weeks
  • 90% can install without assistance
  • 6 different customer uses

Marketing objectives

  • 3 different markets
  • 3 success stories
  • 5 customer quotes

As we said, the qualifying phase is supported and kicked off from the PM but he is not alone. The duties are crossfunctional and other managers should help the PM for a successful process. Namely, the tasks for the qualify phase that key roles in a company can undertake are:

1 Project Manager

Tactical project running a beta program

  • Product Manager
    • Identifies customers
    • Ensures validated product
    • Sends thank you letters and incentives
    • Uses data to expand FAQ and inform future products
  • Engineering
    • Testing for any bugs or defects discovered
    • Reporting outcome to beta sites
    • Including QA and customer success
  • Product marketing Manager
    • Identifies customers
    • Marketing validation
    • Uses data to improve marketing

In order for our Beta phase to be successful you should choose the right participants. Below are the criteria for selecting participants:

For Finding the participants:

  • define criteria

Build list of potential sites

  • customers and prospects (early adopters)
  • VS’s/investors
  • personal networks
  • sales force and leads
  • advertise for them

Decide on incentives

  • input on product
  • product discounts,cash, and prizes
  • contest:most bugs reported
  • exclusive access

 Send out the beta application

  • product brief
  • time commitment required
  • incentives
  • brief questionnaire
  • NDA to be returned by deadline

Select and notify chosen sites

  • representative of target customer
  • willing and able to provide effective feedback
  • include new and experienced users

Relatively short exit survey ( to get the incentive)

  • email
  • online
  • phone

What to ask:

  • How much did you use the product?
  • Overall impressions?
  • Rate the features
  • What are benefits?
  • Is it ready to ship?
  • What can be improved?

When you get the feedback from qualify phase – time for serious decisions

When you complete the qualify phase you have reached a gate in the decision process. Here is where you will use all the data that you have gathered. Is the product ready to be shipped or full of bugs? Messaging is right? Does it qualify to launch? If not, then maybe this is a reason to not launch it? Is the responsibility of PM to escalate the results

Before escalating the issue, deliver the final report before First Customer Ship (FCS) or launch decision to the senior leadership with:

  • REesults of goals and objectives
  • What worked well, what did not
  • Validate the market forecast
  • Update business case

After that have a decisive meeting about the Go, Cancel or delay Launch!

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