How to know when a product is ready for launch

As product managers at Blend, our job is to define and build tools that reimagine lending for everyone involved. We’re constantly identifying friction in the lending process, developing solutions to address these pain points, and translating these solutions into high-quality software we would proudly use ourselves.

One of the most nebulous aspects of product management is determining when a product or feature is customer-ready. At many tech companies, “move fast and break things” is part of the culture. At Blend, we strike a productive balance between shipping products quickly to deliver value, and being thoughtful about creating a truly delightful customer experience. To help clarify this often blurry line, it can be helpful to ask the essential question: “Am I proud of this feature?”. The below framework can be used to validate feature-readiness by asking questions that get to the heart of whether a product is truly customer-ready or not.

Does this product solve a real customer problem in a valuable way?

Does the product enable users to complete a task faster or more intuitively than they currently do? Does it enable users to complete a task that they were previously unable to do? Or does it simply let them complete the task in a different way? If the product fits into one of the first two categories, it’s enabling users to solve this problem better than they previously could. If the product fits into the third category, it’s either solving a problem that doesn’t exist or solving it in a way that doesn’t add value.

Does this product inspire trust and confidence in the user?

Misaligned UI elements, performance snags, and error messages are all examples of issues that erode user confidence. When facing a trade-off between shipping a feature quickly and shipping a higher-quality feature, consider what bugs, deviations from the spec, or sub-par interactions will detract from the user’s ability to seamlessly and confidently execute their main tasks using the product.

Want to focus on rapidly developing a feature that isn’t ready for prime time? Shipping it first as a pilot to a subset of users can ensure that it inspires trust and confidence when it’s in the hands of the masses.

Would I use this product?

If you wouldn’t use your own product to complete the task that it’s supposed to do, then it’s not ready. Shipping a product that you wouldn’t use is a telltale sign that you are probably doing one of the following:

  1. Not solving a real problem (see “Does this product address a real customer problem in a valuable way?”)
  2. Not solving the problem in a way that creates value for the user (see “Does this product address a real customer problem in a valuable way?”)
  3. Solving the right problem with the right solution, but your execution needs refinement.

If issues 1 or 2 apply to the product, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. If you are experiencing issue 3, stay the course, but focus on solving pain points and identifying areas where you can inspire or delight users.

Would customers tell their friends or colleagues about their experience with this product?

If users would go out of their way to tell their friends or colleagues about their experience with the product, it’s either doing really well or really poorly. Companies never want to be in a position where someone is telling others about how slow, buggy, visually inconsistent, or frustrating their app was to use. This is the fastest way to completely erode trust with people who have never even tried your product.

On the other hand, if someone is telling others about how intuitive, efficient, beautiful, time-saving, confidence-inspiring, or life-changing the product is, it’s likely to experience rapid, organic adoption.

Anyone building products will find themselves in the former category at some point or another. But when building user-facing products, it’s critical to ask, “How will my customers describe their experience to others?”

It can often be difficult for product managers to define the right time to release products into the wild, and it can be even more difficult to establish a clear set of criteria for what makes a product customer-ready. But at Blend, we’ve found that coming back to the “Am I proud of this feature?” framework helps us ship high-quality, impactful products more often than not.