A Guide to Taking Over a Half-Finished Product Part 3: Beyond Month 1

This is Part 3 of a 3-Part series.

You've been managing your half-build product for about five or six weeks, and you've conquered all of the steps in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. Now you need to keep that momentum going.

Here are 3 steps for beyond Month 1: Keeping Pace.

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1 - Define your North Star

Your team needs to hear, consistently and often, what simple product vision you're shooting for. 

The North Star isn't a set of features... or a launch date... or a spec. A North Star is what your product aims to become for its users. Some describe this 'North Star' as an elevator pitch, but it can even be simpler for that.

Here's Tesla's product vision (for Tesla cars): "To accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible."

I know, that's pretty grandiose. Perhaps the product you work on doesn't aim to save the world. Here's a more down-to-earth example:

Tableau: "We help people see and understand data."

That may sound quite broad, because Tableau is a huge (set of) product(s), so let's get more granular. Let's say you're a product manager for Tableau, and you own the Salesforce - Tableau integration / API. Your product vision could be as simple as: 

"To provide a simple way for developers to connect Salesforce to their Tableau instance, so users can easily pull in their Salesforce data and see analytics for their Salesforce data in Tableau."

We're not aiming for Oscar Wilde-level writing here; we're simply aiming to explain, in one sentence, what we're trying to achieve so the team gets it, and anyone who asks gets it.

This statement also comes in handy when prioritizing customer feature requests. Does the feature request 'fit' the product vision? Or is it more applicable to another product within the product suite, or a new product entirely?

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2 - Define your Launch Goals

Vision and Goals are two different things. Your team needs to know both vision and goals, consistently and often, but the two are different. 

Your team should understand the launch goals you're aiming for. This can be one singular goal, or a series of a very limited number of goals. Goals may evolve over time, and it should be communicated when they do change.

"We need need to have the functioning Live TV mobile app live by end of Q3."


"We need to have the functioning Live TV mobile app in beta for our first 1000 users by mid-August, DVR functionality integrated the next month, and all users migrated to the new app by the end of the year."


"We need to have the TV mobile app in beta by end of August, with Live TV, full DVR functionality, and recording playback all functional for launch."

3 - Keep up the positive vibes

Don't let the team slip into old habits of talking about the less-than-ideal past, bringing up other baggage, talking sh*t about the product, etc. If there is negative energy on the team, it's your job as the product manager to address it. (Side note: If you need guidance for how to address people with less-than-stellar feedback, read Radical Candor.)

To ensure positive vibes, recognize small team successes, focus on good feedback from usability testing, and celebrate the completion of large features that took a ton of effort. Manage your team's culture like you do any other product product; it's your responsibility to make sure vibes are positive. If they're not figure out the problem, address it, and keep moving forward.

4 - Execute

I need an entirely separate series of posts to talk through how to successfully execute, but know that executing is absolutely essential to the long-term survival and morale of your team. No one wants to live indefinitely in 'Staging Purgatory.'

Your product will inevitably have lots of issues as soon as you're in production and in front of customers. That's OK. Your product will never be finished and will never be perfect, but at some point you much launch it into the world, imperfections and all. I've seen product managers get lost in rounds of development spanning months... or years... the only user feedback to be had is in an echo chamber. Do not fall into this pattern.

Fail fast, launch before you're ready, and continuously sprint towards improving your product.

And... just because you got through this entire series, here are not one, but two red pandas, playing in the snow. 

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