Ship fast like your life depends on it. Ship every week.
To generate revenue, your product must provide value to customers
A product can only provide value when it is actually real, delivered or in 'prod' to use software delivery lingo.
As a founder or product manager, this is your primary purpose.
You might be thinking, thanks Captain Obvious!
Yet, you would be amazed at how often development teams get stuck constantly building without delivering. Having worked as a Product Manager in multiple startups, and knowing a lot of new startups as part of the Antler program, it is no longer a surprise to see development teams with 100s of 'Done' development tickets in Jira or Trello, but nothing actually being released and used by customers.
There are a variety of reasons why this might happen:
- Often it can just be a lack of focus and urgency to release features. Team busy building simply don't think of releasing.
- Perfectionism means the new feature or new improvement keeps having things added and changed. This is the dreaded 'scope creep' and I'm 100% guilty of this.
- There is no release plan in place. The development team wants to ensure that customers are aware of what is being released, and don't angrily call up creating support issues.
I've seen hundreds and thousands of dollars, and years of people's careers, spent on developing product that never gets touched by a customer. This should be gut wrenching, yet people have accepted it.
Release Every Week
To overcome this hesitancy to release, you need to build the 'release muscle' of your startup. This means releasing regularly and consistently. For young startups that are agile, adaptable and fast moving, there is no reason that you shouldn't be releasing at least weekly.
At Intalayer, we began releasing on a weekly basis when we brought on our development team at the beginning of this year. Previously, with just Ian delivering, we released haphazardly, often leading to two to three weeks of no releases.
Zeb Evans, founder of ClickUp, says releasing weekly has been a key element of bootstrapping ClickUp to $20M ARR in the most competitive software category, productivity:
Iterate and ship fast like your life depends on it (it does).
Delivering on features, requests, and bug fixes is what creates a viral loop and makes your customers your best advertisers.
We’ve launched a new release every Friday for the last two years. It’s a speed and consistency that none of our competitors can keep up with.
Is it always perfect? Of course not.
The benefits of shipping fast and shipping consistently
Deliver value quickly, test new ideas quickly, get feedback quickly.
Zeb sums this up above. To make customers love your product, you need to deliver great value. The only way to do that is to get feedback from customers using your product. To do that, you need to deliver a product to customers. This is the 'feedback loop', and can only start once you deliver a product.
Yes you can do surveys, share demo videos, do walkthroughs on high fidelity prototypes, but nothing beats actual product in the hands of actual customers. As Zeb says, it won't be perfect, and customers will forgive you if you move quickly to action feedback.
Note: Make sure you have your feedback channels setup. That could be email, online chat box using something like Intercom or Crisp, social media, or with early customers, set up a weekly or bi-weekly call to keep them engaged with you on this journey.
Actioning feedback quickly creates buzz and loyalty from early customers
This is what Zeb refers to above as the viral loop. Action feedback quickly, and customers will love you and rave about your products to other people.
To build this customer love, some recommend releasing improvements daily. If you're a one person band, this would probably be suitable. As the team gets larger, it doesn't work. Developers need to have their work reviewed and tested, Marketing needs time to learn what the improvement or new feature does to then write up the promotional material, demo videos and instructional help documents need to be created. All this takes time, there will be back and forth, and in an asynchronous remote environment, messages may not be responded to in the same day if people have finished work or away for the day.
Forces you to reduce scope of deliverable, preventing scope creep
One week delivery schedule really helps your mind focus on what is the bare minimum required to deliver value. When I say deliver value, it means that the customer can complete an entire job to be done in a satisfactory way. You can't release a half done feature. When the whole team is focused on delivering every week, it is amazing to see the creativity that comes out on what value could be delivered to help. When I'm designing a feature for Intalayer, even though I try to focus on bare minimum, I can often over design the first version. So it is great to have the team cut the scope.
Creates buzz among the development team
Creating a mindset of delivering weekly creates a buzz and sense of urgency among the development team. The biggest satisfaction when working in product is delivering updates that create happy users. Delivering on that weekly just creates this amazing reinforcing culture and momentum. This is how Clickup has won.
Building the release muscle memory
This has been an unexpected benefit. Having a consistent, weekly release schedule, builds muscle memory in your delivery team. I've seen this work at multiple companies, where the dev team just deliver updates without you having to micro manage them.
If people know that Thursday mornings are for releases, they know to plan for that. When estimating for work to be done next week then they will take into account Thursday morning is for releases. When it comes to Thursday morning, the team picks up the responsibility for driving the release without me having to get involved as the product manager. The same on the customer facing side, marketing and support teams know they need to deliver user information every week. Everyone begins to own the release cycle.
Bonus: less integration issues in dev environments
This one is really simple, and super important for dev productivity in an early startup. Releasing weekly keeps the dev, staging and prod environments in sync. Without fancy release infrastructure, branch integration issues when merging feature branches to staging can cause days of work trying to resolve conflicts. A weekly delivery cadence means it is max a week of difference between two engineer's codebases, making integration easy.
How we do weekly releases at Intalayer
The process to start weekly releases is pretty straightforward.
To begin with, schedule in the time period when you want to release. This is usually a two hour window, best when your customers are less active, and never never release on Fridays! At Intalayer, we release on Thursday mornings. We serve customers internationally, so there isn't an ideal window to release (and no, releasing on Sunday is not an option).
To make sure the whole company is aligned to deliver on Thursdays, our process is:
- Tuesday morning standup: Confirm what items will likely be in Thursday's release. This will typically be tickets that are done, or in final testing stages. There may be a bug or feature that is in progress, but almost complete that could fit into the release.
- Tuesday end of day: Product shares list of tickets that will be very likely to be ready for release along with release notes. These are tickets that are done or are in testing.
- Wednesday: Development team finishes testing, integrates feature branches. Marketing will complete the release announcement. Any new or updated help documentation is completed.
- Wednesday end of day: Final confirmation of what will be released on Thursday morning. Marketing will adjust the release announcement accordingly if any items didn't make it through testing.
- Thursday: Release 🎉
This process has worked really well for Intalayer, with great feedback from our customers on how quickly we respond. I have also recommended it to other startups who have found it very useful to increase their velocity. This isn't a perfect system, and sometimes we slip. Also not every week will have a new feature, as some take more than a week to build. But there should be something of value going out to customers every week, be that an improvement, bug fix, or brand new functionality.
Please like, share, comment. We love feedback at Intalayer, so please send it through!