Building a new product is a complex process with many potential points of failure. All members of your team need to work together seamlessly to move the project forward and ensure each task is completed in succession. Any delays can significantly impact your ability to launch the type of product your customers truly need.
A phased rollout helps you reduce the risks of these failures and makes it easier for product teams to plan and execute on larger projects effectively. It forces product teams to examine their progress on a more consistent basis and make changes in real time. By iterating continuously through the development and release process, everyone has the opportunity to increase their product's value and refine your release plan before it's in the hands of actual users.
Combine this with the increased control inherent in phased rollouts, and you're able to build a smoother product experience for your team and your customers. Each stage of the process will have clear goals and objectives and key results (OKRs) to measure your efficiency across the board. Without this clarity, you'll never be able to create an amazing product experience for your customers.
Phased rollouts are the process of building and refining your product over multiple iterations. The core methodology helps you gain more control over various aspects of your development pipeline, from inception to launch day.
Building a phased rollout process for your team cuts down on the potential for scope creep by giving everyone the opportunity to reevaluate their workflow at every stage of the process. Looking at each phase together also helps you take a long-term view of the product experience, which you can use to define more effective deliverables at each stage.
The phased development methodology helps you manage your product releases by breaking up each launch into smaller parts that are easier to execute on. These more manageable components make it simpler to plan larger projects effectively and help your team see how their work impacts overarching goals.
When everyone understands the impact of a project on the macro level, it's easier to build a product that's truly and immediately valuable to your customers.
1. Accurate Planning \
When you think about your product launches in phases, it lets you create a more realistic plan for your team. Each part of the product development process is represented as a phase, from ideation to active development, all the way through to release. Structuring launches in this way helps you leverage the underlying drivers that move your project forward.
In phased rollouts, each stage is functionally independent of the others. This makes it easier to budget required resources for each phase, whether you're referring to the monetary investment or bandwidth of your team.
To understand why, consider how many steps go into launching a product live to your customers:
- Customer research
- Project planning
- Goal setting
- Active development
- Quality assurance and user testing
- Code review
- Release planning
Prospecting the number of work hours and the monetary investment required for all of these steps at once is a considerable task. But breaking up each process into an individual phase makes setting expectations significantly less complicated. You'll know that the research and planning phases will require more investment from your product and user experience teams, where active development and QA testing will need more developers and engineers.
Once you've adopted a phased rollout process, gauging how long each task will take is much clearer. With this clarity, you're empowered to communicate accurate timetables and requirements to your team from the start. This translates into a more easily executable product launch across the entire process.
2. Simple Prioritization
Iterating through each phase of a roll out systematically helps you see how individual tasks relate to others in your product pipeline. This understanding allows you to prioritize which tasks need to be completed first based on their potential impact, and helps you communicate those dependencies to your team.
To visualize the impact of every task and see how each phase builds towards your end goal, try using a Gantt chart. This highlights the time it takes to complete each task and how that time relates to others in the project plan.
Example Gantt chart via TeamGantt.
Visualizing dependencies this way helps you manage the overall scope of your product launch better. Each task is represented by a block that spans the calendar and which team or individual is responsible. We can see here that the design team first needs to complete the homepage before the build team can get started on setting up their servers. This makes it easy to see how each phase affects the other stages of your project, making your determination of how to allocate resources much more concrete.
Whenever you complete an individual phase, it's simple to reassess your progress quickly and make changes when required. It's also a great way to communicate these priorities to your team.
3. Clearer Team Responsibilities
Product launches involve a lot of different moving parts, which can be difficult for teams to conceptualize when they're busy executing on their individual tasks. Creating well-defined phases for any upcoming release makes it easier for your teams to see how their work impacts the project as a whole.
This increased visibility gives your team the context they need to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable. When you're working through larger projects with dependent tasks, this kind of individual accountability is key. Your team needs to trust that everyone else is working at the same level to move the project forward.
Think back to our Gantt chart example. If your developers lag behind on building the website template, that pushes back testing and the launch date. Doing phased rollouts minimize the potential for these issues by clearly communicating how each part of the project works together.
An additional benefit of this clarification is that more visibility makes it easier to showcase wins throughout your team. Each team member will understand the work required to complete each phase of the development process and will see when people complete those early. This boosts engagement and creates a collective team ethos built on trust and shared goals.
4. Transparent Progress Tracking with Feature Flags
With phased rollouts, you aren't expected to make perfect product decisions. When you create separate phases for all the work required in your product launch, it helps you assign more manageable KPIs and objects. When a phase is complete, you look at the overall progress of your project and make any necessary adjustments before moving on to the next stage.
Being able to make updates on the fly helps you refine your product before it gets to customers and ensure you're providing them with value.
Phases span a small unit of time, so any adjustments you need to make will happen faster. By using feature flags, you're able to roll back updates and fix issues directly, without causing delays or putting undue stress on your team.
As you become more comfortable with the phased rollout methodology, you'll also be able to approximate how much time it takes to execute on different types of work. This understanding helps you define more achievable OKRs and provide more accurate timelines for your team. Each phase is an opportunity to assess your current process and make the necessary changes.
5. Reduced Scope Creep
According to a Gartner survey, 45% of product launches are delayed at least one month. The underlying reason for these delays often ties back to poor project planning and an unclear division of labor. Following the phased rollout method helps you better understand the scope of a product launch and minimize the risk of these oversights.
By building out small work units, you're less likely to overtax your team with too many requirements. Each phase is self-contained, so you've decreased the chances that one task will negatively impact another. And you gain more headspace to check whether deliverables are achievable based on your team's current bandwidth and time constraints.
This knowledge also helps offset the potential for poor time management, as you can adjust each phase to account for any potential issues as they occur.
The phased rollout process helps your product team execute on projects with more clarity and direction. It empowers everyone to track their progress, make quick decisions, and launch products that are tied to users' needs. All this translates to a better overall experience and more visibility of why you've made certain decisions for your product.
When you're building out the product development process, visibility is the key to achieving the kind of shared understanding of customer and team needs that drives every project toward your overarching business goals.