As a product manager, it can be challenging to balance responsibilities, particularly when leading multiple feature teams.  Christian Marek, DocuSign Product Manager, provides his insights on how to successfully manage a cross-team product launch by using checklists. 

You have one week before your product launches. Checking in with the lead engineer of a feature team your launch depends on, you realize the team pushed out your work in favor of another high priority feature. You scramble to redefine your MVP in the face of that and a thousand other challenges, large and small.

As product managers, we must think ahead and remove obstacles long before they become a problem. This becomes particularly challenging when leading multiple feature teams. You don’t have the time to attend all the daily standups and follow up on dependencies across the teams becomes unmanageable.

Additionally, the brain-overflowing stream of tactical work including customer emails, instant messages and a calendar full of meetings prevents us from thinking strategically, seeing around corners and refining our product vision. As a result, we might miss crucial deadlines, fail to involve other teams in the organization or check in with a dependency.

The Solution: Feature Delivery Checklists

At DocuSign, product managers use feature delivery checklists like this one. Most people are familiar with checklists either because they took a peek into the cockpit when they were a kid or from aviation films. @Ron Hirson pointed out to me that checklists are used by all kinds of professions, including pit crews, astronauts and cowboys.

With checklists product managers don’t have to worry about the basic steps in feature delivery but instead can focus their brain capacity on forward thinking. For example, checklists can remind us to give the documentation team a heads up on the feature launch. Product Managers work with many cross-functional groups all the time. While the documentation and support teams are crucial to product launches, they often don’t require much of our attention and we may forget them. Checklists alleviate this problem by reminding us that we have to take action and reach out. Additionally checklists free up our brain capacity as we can rely on the checklist to remind us of this important step.

Many professions including surgeons and pilots use checklists already. In a global experiment, Harvard Medical Professor Atul Gawande implemented checklists for surgeons reducing post-surgery death rates by 47%.

While we all embrace a fail fast and learn culture, there’s no need to fail and waste money if a checklist can easily save you the trouble. Our engineers, designers and I are constantly focused on developing features that make sending documents via DocuSign more delightful. Through my weekly 5 minute checklist check-in, I realized I hadn’t prepared support for the upcoming launch. If our support team wouldn’t be ready for incoming calls about this feature, customers would suffer and NPS scores may drop. With the checklist, I was able to remediate the issue immediately and get our reps prepared for our launch.

The benefit of feature delivery checklists became clear to the entire product team when we recently launched a feature for our enterprise customers. At DocuSign there are over a dozen customer-facing teams that enable our customers to be successful on our platform. Briefly before launch we realized we had neglected to train one of these teams on the new feature. Without this training, we would have been unable to effectively sell the feature to our customers leaving money on table. While we were able to course correct at the last minute, we added training this team to our feature delivery checklist to avoid this problem in the future.

While checklists aren’t a one size fits all instruction manual for shipping features, they free up brain cycles and enable us to think 10 steps ahead. Checklists help us think about larger tasks, such as writing our product requirement documents, but also remind us of simple tasks, such as kicking off our internal processes for feature release authorizations. Even though these processes are fast, because we use DocuSign, starting them early is on us, the product managers.

Start using checklists today

This feature delivery checklist captures the most important steps in our product lifecycle and addresses the most crucial actions to create an effective cross-team feature delivery infrastructure.

The steps in the checklist apply to different phases and different tools are suggested for each step. Product Managers need to take different actions depending on the phase (e.g. initiation or go-to-market) a feature is in. When a phase starts, product managers should consult the checklist and take the suggested actions. A checklist needs to clearly outline when a step needs to be completed otherwise crucial actions might be missed. Imagine a pilot missing to check the fuel levels before take off!

In addition to defining what needs to be done when, tools for each step can guide how actions need to be taken. For example, for writing initial requirements Google Docs may be a better tool than JIRA tickets. The suggested tools serve as a reminder of how steps should be executed.

Feel free to make your own copy of the checklist and modify it as needed.

Please share your feedback and thoughts regarding checklists for Product Managers below.