We often attribute a company’s success to hard work and execution, but timing is an equally crucial component.
Consider the products that failed a decade ago but are now resurging with full force. Examples include AI chatbots (remember SmarterChild?), PalmPilots, and even bell-bottom jeans. Various factors influence whether the timing is right to introduce a product to the market — some within your control and others not.
In this blog post, we’ll explore these factors so you can devise an effective time-to-market strategy for your product.
Table of contents
- What is time to market?
- What factors impact your time to market?
- Optimizing time-to-market for factors within your control
- Dealing with time-to-market factors outside of your control
- Example of effective time to market: COVID vaccines
What is time to market?
Time to market refers to the duration it takes to bring a product from initial ideation to market delivery. It’s a critical factor in determining the success of your product release.
If you move too slowly, you risk falling behind competitors who might capture the market before you do. If you rush, you could exhaust resources trying to push a product onto a market that isn’t ready for it. But if you get the timing right, you’ll be on track for success.
What factors impact your time to market?
Two main categories of factors affect time to market: those within your control and those beyond it.
External factors usually related to the market — such as market readiness, health, and competitive risk — are beyond your control.
Understanding these differences is crucial when considering time-to-market strategies. In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into each of these factors and discuss strategies for optimizing them without compromising product quality or customer satisfaction.
Optimizing time to market for factors within your control
While it may seem like time to market is mostly about luck, many controllable factors come into play when considering it. These elements largely revolve around how you deliver your product — from deciding what to build and how to build it, all the way through distribution.
Product development process
Your product development process is one area where you have significant control as a product manager; it’s also key in determining your time to market.
Simply put, if you build something faster, you’ll reach the market faster.
Before discussing strategies for accelerating your product development process, let’s consider how quickly something should be shipped because faster isn’t always better:
As product managers, we’re continually faced with tradeoffs. Speeding up in one area often means slowing down and sacrificing quality in others. And there’s no way around this — even with unlimited resources, some tasks must follow others sequentially. Throwing more people at them won’t solve the problem; it will only increase overheads and costs.
When deciding how quickly something should be done, consider the following tradeoffs:
- Product scope — It’s essential not to rush this aspect because a poorly scoped product shipped too quickly will fail user needs
- Quality level — Of course, things need to work, but how polished do they need to be? How smooth should the user experience be?
- Market competitiveness — Can you afford to take your time? If you’re late entering the market due to delays in production, can you still succeed?
Having clear answers will equip you well for making informed decisions during product execution.
Once you’ve determined how much time is available and decided on tradeoffs, ask yourself whether there are ways of speeding things up while improving scope-quality-competitive ability ratios.
Product scoping is an essential tool for accelerating time-to-market. Including too many nice-to-have features will extend your timeline. So, if competition is fierce and speed is vital, focus on key features that provide maximum value. Doing this better than competitors gives an advantage when delighting users.
Frameworks such as Jobs-to-be-Done, combined with tactical strategies like conducting user interviews or getting early feedback on prototypes, can help improve scoping and speed up time-to-market.
Strong project management
Effective execution and project management are also critical when trying to achieve things faster and better. Agile and scrum are popular frameworks at their core lie faster decision-making processes and improved team communication. Quick feedback loops followed by swift decision-making communicated effectively across teams sets one on the right path!
Tools can also prove useful here — project management tools like ProductBoard, Asana, Trello, Jira, or Linear improve decision-making processes and communication significantly.
The QA process
Lastly, the quality assurance (QA) process is a crucial aspect when executing a product development plan. As everything becomes more agile, it’s likely that your product release is being shipped continuously, week over week. This means that having visibility into what is being released and how it appears to the user is critical.
Product analytics tools such as LogRocket are essential for validating whether or not people are using your new features. LogRocket allows you to view actual user sessions so that you can identify and fix bugs quickly. Feature-gating tools such as LaunchDarkly can help you test your new features on a subset of power users first.
As product managers, it’s easy to focus solely on building a product. However, coordinating a product release across multiple teams is also vital to time-to-market.
Beyond just working with engineers and ensuring that everyone is working on something important, you also have to communicate with business teams to ensure that the entire company is aligned when it comes to actually bringing your product to market.
Sales teams need information about the new feature so they can sell ahead, helping you validate the scope that you’ve decided on. Marketing teams need time to put together the content and campaigns needed so customers and potential customers know about the new release. Customer success teams need training on the new product feature so they can enable customers to adopt the new feature once it’s released.
If everyone works toward the same direction, the same amount of time spent will compound into a much more powerful impact when the product finally reaches the market.
While much of time to market consists of actual product development time, executing your go-to-market strategy can also speed up time to market. The faster you can get your product into your target user’s hands, the quicker your time to market will be.
There are several strategies you can deploy to speed up go-to-market. Designing a multichannel launch is an obvious yet effective way to make an impact when launching your product.
In addition to marketing are the actual channels through which you distribute your product. Perhaps you want to use the Apple App Store as a distribution channel or ship as a ChatGPT plugin. Maybe you want to make your product self-serve so users can onboard themselves. Or, perhaps you want to leverage a partner who can help distribute your product to their customers as an add-on. How you get your product into customers’ hands can also accelerate your time to market.
Dealing with time to market factors outside of your control
Most factors beyond our control are external ones related to market dynamics.
For instance, we can’t really control our competitors or how quickly they move. We also can’t control when the market tanks or when inflation skyrockets. And, despite our best efforts, we can’t control whether or not users are ready for our products. Sometimes, users simply aren’t ready for change; even with high-tech products, we might not be able to convince them otherwise.
In cases where we can’t control these external factors directly, developing a strong understanding of these elements is crucial so we can make informed decisions about when and whether we should ship something at all. Conducting market research — whether at a higher level via data analytics or large-scale surveys or at a more granular level via user interviews — is an excellent way to better understand market dynamics.
Once you’ve researched competition and market dynamics thoroughly there are many options for optimizing your time to market. If competition is already ahead of you, taking more time might allow for true differentiation rather than trying to fast follow. Alternatively, moving fast on go-to-market could help you outcompete slower competitors who might have superior products but slower market penetration.
If you find that the market is affecting your target customer’s ability to purchase, it might be time to focus on building a great product rather than expending resources trying to penetrate a market that lacks a budget. If you discover that the market isn’t ready to consume your product, it’s crucial to revisit your plans, reimagine your solution, and redefine the product scope.
Despite having little control over these external factors affecting time to market, striving to understand each of these elements will ensure that you can respond in an intelligent, strategic manner.
Example of effective time-to-market: COVID vaccines
A recent and impactful example of time-to-market was the rush to deliver a COVID vaccine. When we consider factors outside our control, there was clearly a market ready for and in need of the COVID vaccine. For controllable factors, all major players (e.g., Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson) were moving as quickly as possible — not just in terms of product development, but also in partnering with government agencies to remove barriers and expedite product shipment. Of course, the go-to-market strategy regarding distribution was a massive effort.
The ability to move quickly and reduce time-to-market is built upon foundations laid before the market is ready and before product development even begins. In the case of shipping COVID vaccines, these companies were already conducting research on mRNA vaccines. Companies like Zoom, Uber Eats, and DoorDash that thrived during COVID had already built products prior to the market timing being right. So when the time came around to truly hit the gas pedal, they were ready.
Effective time to market isn’t just limited to the time it takes to conceive a product, build it, and ship it. The right foundations are laid far earlier than you might expect.
Ultimately, many factors impact time to market — some within your control and some not.
For those beyond your control, it’s essential to spend time understanding those factors so you can make informed decisions about how to approach time to market. For those within your control, consider adopting some of the strategies and tools mentioned in this blog post to speed things up.
Investing time in getting time to market right will only enhance your chances of building a product that truly makes an impact in the market.
Featured image source: IconScout
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