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Launching a Product in a Large Organization

Product
Cross-functional collaboration

14 September, 2020

Shikhar Bajaj, Senior Product Manager at VMware, highlights the key differences between a product launch in a large organization and a small one.

Problem

The company I was working for was acquired by a large corporation and suddenly, instead of working in a company of 450 people I found myself working in a large global corporation with 100,000 employees. Our primary project post-acquisition was launching a brand new replacement product for LTE (Long Term Evolution). This was a huge and strategic endeavor for both sides.
 

From a product ownership perspective launching a product in a large organization was very different. I had to ensure alignment with different & a large number of stakeholders, spend much more time on education, and enable integration with all facets of a large corporation (e.g. supply chain, sourcing, legal, etc), while at the same time keeping our culture of speed and innovation.
 

Actions taken

We would spend a lot of time talking to people -- anyone who was interested, we would talk to them. I made sure to bring on-board as many people as possible because while some people may be hierarchically important others would be influentially important. My main intention was to educate, evangelize, and listen to feedback. But one needs to be wary of being captured by feedback. In large organizations, there is never one way of doing things and while listening to feedback is always useful, I would stick with what I thought was right.
 

Also, I was spending a significant amount of time with externally facing organizations within the company like the sales force and professional services because at the end of the day they will be the ones to sell your product. You can have the greatest Product and Engineering in the world, but if you can’t sell your product, that doesn’t matter a bit. On the other hand, if you have great salespeople you can get away with a lesser product. This was why I was trying to spend as much time with salespeople and understand how they would sell our product and to remove as many roadblocks as possible from the sales motion.
 

At the same time, I was spending far less time with Engineering. Recurring feedback from my engineering colleagues was that product management was never around. Instead, I was spending time with customers and people who were selling our product. This is unfortunately a downside that could not be avoided.
 

In larger organizations, a lot of time is spent on planning and the timelines are much further out. In a smaller organization, you can do whatever needs to happen to meet your GA date, but in a larger company, if a GA date is in three months’ time, you will have to release manufacturing now (if you are doing anything with a physical aspect). Everything needs to go through compliance checks, license checks, legal checks, etc. Then it has to be scheduled with digital marketing, undergo smoke testing and get tied to the billing and revenue system. You can’t do anything last minute to meet your dates since there is a lead time for everything. In larger companies, much more approvals are needed from exceedingly busy people.
 

I would always push but never push too much. A large organization resembles a machine and the machine won’t move because of you. When it does, it takes time. When we were manufacturing I was in a hurry to get my product out and meet manufacturing dates. However, we were not getting the volumes I wanted and both my customers and I were affected by this. But, when the volumes did turn out, they started turning out very consistently. In larger organizations pushing hard doesn’t necessarily bring desired results unless you are a large volume/revenue product. Larger companies have their own pace, their own metrics, and their own understanding of quality. As you develop some relationships within the company you will be able to speed up things.
 

In the end, we managed to launch our product, if not on time, then on ‘time enough’ and it became a $400 million product in two years.
 

Lessons learned

  • Unless you are a product that is making 70 or 80 percent of the revenue, you will have to follow, with some minor exceptions, the processes that would ensure the quality of the product. You won’t be able to bypass often lengthy procedures because it would mean putting a lot of other things at risk.

  • Plan ahead and work backward from the plan as everything has a lead time. Do no work under a Just-In-Time (JIT) mentality because delays will happen, guarantee. Put enough buffers in your schedule. Getting the machine to work on your behalf can be very painful but once it does you can almost forget about it.


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