Only one thing gives the project team more nerves than a product launch: a prototype product demo. Things are a little more unpredictable, because few (if any) parts of the product are actually in complete working order, and yet expectations will be nearly as high. If anything goes wrong, there may be a team restructuring—or even a project cancellation.
A good project manager will be able to predict some of the more common pitfalls and find a path around them. I’m talking about things like:
It can be hard to picture a working product from a feature list, and some stakeholders go into a product demo with completely the wrong image in mind. So when the actual product comes up, they may end up disappointed. This can end up affecting the rest of the presentation, coloring the product as a failure even though it isn’t at all.
Project managers need to pave the way for the product demo by managing expectations. It’s a mix of building the product up and tempering enthusiasm. It’s a delicate balance to achieve, but it’ll help make the demo go smoother.
Senior Management Minefields
It’s happened to all of us—the primary client contact invites his senior management over for the product demo. Everything is going swimmingly for a while, especially since you and your primary contact know exactly what the product can do at this stage. And then management makes a single comment, one that changes the project entirely.
Much of the time, this disaster happens when management isn’t being kept updated with the project. Regular updates can help solve this. Granted, they may be too busy to actually pay attention, but the effort has to be made. You might also want to try sending out pre-demo materials, just to set expectations and minimize comments based on ignorance.
Enthusiasm is great during a product demo, but don’t let yourself (or the sales team) get carried away. You might wind up over-selling the project so much that you wind up changing its scope, or promising features that have no chance at all of happening.
Get your audience excited for the project, but only as it is laid out in the scope. Refrain from making exaggerated claims or vague promises. Be realistic about the product and how it will perform when it’s complete. The most successful projects are lean and mean, anyway.
Done right, product demos can win you lots of attention, support, and funding. By mentioning some of the more damaging types of problems in advance, I hope I’ve helped you to anticipate and prepare for these scenarios so that you—and your project—come out of the demo smelling like roses.