I’ve never thought of myself as an adrenaline junkie. Topping my never-to-do list are roller coasters, scary movies and skydiving. Surprisingly, the pressure surrounding the launch of a large web project at AYC Media gives way to a week of excitement I fully embrace.
Project Managers are tasked with balancing team management and budgets with client expectations–all while a hard launch deadline looms. Below are a few tips to ensure the denouement of your project plays out as smoothly as possible, keeping the adrenaline up and anxiety down.
1. Put the Team First
Ensure designers and developers working on the project are considered from every angle. Team members in the trenches need to feel supported to keep their heads up during crunch time. Honor last minute requests that are do-able, but push back against items that add unnecessary pressure to the team. Reinforce to your client the importance of being selective with final requests, showing the team that you are looking out for their limitations. Team members will work harder for the client and the final product if they feel that they are supported and that their needs are considered. Offer praise and emotional support, and keep morale high with gestures like ordering in lunch.
2. Over Communicate
While effective communication is necessary through the duration of a project, it is pivotal leading up to launch. During this time, frequent emails are flying back and forth between the Project Manager, team members and client. As you approach the final days before launch, check in with the client on a quick phone call once a day. If it’s a larger project with significant testing fixes, schedule multiple calls to provide updates. Don’t rely on email communication. Over communicating your message in multiple formats will ensure the client receives and understands it. If you email a bulleted list to your client and two points were critical, reinforce those points on the next phone call.
3. Organize a Testing Lab
Coordinate a testing lab and draw participation from the whole team. By including people who did not create the project you gain a wider range of perspective. New eyes often catch mistakes the project team has overlooked. Create a checklist for testers with an assigned browser and device to complete it on (e.g. test on Firefox using a desktop PC). This list should instruct proofing content, functionality, links, forms and browser/mobile compatibility. Familiarizing non-project team members during the testing lab allows for their assistance later on. I recently pulled interns and the Email Marketing department to help populate content for a launch of 38 associated websites. Having brought them up to speed during the testing lab, this extended team easily assisted on additional pre-launch tasks.
4. The Tech Specs
A few technical steps must be followed with every project, regardless of the size. If your team will be handling the launch, double check ahead of time you have the appropriate logins on file to access the domain or hosting company. For launches that are replacing a legacy website, it is imperative to map out all changes to page URLs, using 301 redirects. This step provides a change of address to search engines, preventing your updated website page structure from yielding any 404 errors from Google.
At AYC Media we have a module in our custom CMS allowing PMs or clients to easily add 301 redirects but your programmer can also code them into the .htaccess file. Create a 2 column spreadsheet for your client with one column of indexed pages, and a second column for them to map out a new destination page for each.
If the client has an existing analytics account, don’t forget to move the tracking code over, otherwise, register a new one for them. A final step to optimize the launch for SEO purposes is to register the site with Google and Bing Webmaster Tools, uploading an XML sitemap.
5. Adjust Your Process
Project Managers thrive on order and process, but at times this systematic approach must be amended to situational constraints. Crunch time during a large launch can mean double or triple the amount of feedback and bugs your team must process. In a recent launch I put down the programs, websites and apps built for delivering tasks. Instead I went back-to-basics and created a four-tab Excel spreadsheet which nicely organized feedback for three associated websites and a tab for lower priority post-launch items. Communicate with your client and have them dictate priority, particularly if you are facing a hard launch deadline.
When the big day finally arrives, clear your schedule for a few hours after the launch to monitor any issues and run through a final lap of testing. Celebrate the win with both your client and the team who made it happen. Oh, and the developer who’s been pulling his hair out during testing and working extra long days and some nights? Buy him a bottle of his favorite vodka or whiskey.