It happens to the best of us. We set a date for something and, for reasons unanticipated, that date comes and goes like MySpace. However, there are some things we can do to minimize the risk of missing that date (which, in some cases, can decide a project’s success. . .or failure). If your new website has to launch in time for that annual conference, or publication or board meeting, then it’s vital to make sure communication is clear and prompt, procedures are followed and risks are identified throughout the project. Don’t be the next victim of a lapsed deadline! Here are six things you can do to make sure you meet that all important date.
1. Respond to email.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes something as simple as a pending email response can push a delivery date back. Failure to respond to emails quickly can cause a domino effect that can delay a website from launching. For example, if a firm is waiting on approval or feedback on a deliverable, they often cannot move onto the next phase of the project without official signoff from a main project point of contact (POC). If one of my clients is slow to respond, I’ll follow up with phone calls, but swift replies on both sides of the fence will help reduce risk and keep the project running smoothly. So, don’t forget to check your “nagging from my PM” folder for important questions and requests!
2. Don’t ignore the content Goliath.
We’ve heard it a thousand times: content is king. All of my clients know this, and we emphasize the importance of content planning from day one of any website project. However, failure to establish a feasible content writing, editing and approval schedule is one of the most common reasons why websites don’t go live for weeks—and even months—after the desired launch date. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of work required to identify, write and enter website content, so start early! I work with my clients to establish a content schedule that coincides with the main project schedule, but it’s up to the client to see it through. Waiting until development is complete to start thinking about content never ends well!
3. Get it approved.
A horror story I’ve heard from several clients is finding out at the last minute that a previously unknown stakeholder has to approve a website before it goes live. For example, a university may elect a committee to oversee a website redesign and, at the eleventh hour, finds out the president wants to weigh in before the switch is flipped. This could amount to hours of rework and long delays. Seems like a longshot, but it happens more than you think. To avoid this, make sure all stakeholders are identified at the beginning of the project. Even if day to day contacts are involved in 99% of project activities, make sure you know what has to happen before a website goes live, and who has to give the thumbs up to make it happen. If the president/CEO wants to be hands off until there is a finished product, account for this in the project plan and identify the risk early on. You can never be too prepared!
4. Document everything.
We all like to think our team members will be with us forever, but as we all know, people leave. This can sometimes be unavoidable, but if a main player leaves at a critical point in the project, this could cause major delays as we wait for a replacement to be identified and brought up to speed. It’s always tough when stakeholders change midway through a project, but thorough documentation can help ease the transition. Don’t rely solely on your vendor to do the knowledge transfer. (We’ll do our best, but, you know your organization better than we do!) Setting the new person up with documents, notes, designs and other resources they can review can keep the project on track and minimize delay.
5. Know your infrastructure.
Picture this: you’ve spent the past 12 months redesigning your website. It’s approved and ready to go - and then you realize. . .you need a domain. Also, you need a place to host the site. These are things I address with my clients early on, but you’d be surprised how often a website sits on a development server as a client figures out where it’s going to live when it launches. Or, sometimes you discover the server you thought it was going to live on does not have the proper storage, database or infrastructure to support your fancy new site. This snafu is easily avoidable. Make sure server requirements are identified well before launch!
6. Redundancy is your friend.
When it comes to a website project, the Highlander approach is not ideal. For small organizations, it may make sense to have one person act as the main contact to coordinate activities, but if that person leaves, great documentation alone will not ensure a smooth transition. Keeping at least one other person in the loop can be hugely beneficial in this situation, and even if the project team remains intact, having another person to take point on a busy day or over a vacation can help keep the project moving. Unlike the Highlander, there does not have to be only one!
These are by no means the only reasons websites are delayed. But, considering the sea of other unanticipated reasons outside of our control (procurement delays, alien invasion, nuclear winter), if we can limit any potential issues we can anticipate, we will increase the likelihood a website will launch on time!