Just because your project is live, it doesn’t mean it’s over. One of the most overlooked parts of a project is post launch, after it’s gone live. In the euphoria and excitement (or just plain relief) of delivering a project, managing its closure should be considered a phase in its own right. Here are ten tips for digital project managers to help you manage your projects effectively in the post-live phase of the project lifecycle. Managing projects effectively in this phase isn’t just a nice to have, it’s critical!
1. Don’t stop smoking
Get this out the way first. The first thing to do when a project goes live, is to make sure that it is actually live, check the developers didn’t get over-excited halfway through and forget to finish deploying it properly. You’ll be amazed how often a seemingly straightforward deploy from staging to production goes wrong. Check the live project. Then check it again. And again. Keep checking. And make sure you’ve set up Pingdom or Site24x7 so that you’re the first to know if it falls over. You need to continue to smoke test well after the project has gone live and as part of that, do any regression testing to ensure that your project’s deployment hasn’t adversely impacted anything else.
2. Check the checklist
As a project manager the buck stops with you – you should be confident that everything is tickety-boo. Make yourself a checklist well in advance of the final production deployment so that you’ve got something to check back against – in it, think about the things that you can check to ensure that you’re 100% sure that the project is working as it should:
- Completed post-live QA, ensuring it works cross platform, browsers and devices as defined in the SoW?
- Set up server monitoring?
- Confident that systems are robust, and secure with a back-up plan in case if it all falls over?
- Created 301 server redirects?
- Googled it, checked the index and follow are set properly and checked the meta descriptions?
- Submitted sitemaps and updated Google Webmaster tools?
- Checked that tracking and analytics are working?
- Checked that any required data is being collected, that forms are working, data can be exported and is being backed up?
3. Ramp down the project team
Before everyone forgets about what they’ve just built, make sure the project is closed properly from an administrative perspective. Check that the everyone has put their files on the server and that those folders are in order. Create archives for old files and ensure final versions are clearly labelled. From a development standpoint, check that code is commented and checked into SVN, that the team Wiki is up to date. It’s amazing how much you’ll appreciate this 6 months later, when you’ll save yourself hours of trawling through the server when a client asks you for a random PSD file that your designer has totally forgotten about.
4. Be clear about when it’s over
So you’ve completed smoke testing, your checklist is complete, the admin is buttoned up and you’re happy the project is complete? Now draw a line in the sand. The scope of work document should clearly define when a project is complete and all in-scope deliverables are delivered. When the immediate bug fixes are complete, it’s important that you don’t start adding in last minute feature requests before first doing some proper analysis. Some of the biggest and worst mistakes to projects are made trying to make quick fixes to a project in the days just after it has gone live when clients realize that perhaps they didn’t get all the stakeholder approvals that they thought they had received. Invariably, this kind of botch job leaves the site UX (user experience) or design severely compromised as knee-jerk reaction changes are made that aren’t thought out particularly well.
5. Test and analyse
Instead of trying to make botched quick fixes, be a bit more strategic. It’s time to start thinking about next steps. How is the project performing against the KPI’s – to what extent is it getting results? Most importantly, explore if the project is properly solving the original business objectives and evaluate whether users do what they need to do with ease. Talk with client stakeholders, use focus groups, user testing and analytics identify any issues and explore opportunities to optimise the project.
6. Create a roadmap
When you’re clear about the issues and opportunities, create a roadmap to carefully define the sequence of implementing them. If you’re not careful you’ll end up with a mishmash of change requests with no particular structure. Instead, plan it out taking into consideration the client’s budget and the importance rather than the perceived urgency of the changes. Start with the quick wins and plan out the bigger opportunities and enhancements so that the client knows what they can expect, when.
7. Optimise, analyse. Repeat.
Got the roadmap approved? Now start implementing each of the enhancements. It’s important that the analysis, roadmap and optimisation cycle continues on the project even after the initial roadmap is completed. It’s often at this stage that the priority shifts from function to content in terms of optimisation. Explore the project’s ongoing content strategy; how is the project going to continue to be sticky, useful, interesting and rewarding? Now do it!
8. Do some digging
Hopefully you’ve been keeping your project status report up to date, right up to the end of the project. Look at the original estimates and compare them against actuals. By the time you’re deploying to live it’s unlikely that there’s any opportunity to submit any change requests, but dig around to ascertain where the project came in on budget, and which areas went above or below. If any departments spent more or less than estimated, and ask yourself the difficult questions – ‘why did we go over budget’, and ‘how can we prevent this from happening again in future?’ It’s also important to be transparent and share the information with the client too so they can understand for future projects why things are estimated the way they are.
9. Review and learn
If we’re going to become more effective project managers, an important step in every project is to learn from it. Post project reviews are essential. From an agency perspective it’s key to analyse what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what can be improved on for next time. To do this it’s key to take learnings from everyone who was involved in the project, including the client. Make sure you document that information in a post project review to help you learn from it for future projects and circulate it to the rest of your PMO. Ask yourself how these learnings should shape future projects and the way you manage them with your team.