Launching a new web presence for well known consumer brand is easy, right? It could be if you design the process which works. The key to a successful site launch process lies in following an established methodology or SDLC. That should be no brainer with so many approaches, both Agile and not. The reality is a lot more complicated. Each organization operates very differently, has complex reporting structures, outsources different functions, such as creative and development work. Taking an existing process and using it by the book is a sure recipe for disaster and your organization’s infrastructure is likely not set up properly in order to support an established process methodology. After years of trial and error, I found a certain approach that works well for a typical consumer brand using a major e-commerce platform such as Demandware or Magento. This article will cover this methodology in detail, however, I would encourage you to make sure your organization’s teams are aligned with this process before adopting the methodology below.
When you think of a project methodology, the two well known approaches come to mind. Waterfall with its well planned out sequence and early investment into the final outcome of the project, and Agile, in its many forms, where ideas are tested quickly and efficiently, making it more difficult to plan a final product in the early stages of the project. Most site launch projects within consumer goods and brand industries are geared towards delivering a complete product, in this case, a functional website, with a full set of features and functionalities requested by content, marketing, and CRM teams. While this may initially seem more suited for a Waterfall approach, in today’s development ecosystem, most teams operate on Agile methodologies. This creates a potential conflict between the business expectations and development team capabilities. Over the years managing site launches for various organizations, I came to the conclusion that a hybrid approach that utilizes aspects of both Waterfall and Agile methodologies is the most appropriate approach for managing the project lifecycle. Each project is unique and rather than adapt the whole team to a formal process, I typically recommend adapting the process instead.
As typical in any project, it can be easily divided into a few major components which correspond to major milestones and deliverables within the timeline. Each phase usually involves a different set of stakeholders as well as team members. The following breakdown should be used as a starting point and adapted to each project based on how your team or organization is set up, see a more detailed project methodology slide deck. The goal is to be minimally disruptive to existing processes, while also eliminating inefficiencies and closing any gaps in the process. The site launch project includes the following major parts:
- Initiation – this phase could last anywhere between one month and a year and usually involves business owners providing validation and justification for the project cost. The major deliverable produced at the end is a business brief which summarizes project goals and objectives.
- Scoping – during this phase, most of project requirements are gathered and are added into the scope. The scope document will form the basis for all further work on the project. This is the most Waterfall like aspect of the project since the list of requirement will be mostly fixed unlike the Agile method, where more fluidity is allowed. This phase typically lasts one to two months.
- Execution – the bulk of project work will be spent on execution, which included UX/UI design, creative work and implementation. It will also typically include a number of external partners whose work will be based off the scope prepared in the earlier phase. Execution can last up to six months, although it is not uncommon for larger site launches to go beyond that.
- Launch & Support – this is the most critical phase, where final product of implementation undergoes user acceptance testing and launch preparations are made. A common deliverable would include a launch checklist to make sure that all aspect of new site launch or migration are covered during the switchover. It should also include a support period to make sure any issues and bugs are ironed out once the new site is live.
Tools & Communications
Having the right tool to manage your workflow and day to day activities is tantamount to successful project execution. When working with large or distributed teams, information needs to be communicated to all members and stakeholders in a cohesive and comprehensible way. There are many tools on the market that can help you manage the project more efficiently, however, it all amounts to making sure all actions and communications are well documented. In other words, everything you need to do can be done using basic spreadsheets and documents. The following list outlines some of the more common categories of tools typically used in e-commerce site launches:
- Timeline/Project Planning – this is used to plan various tasks, deliverables and milestones for the duration of the project. Typical tools include MS Project, Gantter and Smartsheets.
- Task Management – while individual tasks are defined in a project plan, track their progress and status is often done in a separate tool. There are many popular solutions like Asana, Trello, JIRA, etc.
- Requirements & Specifications – these tools are a common way how business owners and solution architects capture requirements and functional specifications: JIRA, Word, Google Docs
- Scope Management – one of the most important aspects of keeping project on schedule and within allocated budget involves managing the scope, this can be done in Excel, Google Sheets or Smartsheets.
- Budget Tracking – project budget and expenses can easily be tracked using Excel and Google Sheets.
- User Documentation – once the project is complete, it is often important to communicate available functionality and provide user manuals to stakeholders, this can be done using Word, Google Docs, Wiki and Confluence.
Status Updates – it is important to communicate project status and follow up on assigned tasks on regular basis. This is typically done through email, however with larger teams, a more templated approach using PowerPoint or Google Slides is recommended.
This post has been written by Michael Eydman, a professional management consultant with experience in leading and executing large scale projects for retail, education and financial industries.