I recently spoke at a networking event for digital leaders. A couple of them were facing a re-launch of their companies‘ websites and everyone spoke about it with a little bit of dread in their voices. So we pooled all their fears and experiences to compile a list of tips to avoid the unnecessary waste of time and money they were all anticipating.
The complexity of doing a website re-launch
Currently organisations who struggle with the largest re-launch projects are looking to adapt their digital presence to mobile scenarios by making their websites responsive. But essentially the purpose of a re-launch is, as it always was to achieve some or all of the following:
- Upgrade or switch of technical platform
- Implementing a new content strategy. This usually means changing both the information architecture/navigation principles, how content is presented and the content itself.
- Implementing a new visual identity.
The challenge that blows the budget and time frames on this kind of project is usually a combination of another set of factors:
- The gap between the organisations ambition level in relation to what can be achieved with the available resources.
- The ability of key decision takers to challenge the project team in productive ways.
Swift website re-launch in 10 steps
1. Set a project team and a steering group who will work on your project.
Too many project teams suffer from being over-staffed with resources that are not actually working for the project. It can be hart ti limit the number of participants in a re-launch can be difficult because it involves design which always attracts a lot of interest. It is, however, worth making the effort. Make sure that everyone assigned to the project has a clearly defined role and that they can prioritize tasks assigned to them. Project team members who haven’t got time to participate in meetings and to prepare for taking decisions can be very damaging to your projects’ progress. Remember that time, always equals money.
2. Governance - be clear on who can decide what.
It is worth establishing clear rules for what different stakeholders can decide. Make it a responsibility of the project team to hear all parties, but ensure the group who makes the final decisions is as small as possible. For instance, you can let a steering group influence general design matters. They should be responsible for considering the impact that key decisions will have on the organisation and set requirements for UX. However, your project governance should leave it up to the experts to unfold design, technical architecture and other details to the best of their abilities. Decisions on how to use visual effects and enhancements should be up to the project team. In turn, the project team should always be prepared to argue their points.
3. Set a deadline
A deadline is one of the best tools an organisation can use to achieve project success. A good deadline is reasonable, yet demanding and will inevitably be something the team looks forward to. It should secures at least a minimum viable product and have clearly defined and communicated success criteria.
Deadlines are important for many reasons. Primarily:
- No matter how well you plan things a project that aims to launch something like a new look to a website will require a final sprint of working intensely and maybe late to get things in order. In order to not exhaust a team it is important that this final sprint is then rewarded with the accomplishment of launch. It is incredibly demotivating if a team is working full steam and then the deadline is pushed because of factors beyond their control. Avoid this at all cost!
- A deadline will force your team and other stakeholders to prioritise and align their expectations. It goes hand in hand with project governance and clear communication of what the project will deliver. The task of doing this can be a full time job in itself if the project has many stakeholders.
4. Dedicate resources for the project
Your project members need to have the right to prioritise the re-launch over other tasks. Look at how you can safe guard the time they need to spend on the project. If you are doing the project with many internal resources, these project members will have other roles to fill too. It is unlikely that they can dedicate their full time to just one project. You will do well to plan for this from the very beginning. In some cases, projects nominate days that are “non project” or time slots during the day when project members can work on other things.
5. Get a great frontend developer
In my recent experience, it is the frontend developer who makes the pieces come together. A great website turns content, technology, design and functionality into a superior user experience, which all happens in the frontend. Your frontend developer needs to be able to challenge the digital designer as well as understanding the backend and challenge the techies in charge of that.
6. Content and design belongs together
Many organisations try to decouple them in their projects because content work is time consuming and the prospect of re-writing everything is daunting. But content is the only thing that can verify whether design really works. If you don’t have real content to test your design with, it is unlikely that the design will not work as perfectly as you want it to. Also, if you haven’t worked on the content, your design requirements will be less mature and substantial than when you have a content strategy and good content in place. If you decide to redesign without content your project risks multiple failure:
You will end up with many more templates and design than you will ever use because you were unable to define your actual need or test ideas in full before developing for them.
- The dreary experience of a website containing new design ruined by old content.
- More design and special effects than you would actually need if you had been able to invest in great texts, imagery that fit your user scenarios and rich content With great texts and imagery you need much less flash to wow your customers.
Instead: define the portion of your digital presence that is the most important to your business and redo content and design for that. That is most likely going to leave you with enough structure and design to accommodate the rest of your needs too.
7. Keep IA and design as simple as possible
If you end up with more than 12 page templates for your website, look critically at the purpose of them. Some are most probably a product of your organisational needs and not the users’. A limited number of page templates makes many things easier, including: system upgrades, user training, tracking user behaviour and optimisation and keeping the digital design brand compliant. No matter how many variations of your web design you end up implementing those implementing first will probably need to be adjusted once you gain experience from working with them. So start small and learn as you go what your design and feature needs really are.
8. Limit the time frame for content work but dedicate the time
A team of 2-3 skilled content editors can get very far in 4-6 weeks when given the mandate and dedicated time.
9. Avoid a complete platform change in the first phase of a re-launch
The purpose of this is to allow less important content and features to co-exist with the new and spend as little time as possible on maintaining status quo. If you can’t launch a new platform without killing the old completely it is likely that content work will be rushed and less valuable.
10. Appoint a project communicator
Stakeholders have incurably short memories, many opinions and their feelings run high. This is just the way it is with projects that deal with content and design. Constant communication is essential to remind stakeholders of the project while at the same time report on progress and explain decisions. All meetings should be followed up with minutes, even if they are short and there should be a progress report every 5-10 days. Even when there is very little to say, a recap serves the purpose of reminding all stakeholders of the projects existence and makes it easy for new people to get on board. Don’t underestimate the value of this.
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