Launching a web site under a tight deadline

John Reeve | August 11th, 2009 | , ,

Project Management Stories: Petunia Pickle Bottom Web SiteOur web design and development agency, Pelago, recently launched the Petunia Pickle Bottom web site under a severely shortened deadline. While we had most of the site built — HTML, CSS, AJAX, database, server-side scripting — there were still many pieces of the puzzle that needed to be finished before the site could be launched. We still needed product photography, copy, and some final tuning to the layout and navigation of the site. And we only had a week to bring them all together. Keep reading to find out how we pulled it off.

Version control to the rescue

We were in the middle of developing a different Petunia web site when client and technical delays made it apparent the site would not launch on time. Client panic ensued, and we suddenly had little more than a week to come up with a plan. As with everything we design and develop, this web site was under version control (using Subversion). We had been smart enough to branch the different renditions of the client’s web site, and simply dug a previous copy of the site out of version control. We were able to salvage a workable copy of the site in under an hour and immediately get started on completing design and development. The lesson here is always use version control, no matter how small or large the project. There will be multiple times, as there has been at Pelago, where a web site launch is set back on track because of it’s well-versioned past.

Project management software is not a substitute for good project management

We did utilize our web-based project management software, Intervals, to it’s fullest extent during the week-long sprint. However, it was a supplement to our success and not the sole reason for it. Online tools require people to use them, to contribute to them and use them to guide others. We relied heavily on our web-based app to sling documents around from designers to developers, assign and manage tasks with critical due dates, record and access important notes, and to track all of our time going into the launch. Despite all these online capabilities we had, the project launch would have failed if we did not have a solid group of people working in unison.

Good communication skills are essential

For this particular launch, we had all of the communications channels up and running; Instant Messenger, Email, Skype, and old fashioned phone calls. We communicated the status of the launch several times throughout each day, especially as the deadline grew closer. These conversations would cover what was still needed from the client and what adjustments needed to be made to the site currently undergoing development. The goal of these conversations was to get everyone on the same page and to assign responsibilities for the remaining elements of the site build. This required both Pelago and the client taking responsibility for each deliverable.

Make sure your client is doing their homework

As web designers and developers we have plenty of experience launching web sites of this size and nature, however, we can only do so much without content, imagery, and brand guidance from the client. Both agency and client are chained to the web site and “we all gotta pull.” In this case, the site launch relied heavily on the client, as they were launching a new line of products and working overtime to get us the new copy and imagery fresh from the photo shoot. These deliverable deadlines also required a day or two of lead time so we could crop and optimize the overwhelming number of product images and relevant photography.

Decision-makers get things done

The web design and development process requires much more than a project manager telling people what to do, it requires a client who is able to make authoritative decisions on the functional and visual direction of the web site. This requires someone on the client side who isn’t afraid to pull the trigger and make decisions that don’t always have a correct answer. Simple matters can sometimes be over-analyzed resulting in a decision-making process that is more difficult than it needs to be. Having a client who can cut through the unnecessary to deliver the necessary is crucial to getting a web site launched quickly.

Focus on being compelling, not perfect

When you have only a few days to spare there is no time for fine-tuning. There are too many higher priority items requiring completion for the site to launch on time. However, clients can easily become distracted by the details of a site and allow tangential concerns to get in the way. They can spend a lot of time tracking down minor nuances instead of focusing on more important tasks. The project manager’s goal is to keep the client on track, explaining to them that a successful web site launch needs to be compelling, but not perfect. There will be plenty of time, after the din of the design and development process dies down, to fine-tune the site. Even then, it won’t be perfect, but almost.

We launched the web site on a friday after accumulating 106.5 hours of designing, developing, and managing the final stages of project, all in just five days. The result is an elegant and functional web site that both Pelago and our client are extremely happy with. Sure, there are still some updates that need to be done. But, that is the beauty of the web. Nothing is permanent. Now that we’ve launched the web site we can spend the next few weeks tuning it to perfection. And then, of course, we’ll tune it some more.

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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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