My family moved into our new house last July and guess what? We’re not done with the unpacking and decorating. Yes, the new house is worlds better than our old house, all the furniture is in place, we have stuff on the walls, and most of the boxes are gone, but we’re not done and it’s taken months of tweaking to make the house fabulous.
Our move reminds me of every single website launch at Matrix Group. When a Project Manager reports that he or she will be done with a project when it launches, I warn that there could be weeks of tweaks and that we should just expect it. Here’s why:
Sometime, you just don’t don’t know where to put something until you’ve lived with it a while. I wish I could say that our information architecture process is perfect and we account for every piece of content, but it’s not and we don’t. Clients often have to live with a site for a few days or weeks before they figure out where everything should go. In the meantime, content doesn’t go up or it gets stored under some generic navigation called Resources. I feel like Resources is like our garage; there’s a lot of great stuff in there but it’s hard to find what you’re looking for and you know you need a better organization system.
The little tweaks can make all the difference in the world. The new master bathroom in our house is wonderful but it had a few problems. You had to walk inside to reach the light switch and the towel bar was several feet away from the shower. We were unhappy from the beginning but we didn’t know what we wanted or how to fix the problem. Then one day, my husband came home with a wireless outlet that he attached to the wall. Voila! We can now turn on the light before entering the bathroom! And a hook added to the wall just outside the shower solved the towel problem. Same with a website. We often need a few days or weeks of real users road testing the site before we can make the slight improvements to the flows and paths that make the site really great. For one client, we added a Google map link to a calendar application; it was amazing how much happiness 2 lines of code created.
You can’t finish decorating right away. Our new house is laid out in a very similar manner to the old house but nearly everything had to be re-arranged. Bookshelves got moved around the house, we re-arranged the closets, and the living room is completely different, even though the dimensions are the same and we didn’t buy new furniture. With website redesigns, small changes to the navigation sometimes means a total rework of the content and CMS. And clients often can’t conceive of how to “dress up” pages with images and formatting until they are live.
You’ll get more done if you throw a party. My mom always says that if you want your house to look good, throw a party. You’ll get the boxes unpacked, the pictures hung and the furniture arranged — just in time. When a client picks the launch date for their website, we ask if they will be unveiling the site at a conference or event. I love having a deadline tied to a conference because conferences don’t move, which means everyone hustle to get things done and it’s amazing how much content gets written right before the event and launch.
Anticipate the tweaks. At Matrix Group, we know that it takes time for clients to get comfortable with the new site, use its new functions and figure out what’s working and not working. Leslie Blum from Carolinas AGC calls them “iron outs” and she’s right on. It generally takes between 2–4 weeks to get the help text just right, all the new content loaded, and the integration use cases all worked out. So rather than fight the tweaks, we anticipate them and plan for them in our schedule. I will caution, however, that tweaking past 30 days can get counter-productive. You run the risk of the team losing steam and experiencing launch fatigue.
In the last 30 days, we’ve launched new sites for the Ironworkers, the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the Washington Building Congress. Although the sites look great, we’re still tweaking. :-)