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Launch and Maintenance

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

All the defects have been quashed, the Web page validates (huzzah!), and accessibility is covered. Time for the site to meet its audience. Follow the process for moving the site from the testing or pre-production environment to the production servers.

By the launch date, the plan for launch and maintenance should be in place and ready to implement. This means thinking about how much maintenance and support you'll offer if you're not responsible for it on the long-term. Such support could involve creating a style guide and training the user on maintaining the Web site using the guide. Also have a backup process in place in case of a bad version or a screwup requiring reverting to the previous good version.

Switching Hands

Web sites are never finished, which is why it's difficult to say, "This project is finished." No doubt, there'll be other projects. In fact, the other projects probably have already started. Some organizations have two teams: new work and maintenance. The new work team addresses the new requirements, develops new code, and tests the code. The maintenance team deals with production problems and code defects. Not every company has the resources to split up teams in this sense, hereby making it harder to draw the line between old and new projects.

You get up and go in the kitchen to get sodas for you and a friend. That's one requirement. Get the soda and return to your friend. The "project" is done. It's not easy as it sounds. While you're up, your friend may ask you to get chips. This delays your return. You get the chips and then your friend chimes in again to request sandwiches, further delaying your return and taking a chance in your dropping something because your hands are full. When the requirements have been implemented, let it go. Any important enhancement can be a small project to move it into production faster.

Switching hands could involve documentation, training, and a post-mortem meeting. Documentation includes all approvals, requirements, project plan, reports, budget reports, style guide, scoping documents, and anything else having to do with the project. These documents are handy in the post-mortem meeting in which the lessons learned, problems, and successes are discussed. The lessons learned are useless unless the team discusses how to avoid the issue from happening in a future release. Training can be walking a team through the steps and the style guide, showing the team how to complete activities, and discussing how to handle various situations.

Post-mortem activities are a lot of work, but they pay off for future projects and smoother maintenance. Taking a proactive stance helps the site stay glued together.

Giving Birth

All the carpal tunnel, sweat, and tears finally pay off on launch day. Marketing or whomever responsible for communications has already started announcing of the launch or redesign. While you're working to load the new stuff, users will still enter the site, and a few will get caught in limbo, the zone between the new and old site. To deter frustrated customers, post an announcement of the change or a temporarily down notice.

Some sites, especially those doing a redesign, may put up a few pages at a time to avoid service disruptions. That's where the launch plan plays a role. It explains the process for delivering the baby for the world to see.

Promotional activities are in full force. The tasks involve submitting the site to search engines, sending out press releases, and inviting users to check out the brand-new spanking site.

Staying Alive

If everyone is busy with new projects and letting the Web site survive on its own, then it might start falling apart. If we don't brush our teeth on a daily basis, what happens? The teeth get stained and start growing cavities. The Web site may not be human, but a visitor touching it is like food touching teeth. Not a pretty sight, but you get the idea.

Sites such as CNN, ESPN, and are frequently updated with the latest news and products. Company sites are updated with company news, stock information, and public announcements. These pages aren't self-updating, even if they're automated with a content management system. A person has to enter the data into the content management system. The maintenance plan outlines such activities. Don't leave a project without one.

Remember to keep collecting user feedback. A site's work is never done, and the feedback is valuable for staying on top of what the users want.