Launching in Lockdown
It would be fair to say that 2020 has not gone as anyone would have expected when the bell dropped at midnight on December 31st. The COVID-19 crisis has hit everyone hard, and businesses around the world are adapting to new ways of working – with those that can, going remote first, including Manifesto. Luckily we have been able to pivot and adapt very quickly and still provide a great service for our clients.
Around a year ago, I moved to Bristol to start up Manifesto’s West Country expansion. That team has grown significantly, but the majority of the agency was still based out of our Shoreditch headquarters, so I have had some experience working remotely, but not on the scale that we have experienced over the last few months.
This week, I had another lockdown ‘first’ – the first site launch I have been involved with since heading into lockdown – with a new site going live on Wednesday for one of our large charity clients. I learned a lot doing a fully remote launch, both in the run up and at the launch itself.
When developing and testing a website – one of the most important parts of that testing is checking how the site behaves on a variety of devices and browsers. Whilst we can emulate real conditions using software such as BrowserStack – often there is no better substitute for the real thing. At Manifesto, we have a suite of devices such as various phones and tablets for this – but the lockdown meant that everyone was working on getting the site ready and checking content on a much wider variety of devices based on what they had access to at home.
This helped us find some edge case with some responsive elements issues on particular tablets that otherwise might not have been found until after the site goes live. I will definitely take a pre-launch action from this for future launches to ask people to spend a few hours checking the site from their personal devices to make sure we get the chance to identify edge cases before launch.
Pre Launch Check Points
At Manifesto, we’ve launched dozens of websites over the years, so we have a fairly well drilled set of activities we do before any launch. This definitely helped with preparing for the launch in a remote fashion, as the tasks are tried and true, and could be easily split amongst the remote team. If you do not have a list of pre-launch tasks, spend some time brainstorming with your team about what the activities you would normally do ahead of a launch and iterate and add to it as you launch products – this should be a living document that is constantly updated and centralised.
Plans for the actual act of launching a site depend on a few things, including who is responsible for switching the domain, what time of day the site is launching and if it’s a brand new site launching for the first time, or replacing an existing website. What doesn’t change however, is that communication is key, particularly in the minutes and hours immediately after launch.
Everyone has probably become much more aware of tools such as Zoom and Slack or Teams recently, but when used well these are really great tools for bringing together people into a meeting environment and helping to get everyone on the same page quickly. Coordinating between the relevant parties from our side as well as the client and any external partners is vital, making sure that everyone is in the loop as to the status of the switch, and that there are clear lines of communication for identifying and flagging any issues, so that they can be assessed, triaged and swarmed on to resolve in a timely manner. Being remote didn’t change the planning around communications too much, but it is mostly a reminder of the importance of having clear roles and responsibilities, and owners for actions.
When the DNS record was switched over from the old to the new site, we noticed that it took longer than usual for that change to propagate over the internet than we would normally expect, with users on some ISPs reporting issues in the hours post launch, whilst others were fine within minutes. Whether this has something to do with ISPs making changes to protect their networks and to cope with the additional demands of many more people working from their home broadband, we can not be sure, but it is something to consider as the UKs (and world) internet infrastructure is under unique conditions at the moment – so prepare for changes to take longer than normal.
Celebrating in Isolation
Now that the site is live, the only thing remaining to work out is how to have a proper launch event remotely to celebrate the team’s hard work!