So you’ve got your Amazing Digital Project™ up and running. Maybe some of your team has moved on to the Next Amazing Digital Project™. But you’ve been given responsibility for dealing with a just a few small post-launch problems. Easy, right? Not so fast.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, our Met Publications site went live in October and has been extremely successful by a variety of metrics, not the least of which are our own expectations. But the excitement of the launch soon gave way to questions and decisions, some of which were predictable, some of which surprised us.
The first post-launch decision actually comes before addressing future phases. Just how much post-launch life will your online project have? Met Publications is composed of printed titles and, as such, the content doesn’t have to be updated. However, there are a few types of issues which come up immediately after any launch:
- Mistakes (actual errors, which fortunately have been very few!): content creators–in our case, curators–will let you know that there are errors in the material you’ve put up online. Maybe two editions of a title were mixed up. Maybe some files weren’t converted correctly. We put up a lot of material, and bookkeeping problems are inevitable. The challenge here is that, while the first request or two didn’t seem like any big deal, we were soon overwhelmed by incremental changes going back and forth with our vendors. We had to come up with a post-launch workflow, the sooner the better.
- Delayed features: over the course of the pre-launch process, we had to jettison some features in order to meet our deadline. Now we want to put those back in, to align with the vision we had in the first place. Maybe some features will be easier than others to implement post-launch, while others might have missed the boat entirely. It’s up to my digital department colleagues to work with our technical team to determine just what’s possible and when.
- Bugs: the dreaded “it doesn’t work!” At least there is usually agreement that these need to be fixed. The hard part might be figuring out just what the bug actually is. Again, the ability to work quickly with a tech team is crucial. Expect these to come up, and to be dealt with, as quickly as possible.
- Wish list: consider this an amalgamation of any item above which isn’t absolutely mission-critical. Some content creators have had requests that aren’t really errors but improvements on their behalf. An important stakeholder, seeing the overall project in action for the first time, may strongly want a planned feature long since mothballed. This is a growing list that will likely decide the meat of the next phase of the project.
- More content: Met Publications is expected to upload new content as it becomes available, so we first had to decide just what that content will be (every publication?), how often it will be added, and what issues we might face. This is a chance to improve upon first-phase workflow.
- The next phase: On to the next! Most importantly, the team needed to the get the first phase off the ground may have been disbanded, interns back in school, temps reshuffled, and even the time of key full-time people has been re-apportioned to other projects.
And that “victim-of-your-success” reality may be the biggest problem of all after any project launch, whether it’s an individual exhibition catalogue or an entire feature like Met Publications. There’s almost always a loss of momentum when the stress (and pizza) of late nights getting the project launched turns into champagne and cake as the project launches. You might find the very reasons you had for the project have mutated as the project launches, and you have to provide justification all over again just to keep it up-to-date. Exhausted elation can very quickly turn to despair as the post-launch tasks pile up just as the all-hands-on-deck mentality has evaporated.
We’ve had to make sure that our senior managers understand the resources needed both for maintenance and for new endeavors–some senior managers, especially if they’re new, or perhaps work in other departments, may not realize just what was involved in getting this content online. Creating a workflow for post-launch tasks, even if it means slowing down how often you update the project, has been critical, and is ongoing.
But, most of all, we’re looking at the positives from out project. We did it! And, thus, we can do it again. And so can you.