There’s not a lot about air travel that I love. I like traversing vast distances rapidly, but I don’t care for being jammed into a hermetically sealed tube with hundreds of strangers, wedged into a seat designed for someone about ¾ my size, usually in a middle seat with absolutely no elbow room.
I do love the feeling of acceleration on takeoff but am not a big fan of landings. To me, a landing seems like the one part where things can go horribly wrong. A friend of mine is a commercial pilot, and I was discussing with him what landing must be like. He confirmed that landing can be the trickiest part of a flight. There’s a standard procedure that you follow, but there are also a bunch of variables you have little to no control over, like weather, other aircraft, and equipment failures. Yet, if you follow the procedure and you are paying attention, statistically every landing succeeds. And after a few, landing planes becomes a bit old hat.
The other thing is that landings aren’t just the pilot’s job. There are a number of people, each with their own highly specialized jobs, all working in concert to safely get me and my fellow intercontinental travelers on the ground. So, while it’s normal and natural for me to have anxiety and concerns about landing safely, mishaps very seldomly actually occur.
I think about this every time I am guiding a client through a site launch. No matter how much time and effort goes into creating the content, designing, and programming of a new site, eventually you get to the point where someone has to make the necessary adjustments in DNS and site configuration so that the new site shows up when users call up the domain in a browser. Like landing a plane, launching a site means coordinating between multiple players, and everyone needs to do their specialized jobs. For some clients, this is all new territory and it can be a little anxiety producing. Fortunately, site launches are fairly formulaic, and as long as you get all the right people talking to each other at the right time, you can minimize or eliminate entirely any possibility of last-minute snafus on your launch day. Like landing a plane, each person involved is a professional who knows his or her job very well, and as long as you have planned ahead properly, very little is likely to go wrong.
In order to properly plan ahead, the first thing you need to do is determine what your projected launch date is, and work backward in your project plan from there. I like to ensure that all interested parties are on the same page and in communication with each other at least one full month before the proposed launch date. Usually this takes the form of a meeting between us, our client, and any outside vendors (hosting companies/departments, IT firms who manage Domain names, etc.) – a meeting that often takes less than 15 minutes.
In preparation for that initial meeting, it is good to have a draft launch plan ready to review and discuss. In that plan, you should at least identify what tasks need to be accomplished, even if you aren’t yet certain who will be responsible for them. Each task needs to have a responsible party assigned, so a key outcome of this initial meeting is determining those responsible parties.
So, what are the tasks that should be on that launch plan? Our generic technical launch checklist is comprised of the following.
Actions in advance of launch:
- Determine what the production URL(s) will be
- Coordinate DNS modifications with Domain DNS authority
- Coordinate purchase and configuration of SSL cert
- Configure the site on Production environment at the new URL
- Verify that the site is working over SSL at that URL via hosts file manipulation
On launch day:
- Switch DNS
- Verify DNS switchover
- Run broken links report and fix any broken internal links
Often, there are additional project-specific tasks that need to be added. Sometimes, particularly with WordPress launches, there are some tasks that can’t be done in advance of launch, so some of these tasks need to move from IN ADVANCE OF LAUNCH to ON LAUNCH DAY.
The real key is that everyone involved needs to have a shared understanding of who is responsible for each task that needs to be done, and when that task is going to be accomplished. Additionally, it is critical that there are open lines of communication along the way. Be sure to schedule check-ins leading up to launch, particularly in the week prior to launch while the site is in a soft-launch or preview state. This ensures that everything is ready to go and that nothing in the plan has changed.
While you can’t mitigate all risk (power outages, internet outages, and all sorts of mishaps can still occur), you can reduce risks to the point where you are always ready for what does come your way. After you have gotten a few site-launches under your belt, you will approach each new launch like a commercial pilot approaches landing a jet. Calm, under control, and ready to make the needed adjustments that may come up.