One of the most frustrating occurrences for both an agency and it's clients are delays to final deployments. Picture it: you've worked for weeks or months on a project, gone through a design, development, and testing cycle. You are a day or two from deployment. And suddenly, everything comes screeching to a halt. Next thing you know, you have a new list of things to worry about, and the new launch date is delayed wreaking havoc on your company and surely, sullying your professional reputation as the project stakeholder.
Yeah. That sucks – to put it bluntly.
So what can cause a deployment delay? Honestly, any number of things. Frequently, they are unknowns. Which reminds me of the time I asked a customer if he could predict any unknowns that we should keep an eye out for, to which, he replied that "then they wouldn't be unknowns, right?" Good point!
Despite that, there are often familiar narratives that lead to deployment delays, and those are what we will cover in this post. So, in no particular order, here are some common reasons projects are delayed at the eleventh hour.
By far, the most significant cause of deployment delays is related to website content. This is lesser an issue when building web applications because they are typically less content-heavy. But for websites that include marketing and informational sites, content issues are the most prevalent cause of slowdowns near deployment.
Content "issues" can mean a few things. First, it often occurs that content simply isn't ready – it hasn't been created yet. This is somewhat frustrating because the project has probably been in motion for quite some time. So, the idea that content isn't ready by deployment is somewhat of a no-brainer type of issue that one would think is easy to avoid. What's a tip or trick to avoid this issue? Just be aware and mindful that you need to complete your content creation early in the process. Procrastination doesn't help anyone.
Sometimes, the issue isn't creation but rather content entry. IE, the content exists but hasn't been entered into the content management system. This is somewhat more understandable. It could be a training issue, or it could be a tech issue. Perhaps the CMS isn't ready on time, and therefore the content entry is delayed. In reality, content should be entered as pages and templates are created, to avoid these types of last-minute delays. A little planning can go a long way.
Finally, the most frustrating delay that is caused by content is a failure to have the content approved by a stakeholder. It was created and entered into the system, but no one thought to get approval for the end product. More on that later, but, this is something that needs careful consideration.
And, before I move on, I mentioned earlier that usually content issues are exclusive to informational or marketing-driven websites. Well, that isn't entirely true... Applications need copy for the user interface and experience. Like form labels, intructional text, help sections, automated emails. Those items can be overlooked and delay a deployment too, so be on the lookout early to make sure you are addressing them early.
I alluded to this in the previous point – how delays can be incurred by content lacking approval by stakeholders. But, it isn't just content, it can be the entire product as well. For example, having a CEO or other executive approve a design after it's been developed and is waiting for implementation is probably the most significant mistake you can make in a project of this scale. Yet, it happens often.
Executives are busy, and many employees know this and figure they will keep them out of the loop as long as they can. But, I've never seen an executive or CEO who didn't care to see the progress of their public-facing website early on in the process. Because of this, it's essential that you present all designs and other assets to your executive for their blessing and sign-off. The consequences otherwise are problematic. Not only will you be delayed in deployment, but you'll also be looking at more time-consuming and expensive changes than you would have if you had just sent it for early approval.
The lesson here? Be open and inclusionary with the highest-level stakeholders early in the process. If they scoff and seem disinterested, at least you know that they won't then serve as a last-minute roadblock. And if they are involved, then you have just avoided a hassle later on down the line.
Internal IT Delays
In many cases, IT is still rearing their heads as the go-to resource for hosting websites and applications. Many a deployment has been delayed because IT resources are either too busy to work on setting up the environment, or are mired in red tape configuring everything for your usage. Even worse, sometimes it just takes time and trial and error to get everything right, which is the most frustrating case.
If dealing with IT is a necessary step, then try to work through those possible issues early in the process. You can have a production environment set up many months before deployment, and have several run-throughs completed for what a deployment process looks like, to avoid these annoying delays.
Lack of Adequate Testing
The most frustrating deployment delay is when a functionality issue is presented at the last minute. This usually means something went wrong in terms of checks and balances. Testing is an ongoing process. This means that at many points during a project lifecycle, things are being tested, improved, retested, and approved. To have a project delayed because of an issue with a feature or function is really a shame, given that there have been many opportunities to avoid this issue along the way.
IT's best to stick to a stringent testing regiment and approval process during a project's design, development, and final acceptance period to avoid these types of last-minute delays. Incorporate testing as a primary silo of your project plan and understand it's relative importance concerning the success of your initiative, and such delays can be easily avoided.
Nibbles: Last Minute "Enhancements"
This is typically a client-side issue more than an agency. The "pursuit of perfection" before deployment via what I like to call "nibbles" can lead to indefinite delays. It's hard to predict when a project will be finished if it enters into this cycle.
Why do nibbles happen? Typically it's because of a stakeholder who needs a level of reassurance that a project is ready to be seen by the public. Fearful of scrutiny, subconsciously clients sometimes embrace delay to avoid that feeling of discomfort that arises with unleashing your project to the world.
How can you work around this? First, realize that whenever you do anything worth doing, it comes with a level of discomfort. So, embrace that. Secondly, understand also that there is no finished product in the digital world. You can release your project, and, barring some massive oversight, make minor adjustments along the way in result to user feedback. You'll be iteratively improving and refining the product as opposed to being stuck in a spiral of delay based on a lack of focus.
Don't nibble – release your project and make informed judgments regarding potential improvements that are based on quantifiable data.
As an agency owner, delays are the worst. The closer you get to the end of the project, the more delays anger and frustrate you, but even worse, the more expensive and time-consuming they are for the client. Our goal is to mitigate the risk of delays with proper planning and a rigorous process for design, development, and testing. Knowing that the above are all common causes of delays, as a client, work to avoid or at the least minimize the chances of them occurring. Your agency, customers, and colleagues will all appreciate the careful planning and foresight employed in managing your project to a timely and smooth deployment.