One of the most often forgotten but important parts of a launch is the aftermath and doing a launch review.

What the heck happened?

Sitting down, reviewing what happened, deciding what to NEVER do again, and what to do AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE.

But funny thing is – this is something that's skipped…put off…or saved for just before the next launch, often when it's too late to make the changes you shoulda made just after the last launch!

Karen Sergeant's back again and this time to let us be a fly on the wall during the end of days just before the cart opened on a recent launch and then takes us through the “what worked, what didn't” conversation.

We join Karen and Jaime Dubose the hour before the cart opens….

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Karen sits lost in thought…

I hadn’t heard from Jamie in a couple hours, but she had told me that was going to be the case, so I wasn’t completely panicking. But it WAS only 45 mins to go until show-time for our very publicly advertised kick-off tele-class, and so ANY TIME NOW would be a good time to hear from her.

Then a text came in:  “I’m here at the hotel. Found the room…setting up.”

Then came the photo, “My desk:   

 

This past fall, Zenplicity launched its first info-product, MailCHAMP Mastery  a comprehensive video training course introducing the email marketing system MailChimp to an audience of brand-new businesses looking for a quick way to master an integral part of their business to communicate more effectively with their audience.

Although we had handled a number of launches for our clients, this was our first internal launch.

That might be reason enough for nerves (and a lessons-learned retrospective) but if you’re looking for a way to kick your adrenaline up a notch in your own business, try this:

Go from idea to launch inside 3 months..during the last trimester of your pregnancy.

We thought we were playing it close to the due-date (we were), but then a family emergency put Jamie DuBose (CEO of Zenplicity) on a 2-day each-way road-trip (pregnant women can’t fly!) during launch week, and it was off-to-the-races to absorb the resulting shenanigans without slipping the date (or having the baby on I-95).

[Spoiler alert] We did it: we launched on time, hosted the tele-class (mostly) without a hitch, and had the baby a safe duration after the launch was in the rear-view mirror. Besides wondering how on earth we pulled it off (and toasting to it, repeatedly and often), we also managed to cobble together a coherent after-action report, so we could do even better next time.

We’re letting you in on what we learned, both the good and the not-so.

What Went Wildly Right

Karen: The best part of MailCHAMP Mastery, for me, was that I was in on the project from the very beginning, and actually shaped both the content creation schedule and the launch timeline. I knew our resources and our (very fixed!) deadline and negotiated with Jamie to build out a Task List that made sense.

Every launch has to balance available resources with revenue goals. The initial impulse is to max everything out to make it as successful as possible, but it can quickly get to a place where hopes and intentions part ways with reality.

There are a number of times I’ve joined a project closer to launch and inherited a To-Do List that is just a monster, or is structured in a way that just runs everyone ragged. And then disappointment sets in when things go undone.

For this, I could build a schedule that made sense resource-wise AND revenue-potential-wise, and we made the tradeoffs ahead of time, in the relative calmness of August.

Lesson: If you want to use a Project Manger, get her involved early in the project. A sane work-load, thoughtful & up-front trade-offs, and a happy team are the big payouts that more than make up for the added expense.

Jamie – The best part was STAYING ORGANIZED thanks to putting the whole project into Evernote. We always knew we could have ONE place to look for all things MCM-launch related instead of having to move around several different places to find information.

It was also super easy with the way I created notes for each module and each video, then added my research to the appropriate section. When it came time to actually record the content, I had my script effortlessly written, and I was comfortable recording because I was repetitively looking at the notes/script throughout the entire process.

Lesson: Have an established work-flow and software solution setup prior to launch. It matters so much less what you choose to use, as it matters to have something that everyone knows how to use & is happy with. (Read more about how we organized using Evernote!)

What You Can Learn From Our Most Harrowing Moments

#1 “GIVE ME MORE!”

Karen: It sounds funny, but some of my harrowing moments in the few weeks before launch were getting these texts from Jamie demanding more tasks sent her way. A PM’s dream right? Except that they were coming like EVERY NIGHT, and I would stay up late setting up more work for her to complete (newsletter copy, sales copy, shaping the teleclass script) for the next day, since she was three hours ahead of me and would be at work before I would wake up. I don’t know if it was hormonal or what, but she ate through most of her to-do’s in this weirdly productive 12-14 day stretch in mid-October. It was like a full-time job just to prep enough things to keep her busy.

Lesson: Have a Task List, for the all the tasks of the entire launch. (There is a time to go Agile and determine tasks only week-by-week, but a launch is not one of them). Usually the almighty Task List saves your bacon when you're in danger of falling behind schedule, but it's also handy for when you have aggressively productive team members too.

#2: Teleclass in a Hotel Banquet Room

Jamie: Other then the surprise four-day-road-trip-while-I-was-9-months-pregnant part, my harrowing moment was hosting our kick-off Teleclass from an empty hotel banquet room, using hotel WIFI & a 2-bar cell signal. (No, I did not embellish any part of that last sentence.) The saving grace was (a) I would spend the hour interviewing two guests (so I didn’t have to do a ton of the talking) and (b) we had scripted my part out and saved it in Evernote, so it was easy to put my hands on.

Oh, and the part at the end where I tossed the mic to Karen so she could do her bit, and her phone connection dropped right in the middle of her second sentence? Didn’t faze me. Her talking-points were also in the note and I just carried on where she left off. (Although mystified that she could have worse cell coverage than me.)

Lesson: Murphy (and His Law) will be on your launch team, whether you invite him or not. And this is why we plan as much as we can instead of winging it. Oh we wing it like PROS when we need to, but we make it a point to head into things with as much nailed down as is practical.

#3: Launching On-Time (mostly)

Karen: What really gave us heartburn during launch week was that several of the course tutorials were at an outside contractor in final production, and it became increasingly clear that we would be launching without all the course content being in place.

We were really unhappy, but put aside our disappointment to take a good rational look the potential impact. We nixed the idea of delaying the launch (which would impact everyone, including customers) for the idea of slipping those last few videos into place as soon as they were ready (potentially affecting a tiny number of customers who either raced through the tutorials to the end, or went looking for those specific topics out of order).

Lesson: Let a realistic judge of the issue's impact take precedence over any emotions. It was certainly NOT fun sitting at the eve of launch with things undone, but a sober look at the potential impact on customers made the decision easy. (And we were satisfied in hindsight too, as we fielded zero customer complaints.)

The Top Thing We'll Do Differently for Next Time

Karen: Communication & workflow with contractors outside the core team was more work and was more fraught with issues than we expected.

Team Zen has a strong internal momentum that we counted on for launch, and it worked well, but it wasn’t matched by those outside the team. In hindsight, this mismatch should have been anticipated and accounted for in our communication strategy, schedule, contracts, and in setting & managing expectations (ours & theirs).

Now I know that these outside relationships will require a lot more tending-to than internal ones.

Jamie: Specifically, we will be including hard deadlines in the signed agreement with outside contractors – with penalties or bonuses (we haven’t decided which) built in as consequences. Before this, we had considered this a little “too much” for the likes of us, but we no longer do.

We still look back and say “How the hell did we do that?!” but we were ridiculously proud of our efforts and our product. And we know just what to tighten up for next time.

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What a great play by play of the highlights of such an action packed launch!  I think the most challenging part of launching is being able to review “what happened” without getting tied up in it emotionally.

Looking for clues on what to do next time should always be the focus — >

How did the team function?

Did we start early enough?

Did we have a contingency plan for emergencies or natural “disasters”?

Does everyone know what’s expected of them?

Got Q’s for Jaime and Karen?  Leave them in in the comments below!

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Karen helps small businesses create digital products that delight their customers & grow their bottom lines. She’s a project manager by birth and temperament, and has managed projects everywhere from Silicon Valley to Afghanistan. She vastly prefers her current location: her sunny patio in San Diego. You can find her digitally at KarenSergeant.com