How to Survive Complex Projects, Part 6: Countdown to Launch and the Rule of Seven

3 May

By Andrea Alliston, Partner, Knowledge Management, and Nicola Shaver, Director of Knowledge Management, Stikeman Elliott LLP

In part 5 of this series, the wonderful world of user acceptance testing (UAT) was explored. Ed.

Now, you have tested your platform and you are satisfied that you have a product ready to release to your users. How do you manage the launch?

Get the message right

An old adage of marketing, the Rule of Seven, proclaims that prospective buyers need to see or hear the product’s marketing message at least seven times before they will be persuaded to buy it. While some argue that the rule is outdated in today’s digital world, the message behind it remains unarguably valid: to succeed, a marketing effort must be repetitive and consistent. This maxim applies equally to prospective buyers of new products in the world at large and prospective users of a new platform inside an organization or firm. Absent repetition, buyers and users will not recognize – and therefore not trust – the product on offer. Running a few advertisements or sending out a few communications and never speaking about the product again simply will not work. Only continuous effort ensures success.

Repeated, consistent promotion was central to our launch and training plan during our enterprise search project and it was broadly successful. In a global firm with eight offices and several thousand people, we wanted to be certain that no one could say they had not heard of our new platform by the end of our launch campaign.

Vary the format

We also kept our audience at the forefront of our minds. Knowing that lawyers get massive volumes of email, we understood that they would not read unnecessary messages. How then could we ensure that each and every person in the firm would be touched seven times by our message without overwhelming – or worse, annoying – them? Our answer was variety or, in marketing-speak, we took a multi-channel approach. People are less likely to protest if the message is received in different ways, at different times. So we planned to rely on all of the following:

  • Email
  • Intranet posts
  • Telephone displays
  • Presentations at practice group meetings
  • Promotional posters
  • Launch video
  • Branded swag
  • Treats
  • Elevator chat

We tried to think of every audio, visual, and tactile method we could use to deliver our message.

Plan, plan, plan!

The combination of our intended quantity and variety of messaging meant that, as with all other parts of the project, being prepared was essential. We had our strategy, now we needed a plan. Months before our pre-launch communications rolled out we developed a launch plan detailing the timing, content, and format for each communication. We captured the lead time needed for ordering our swag and for scripting, shooting, and polishing our video. Like any other project plan, each task was assigned to a specific person and checked off as completed.

Figure 1. Map for our search project

Be prepared for setbacks

A launch and training campaign informed by a well-considered strategy and supported by a detailed plan, is primed for success. Nevertheless, hiccups inevitably will arise along the way. During our search project, we developed a bold plan for our promotional video to play automatically as soon as people logged on to their computers on launch day. This was more complicated than we had anticipated. Many people do not log off their computers before leaving the office each day, so the video play was unintentionally staggered (in spite of an email circulated asking everyone log off the night before). And, we had no way to thoroughly test whether the automatic video-play would work on everyone’s computers given the variance in individual set-up. Many people were surprised by the video when it suddenly played a day or two late, and some complained that when the video started playing they were not sure what it was or how to get rid of it. Our intentions were admirable, but the execution taught us that something that cannot be tested properly beforehand should not be part of the launch plan. Needless to say, we would not do this again.

Train your users

Like our communication strategy, our training strategy rested on offering variety. We knew that partners in our large offices would not sit through an hour-long session on search. We also knew that our assistants prefer formal training over less-structured training. In the end, we offered formal training sessions geared to administrative people, drop-in sessions for everyone (but mainly geared to associates), and one-on-one training for partners. We engaged our IT training team for administrative people, but trained the lawyers ourselves. In our smaller offices, we leveraged lunch-and-learns targeted at everyone in the office.

You will know and understand your own firm well enough to choose the kind of training that works best for your user groups. Accept that one kind of training may not work for everyone and build flexibility into your approach.

Lessons Learned

Promotion never ends: We discovered that the launch and training phase of a project never ends. Six months after launch, we were rolling out new training courses, planning “Summer Camps,” and offering non-traditional learning opportunities with games like Scavenger Hunts to tap into lawyers’ natural competitiveness. If you are promoting a tool internally, your efforts will need to be repetitive and continuous.

You will never reach everyone: Although we likely did touch everyone in the firm during our promotional outreach, we still come across lawyers who become excited when we show them subtleties of our search platform and eagerly suggest we promote and teach people about it. Our efforts passed some people by and this taught us that work always remains to be done. On the other hand, keeping yourself from getting discouraged is important – if you have properly implemented a tool that works, you should be able to see from usage statistics that people are using the platform. Our enterprise search statistics are very healthy and this keeps us motivated.

Celebrate: You have done it. Your complex project is finished and you have released a new tool to your users. Take a moment for celebration and acknowledge the help from everyone on the project team. After our enterprise search project, we held a celebratory dinner and gave out spirit awards that included “Best Facial Expressions” and “Most Patience” during the project. The team will appreciate the thought and this will help everyone re-group for the next big project.


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