This is something I learned the hard way. Get specific approval from your customers before going live, even if you feel like you are being too much of a stickler.

One developer I worked with made requested changes to a web page and showed it to the customer. The customer responded, “Looks good.”

Now to some customers “Looks good” means “go head and make it live.” So the developer did just that.

As you can probably guess by the subject of this post, the customer was immediately on the phone screaming to take the page down from production. Although they approved the look and feel of the page, it was promoted an event that they weren’t ready to announce yet.

Fortunately, we were able to disable the page and it wouldn’t have had any significant business impact if anyone had seen it. However, I have heard horror stories about press releases that were launched early and affected stock prices and brand perception.

There are so many words that easily sound like the customer is approving but don’t specifically state approval. Even “Approved” is not really specific enough.

There are a variety of reasons why a customer might approve work but not want to go live. Some examples are

1. Announcement of an organization change or new product that will affect public trading or other business.

2. That customer approves but needs final approval from other team members.

3. They want to coordinate the launch with other events or promotions.

So how can you make sure the customer really wants you to proceed?

1. Agree in the beginning what will happen when the request or project is ready to deploy to a production environment. For larger projects, such as full website design, have a launch plan that the customer has seen and approved. As part of that discussion agree on the final trigger for deployment.

2. Communicate the language you will need for deployment approval as early as you can. You may understand that “approved for production” means that the change will be available to end users but that may not mean the same thing to your customer.

3. When it looks like the project or request is complete, send an email saying requesting the specific words you need, “When you are ready for the project to go live, please send me an email stating, “Approved to go live now” or whatever time and date you want it to go live.” (Change the wording to whatever you have agreed on.)

4. Be certain to include or request a time frame in the approval. If there are outages involved, you may be deploying in the evening but getting approval during the day. If it is a post that needs to be schedule, the customer may approve but want it to be scheduled to show up on a specific date.

5. Always get the approval to deploy in writing, at least by email. Do not accept phone or in person approvals, even under a tight deadline. If the customer refuses to send an email, then you send one confirming the approval to launch.

6. Even though you ask for specific words, the customer will still often respond with “Looks good”. In that case, I always respond back. “Are you saying that you are approving to go live now?” I’m certain some customers think I have OCD, but it has avoided misunderstandings.

7. When I get approval I need, I always respond with something like, “We are proceeding with the project launch plan. We will tell you when it is complete.” That gives them one last chance to say, “Wait!”

I have followed this plan for years. Sometimes my customers are amused by my need for specific words. But I have never had an another incident like the one mentioned above where I had to rollback a change because of a misunderstanding.

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