Rescuing the AAC&U website from blocked to launched in three months
How Foster Commerce applied its expertise in project management and development to unveil an organization’s new website
AAC&U is a 100-year-old member organization serving the needs of higher education institutions worldwide. As a leader in educational advocacy, they work to promote democratic values through advancing liberal education for all students.
AAC&U hired Foster Commerce to launch their redesigned website on time by providing a quality assessment process, completing the development of approved designs, and cleaning up dysfunctional code.
Foster Commerce successfully rescued AAC&U’s site from delays and launched within the short time frame of three months, meeting the targeted deadline.
AAC&U advocates for inclusivity, innovation, and equity in liberal education around the world. They produce events and provide resources for institutions of higher learning to improve the quality of student experiences in service of democratic values.
To better communicate its mission, AAC&U invested in a discovery and design process to update its website and provide a more modern interactive experience for users. However, when it came to site development, the organization was stuck.
By engaging the expert team of project managers and strategists at Foster Commerce, AAC&U overcame a blocked, buggy site and launched within three months.
Stuck between design and development
AAC&U's website had become a stumbling block to communicating its value as a leader in higher education. Eager to move away from a text-heavy site focused on describing the organization, AAC&U staff and administrators decided to shift to a more modern, user-centered website.
In addition to rebranding, their ambitious goals included developing new content and functionality that would allow staff to market both online and in-person events.
After over a year of investing in a discovery and design process, AAC&U staff and administrators were eager to begin development. However, as the project progressed, unanticipated bugs and breakdowns in communication with their third-party development team emerged.
After many months, they found themselves with great mock-ups and a half-built site over budget. Having lost trust in the process, AAC&U administrators began searching for a new agency to rescue the build.
One of the values defining Foster Commerce's work is transparency with clients. So when AAC&U came to Foster Commerce, they found a team that honestly assessed the situation.
During their first meeting, Dr. David Tritelli, Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs, and the administrator leading the website project described a site that wasn't working well. It either didn't look as intended or wasn't functioning correctly.
In addition, there was a large amount of content migration to do and no plan in place for how to address this. After months of missed deadlines and communications gone awry, the project was behind schedule and creating stress.
The Foster Commerce team quickly assessed what was happening. Using the metaphor of a garden to communicate what they found, they described a site needing new walls, weeding, and de-bugging.
At that meeting, the Foster Commerce project manager gave AAC&U a list of to-dos that could be resolved rapidly, which inspired confidence.
Dr. Tritelli described this moment of meeting as "an immediate sense of being understood." Ultimately, this practical evaluation and swift response inspired AAC&U and Dr. Tritelli to hire Foster Commerce to resolve long-standing issues and take the site to launch — within three months.
Advocating for the client's goal
At the start of their engagement with Foster Commerce, the scope included fixing bugs and getting the site launched on schedule. However, as the project got underway, it became clear that there were additional and significant problems that AAC&U wanted to solve.
Yet, it was clear to the Foster Commerce team that saying "yes" to additional requests would threaten the target launch date.
To avoid scope creep and its impact, the Foster Commerce team doubled down on one of their core principles, "Listen Twice." This principle in practice meant they didn't stray from a very reliable, internal process of ruthless prioritization.
First, this reality-based approach to project management included educating the AAC&U team about what work the Foster Commerce could complete inside the budget and timeline.
Then, to position themselves to effectively and strongly advocate for the original goal of launching the website on time, the Foster Commerce team asked the AAC&U team what was essential to the launch's success.
Once Foster Commerce helped AAC&U clarify their desired outcome, they refused to let the launch date get sabotaged. The Foster Commerce team invited AAC&U into their project management platform to create transparency around progress. And the team pushed back when new requests were outside of scope.
This grounded project management style and the ability of AAC&U stakeholders to see and review all work as it was happening engendered trust.
Making it better
Once Foster Commerce clarified its scope and outcomes, the site's many bugs were the first items the AAC&U team wanted to address.
Foster Commerce's efficient project management practices and their expert developers made the task of technical clean-up go quickly and easily. "It was astonishing to see the number of bugs getting resolved," said Dr. Tritelli.
Close on the heels of bug fixes, the need for migrating pages took priority. AAC&U had a backlog of content migration, yet they were missing the critical role of a website manager whom they could rely upon to navigate the complexity.
To meet this gap, the Foster Commerce project manager stepped in. First, the project manager met with AAC&U teams to assess their content needs. Then, she managed the content migration, directed page builds, developed code, provided staff training, and made content changes on the site as needed so AAC&U could launch on time.
Finally, dedicated to creating an easy content authoring experience for users going forward, the project manager wrote guidance for staff and integrated it with the site so they could reference it as needed.
Working with Foster Commerce, AAC&U had a remarkably positive, issue-free launch that met the deadline. Stakeholders who had spent tireless hours in the discovery and design phases were thrilled with the outcome.
AAC&U's functioning site conveyed its new brand identity with multiple pages of rich, user-centered content. It was also easier to market their in-person and online events.
The Foster Commerce team is committed to building lasting and functioning sites. To this end, they continue to work closely with AAC&U, developing in-depth, future-proof solutions to make the site more enjoyable for its users, content creators, and administrators.
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