Email Direct Product Migration

product management | project management | communication strategy | learning design | training facilitation

About this Project

Email Direct has been New York University’s homegrown solution to bulk email messaging for over 20 years. This product served as a free tool for internal communications and was used by over 500 clients across 150 divisions in the University, which totaled to about 50 million emails sent annually, but our clients’ needs were not being met at all by this service.

My team received a lot of negative feedback and feature requests that we couldn’t act on or implement. Our users couldn’t save a draft, were limited in text formatting options, and they relied on our team to manually click send on their behalf. As a result, many departments were paying for other products in lieu of using our free service which added avoidable costs for the University.

We knew it was time for an upgrade and we needed to identify a SaaS solution to power our service to meet our clients’ needs. After a rigorous vetting process, my team selected the Emma email marketing platform to power the new Email Direct.

This product migration is the single largest project our team has undertaken in the last 5 years, and was not without numerous challenges.

Timeline: Summer 2019 – ongoing

Challenges and Considerations

  • Meet aggressive deadline ➡️ Retire legacy service by December 2020; supporting new and existing users on two platforms

  • Establish trust and restore confidence ➡️ Develop clear and ongoing communications and resources

  • Budget cuts ➡️ Streamline migration process and manage progress without an official PM

Key Elements of My Role

  • Change management and communication strategy

  • Product service design and migration strategy

  • Training development and facilitation

Developing a Change Management and Communication Strategy

We identified a few key tasks as part of developing our strategy:

  • Define communication objectives

  • Identify key takeaways

  • Assess needs

  • Write content

  • Mock up & revise content

  • Gather & implement feedback

Sample Communications

The first teaser email sent in November 2019; since it was sent through the legacy system, it doesn't look particularly exciting. Our goal with this message was to officially announce that classic Email Direct was being retired and also establish some expectations of our migration process and what could be anticipated in the next year.

Teaser email sent in November 2019

As we migrated users, we sent a welcome email using the new platform. We wanted our users to be as excited as we were to start using this new product, so we included a catchy subject line with emojis, a colorful splash template, and a clear call to action for logging in and accessing essential references and tutorials. We wanted to lead by example in our emails to show users what the new product can do for them.

It was important to our team to be as transparent about the migration process as possible. We created a website that outlined the details of the project, listed the current and next clients to onboard, and included a recording of the information session we presented to clients and stakeholders at the start of the project. Half-way through migrating all existing users from our classic Email Direct platform, we sent a progress update to our users to listed our project milestones, next steps, and thanking them for their patience.

Information Sessions

All users were invited to attend information sessions where our Communications Manager and I provided background on the project in addition to previewing the new Email Direct. This session was recorded for those users unable to attend in person due to scheduling or location conflicts.

Product Migration and Service Strategy

  • I focused on our migration strategy, internal service documentation and strategy, and developing onboarding and training materials for users.

    • I helped guide the new user experience, including creating a new user welcome email that was sent automatically when a user account was created and sending regular service check-ins with users that contained best practices and other training tips.

    • We also collaborated with the Emma product team directly to suggest major improvements to the UX/UI of the tool (e.g., adding pagination and sorting options for long tables of data). We joked that we were their personal user testers, but this relationship became mutually beneficial as we provided feedback on their tool, and they in turn released new features we knew our users would value.

  • We knew our approach needed to be flexible going into this project. Since we didn’t have a PM, we were okay knowing the first thing we did might not have been the best thing, but it was better than nothing, and we continued to check in and refine processes along the way. We also adjusted how we tracked and reported on our progress.

  • We migrated our first three user groups in April 2020. We considered this our pilot period and selected groups that were great partners and collaborators with our team.

  • We solicited feedback on our onboarding process and training materials, and made several changes, such as a longer onboarding session. This valuable feedback came from clients going through the process themselves, and benefited the clients to come.

Migration Process

We started with creating two documents to guide our client intake process: a questionnaire and an intake document. We quickly realized that the intake document was too cumbersome and time consuming to use. We pivoted to using a questionnaire as our primary record keeping document for each client, which we continued to refine and iterate along the way.

We realized our initial instructions weren't clear or clients were misinterpreting the information we were asking for, so we added more help text so the client could be more successful in filling in this document ahead of our intake meeting. We added a standardized timeline to set expectations for how long the process will take, and how quickly we could move depended on the client’s participation.

Sample intake document

Initially, we created a migration punch list that outlined the user journey our clients would take in the migration process. We then boiled that down into a Gantt-style spreadsheet to track our sprints, but found that this format didn’t allow us to track enough detail.

Punch list outlining the intake and onboarding process

Spreadsheet used to track sprint progress

We eventually switched to Asana and translated our punch list into 7 action items with subtasks, which could then broken down to track our progress more descriptively, as well as add deadlines, priority, and labels to see roadblocks more clearly.

Sprint tracking in Asana

Where We Are Now

Our new service permits for “kinder emailing”—our users can leverage University data to create more personalized messages, as well as analytics to make data driven decisions on how best to engage with their target audiences. The complexity of this project and effort involved was worth it to create a better user experience for our users and ultimately the recipients of their emails.

In addition to that success, our team:

  • Completed migration a month ahead of schedule

  • Supports 1000+ users and growing, sending 4.4 million emails per month

  • Restored client relationship: client feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and people are knocking down our door to get onto access to the new Email Direct

Email: Love Emma! Long Live Emma!

To give an idea of the impact and relationship we’ve fostered with our clients, here’s an email we received after a client immediately sent her first campaign through the new Email Direct.