This article was updated in September 2018.
Drupal is over a decade and a half old now. What was once a very cool open source project for developers and tech tinkerers around the world is now a well-established and powerful platform used by some of the world’s largest organizations (we’re talking Harvard University, Tesla, and the World Food Programme!). So, although many are just embarking on their Drupal journey for the first time, others are now on their second or third site overhaul or redesign within an existing Drupal environment.
Maybe you are at one of those organizations that built a site a few years back. When it was done, you felt like you just birthed a baby – some bumps in the road, delays, etc. But it was launched and worked out okay, but now it is time for Drupal Mach 2 (“I hope you like our new direction.”)
So, how do the components of a Drupal website overhaul resemble that of a home renovation? Let the analogies begin!
“Full Service” Agency = General Contractor
Traditionally, companies have taken the agency approach when developing websites. These firms have design people, market research people, and web development people to deliver the full product – a launched website. Like the General Contractor, they plan the project, determine what they can get accomplished with their own people, and subcontract any work when they don’t have in-house resources. When I look at full service agencies, I am generally skeptical of those that claim to do all things well – especially in the world of Drupal development, which requires some very specific expertise. The same would be true for a general contractor who also is an “expert” on plumbing, electrical, cabinets, counter tops, paint, etc. To draw ANOTHER analogy, it’s kind of like the Cheesecake Factory menu that claims to have 200 menu selections made fresh everday. REALLY? Can they make all these things well?
Nonetheless, one looks to the full-service agency to bring in great subcontractors to accomplish the other goals. This obviously involves trust – which in most cases comes from references or experience. That being said, especially when it comes to Drupal, ask your agency about who they are using. If they fluff it off as no big deal, then you should be concerned.
Have you ever seen that HGTV show, “Holmes on Homes”? In the show, this construction super hero, Mike Holmes comes in and saves home renovation projects gone bad. Usually, he comes in, hears some sob story about how the contractor took off and now the homeowner is stuck. More drama usually ensues once Holmes opens up the walls or looks under the floors to see what he is really up against. Usually with a disgusted look on his face he comments, “Ah oh, looks like the wiring was done by a 4 year old.” or “The way these gas pipes were set-up could blow up your house.” or simply, “How did this pass a building inspection?”
How is this relevant to our analogy? Well, often times when overhauling an existing Drupal site, we find similar situations. Things that you don’t exactly see until you look behind the walls and under the floors. At Isovera, before we estimate any project that involves an existing Drupal setup, we have to do some pretty in-depth “discovery”. For most firms like ours, this is a paid service since doing it right requires a decent amount of time by a good developer. Once this is done, a Drupal developer can more accurately assess the work that needs to be done, make you aware of any major problems, and set realistic expectations. When should you be skeptical? When someone gives you an estimate for work on an existing Drupal set-up without really looking behind the walls and under the floors.
The 80/20 Rule
Have you ever noticed that a good carpenter can do demolition and framing for a project in the blink of an eye? (OK, maybe not that fast, but you get the point.) The project has just started, yet it feels like you are halfway there. This will be way ahead of schedule! Now, fast forward 3 months and you have a sink with no faucet, the cabinets are hung crooked, and your custom stove was dropshipped to Brazil. The concept ties very closely to website development. We often say 20% of the project takes 80% of the time. There is a honeymoon period where things are going great and then the problems (er, challenges) start. Often times, this is what seperates the good relationships from the not-so-good. Again, the key here is good planning, honest communication, and measuring expectations. What may seems like “tweeks” often turn into major changes which require a decent amount of back and forth communication. In most cases, make sure you acknowledge this as part of the process and factor it into the timeline. That said, you should still be cognicent that the last 20% should be managed as efficiently as possible.
I could elaborate on other analogous situations, but this IS only a blog piece and market research stats show that I will lose you after a few more paragraphs. The main common sense themes here are plan ahead, be strategic, ask questions, hire good people, and don’t skimp on investing in a strong foundation.