Jan 31 2018
Jan 31

Illustration of person scratching head at fork in the road

This is the first part in a series on how not to ruin your life on your next Drupal project. Sound extreme? Well, if you’ve ever suffered the crushing defeat of working your tail off on a lengthy project only to sit there at the end after launch feeling like you just came out of the opening night of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (ie: severely disappointed and a bit confused), then you know that it is indeed extreme. We spend a majority of our day at work and when it’s not rewarding or energy-giving, it’s a real drag.

So what is the formula? Well, a blog post isn’t going to solve all your problems - but - there are certainly key approaches that we have taken that have helped us avoid catastrophe time and time again. Translation? We’ve managed an extremely high customer satisfaction rate for over two decades. What’s been happening here seems to be working so we pay a lot of attention to what it is exactly that we are doing and assess why we think it’s working. If you want a high-level bird's-eye view, check out our process page. We are going to get a bit downer and dirtier here though.

Ultimately, we want you to go home to your family at the end of the day saying “GUESS WHAT I DID AT WORK TODAY EVERYONE!!” (like we do) instead of “Can we just order pizza and go to bed at 7?”.

 We’ve identified 3 essential components to kicking a project off right, the first of which will be covered in this post. They are the following:

  1. Aggressive and Invested Requirements Gathering
  2. Relentless Ideation
  3. Atomic Preparation

So let’s start with Aggressive and Invested Requirements Gathering. We spent a lot of time thinking about this and I realized it comes down to the adjectives. Everyone knows (mostly) about requirements gathering, but it’s a minefield of unasked questions, unanswered questions, misconceptions, forgetfulness, and chaos. The solution? Take ownership of this baby from the beginning and treat it like it’s your project - it’s your passion - and do what it takes to nail it down. Getting answers that make your life easier, despite your suspicions that the client is maybe not thinking it through, doesn’t help anyone. Take no shortcuts and care about everything.

“Take ownership of this baby from the beginning.”

Here are 3 specific goals:

Assess priorities (theirs and yours!)

Priorities are key because we can easily get hung up on things that ultimately aren’t that important. On the flip side, there are things that are tremendously important to one of the two parties, and hence, it must be important to both. So the client says I care most about X, then Y, then Z. In your head you’re thinking “Yikes, Z has a huge unknown element that I’d like to solve quickly to understand the implications.” So talk about it. Repeat their priorities back to them and state your own and find that happy middle ground where you can pursue the project in an efficient and effective way while also focusing on what matters. It sounds simple, but unspoken expectations or concerns are a plague in project management.

Determining constraints (time, money, features, personnel)

I still love the age-old project management triangle that says that for any given project, you can choose 1 of the 3 key priorities in a project: time, money or features. This means that you can’t simply dictate the budget and the schedule and also expect a very rigid set of requirements. The problem is that despite even stating this, there is a lot of pressure from the client to set the expectation on all three and that simply isn’t possible. So it’s critical early on to sort out what the real constraints are. Ok, you would like this to stay under $50k. Is that a hard cap or could you go over if you felt it was worth it? So you want this launched by January 1st. Is that more of a clean-sounding date or is this tied to a fiscal year, or some other real deadline? Ok, so you want features X, Y and Z. Which of those would be deal breakers to not have? This kind of questioning is very helpful because early on in the build phase, you can make intelligent decisions about how and when to collaborate with the client since you know the significance of obstacles or changes of directions that impact these things.

The last thing I’m throwing on top of this triangle is the concept of personnel. We’ve found that knowing who your stakeholders are, who your end users are, who your editors and admins are - early on - is critical. I’ve literally had meetings where we’re deep into requirements and then I meet the person who has veto power over everything and the thing goes sideways. We’ve learned as well that there is a repeating sales cycle when new stakeholders arrive because convincing the last three people doesn’t mean you’ve convinced the next three. I’ve also had times where a stakeholder makes some critical decisions, but then after talking to the people “on the ground”, I find that he was simply just wrong on some of the day-to-day operations. It’s good to talk to everyone, but also find out each person’s role in the big picture. Often times we’ve found ourselves advocating on behalf of lower level employees who often bring up important and practical issues that decision-makers are often overlooking. It’s a delicate balance, but if the system isn’t welcomed and adopted well by it’s primary users, the project will sink even if the ones writing the checks are getting what they think they want.

Reading between the lines

This is tied to the item above in a lot of ways, but stands on it’s own as an important point. When you’ve done this long enough, you learn that most of what is asked for by a potential client is not always really the point. Often there is a hidden goal or motivation that has led to the formation of a feature request. Even if that request perfectly solves the need, it’s still important to discover that need because it can affect the implementation and guide the specifics. For example, if a request is made to let users download an export of tracking data, but you dig and find out that actually they’re just using this tool to turnaround and upload it into a remote system and it’s a bit of a pain, maybe building a web service is better where their system can talk directly to ours and users can step out of the daily grind. 

Conclusion

So in summary - gathering requirements the same way you date someone you’re thinking of marrying. Care about it and pursue it as if it’s the most important thing you’ve got going with an end goal of a lifetime of happiness.

Up Next: Running a Drupal project the right way: Part 2 - Relentless Ideation 

Free offer, talk to a seasoned Drupal expert.

Jan 31 2018
Jan 31

Illustration of person scratching head at fork in the road

This is the first part in a series on how not to ruin your life on your next Drupal project. Sound extreme? Well, if you’ve ever suffered the crushing defeat of working your tail off on a lengthy project only to sit there at the end after launch feeling like you just came out of the opening night of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (ie: severely disappointed and a bit confused), then you know that it is indeed extreme. We spend a majority of our day at work and when it’s not rewarding or energy-giving, it’s a real drag.

So what is the formula? Well, a blog post isn’t going to solve all your problems - but - there are certainly key approaches that we have taken that have helped us avoid catastrophe time and time again. Translation? We’ve managed an extremely high customer satisfaction rate for over two decades. What’s been happening here seems to be working so we pay a lot of attention to what it is exactly that we are doing and assess why we think it’s working. If you want a high-level bird's-eye view, check out our process page. We are going to get a bit downer and dirtier here though.

Ultimately, we want you to go home to your family at the end of the day saying “GUESS WHAT I DID AT WORK TODAY EVERYONE!!” (like we do) instead of “Can we just order pizza and go to bed at 7?”.

 We’ve identified 3 essential components to kicking a project off right, the first of which will be covered in this post. They are the following:

  1. Aggressive and Invested Requirements Gathering
  2. Relentless Ideation
  3. Atomic Preparation

So let’s start with Aggressive and Invested Requirements Gathering. We spent a lot of time thinking about this and I realized it comes down to the adjectives. Everyone knows (mostly) about requirements gathering, but it’s a minefield of unasked questions, unanswered questions, misconceptions, forgetfulness, and chaos. The solution? Take ownership of this baby from the beginning and treat it like it’s your project - it’s your passion - and do what it takes to nail it down. Getting answers that make your life easier, despite your suspicions that the client is maybe not thinking it through, doesn’t help anyone. Take no shortcuts and care about everything.

“Take ownership of this baby from the beginning.”

Here are 3 specific goals:

Assess priorities (theirs and yours!)

Priorities are key because we can easily get hung up on things that ultimately aren’t that important. On the flip side, there are things that are tremendously important to one of the two parties, and hence, it must be important to both. So the client says I care most about X, then Y, then Z. In your head you’re thinking “Yikes, Z has a huge unknown element that I’d like to solve quickly to understand the implications.” So talk about it. Repeat their priorities back to them and state your own and find that happy middle ground where you can pursue the project in an efficient and effective way while also focusing on what matters. It sounds simple, but unspoken expectations or concerns are a plague in project management.

Determining constraints (time, money, features, personnel)

I still love the age-old project management triangle that says that for any given project, you can choose 1 of the 3 key priorities in a project: time, money or features. This means that you can’t simply dictate the budget and the schedule and also expect a very rigid set of requirements. The problem is that despite even stating this, there is a lot of pressure from the client to set the expectation on all three and that simply isn’t possible. So it’s critical early on to sort out what the real constraints are. Ok, you would like this to stay under $50k. Is that a hard cap or could you go over if you felt it was worth it? So you want this launched by January 1st. Is that more of a clean-sounding date or is this tied to a fiscal year, or some other real deadline? Ok, so you want features X, Y and Z. Which of those would be deal breakers to not have? This kind of questioning is very helpful because early on in the build phase, you can make intelligent decisions about how and when to collaborate with the client since you know the significance of obstacles or changes of directions that impact these things.

The last thing I’m throwing on top of this triangle is the concept of personnel. We’ve found that knowing who your stakeholders are, who your end users are, who your editors and admins are - early on - is critical. I’ve literally had meetings where we’re deep into requirements and then I meet the person who has veto power over everything and the thing goes sideways. We’ve learned as well that there is a repeating sales cycle when new stakeholders arrive because convincing the last three people doesn’t mean you’ve convinced the next three. I’ve also had times where a stakeholder makes some critical decisions, but then after talking to the people “on the ground”, I find that he was simply just wrong on some of the day-to-day operations. It’s good to talk to everyone, but also find out each person’s role in the big picture. Often times we’ve found ourselves advocating on behalf of lower level employees who often bring up important and practical issues that decision-makers are often overlooking. It’s a delicate balance, but if the system isn’t welcomed and adopted well by it’s primary users, the project will sink even if the ones writing the checks are getting what they think they want.

Reading between the lines

This is tied to the item above in a lot of ways, but stands on it’s own as an important point. When you’ve done this long enough, you learn that most of what is asked for by a potential client is not always really the point. Often there is a hidden goal or motivation that has led to the formation of a feature request. Even if that request perfectly solves the need, it’s still important to discover that need because it can affect the implementation and guide the specifics. For example, if a request is made to let users download an export of tracking data, but you dig and find out that actually they’re just using this tool to turnaround and upload it into a remote system and it’s a bit of a pain, maybe building a web service is better where their system can talk directly to ours and users can step out of the daily grind. 

Conclusion

So in summary - gathering requirements the same way you date someone you’re thinking of marrying. Care about it and pursue it as if it’s the most important thing you’ve got going with an end goal of a lifetime of happiness.

Up Next: Running a Drupal project the right way: Part 2 - Relentless Ideation 

Free offer, talk to a seasoned Drupal expert.

May 11 2013
May 11

While ago i was looking for an slider module (implementation of JQuery UI slider module), surprisingly i couldn't find any solution except jSlider Form API which wasn't exactly what i was looking for. So i did what every good Drupal developer does, I wrote a generic slider module and shared it on Drupal.org (jQuery UI Slider Field). I even implemented "jSlider Form API" features.

Several months later and after i published several new minor versions, one of the users mentioned that there is in fact another slider module similar to mine!! SliderField and it was quite old too. He suggested joining forces to prevent duplicate modules. I usually find what I'm looking for so it was very unexpected. I think there are two reasons i couldn't find it. The main reason is, the name of the module which is"SliderField" instead of "Slider Field" which makes it difficult to find it only by searching titles that's why having search-able keywords for modules is very useful. Another reason is that I didn't ask the community via IRC and forum, i usually do before writing a new module, there is a group for this purpose in case you didn't konw. Contributed Module Ideas

My module was much more completed and had many more features so it was too late for me, but for the sake of the community i decided to join the two projects and probably any other similar slider related module. For straightforward module like this there shouldn't be really several different modules it wastes community's valuable resources. I contacted the maintainer of the SliderField module proposing to join forces, and since nobody was working on SliderField module for quite some time he agreed and gave me access.

Since the SliderField module was older and had more users, proper thing to do was to make it the main module. Here is what i did afterwards :

  • Implemented all the missing features of SliderField
  • Renamed jQuery UI Slider Field
  • Created a new branch and cloned the new module preserving the git history using this tutorial
  • Implement upgrade path for previous version of SliderField and migrate path for jQuery UI Slider Field
  • Published a working version - Updated module's page
  • Added a note on jQuery UI Slider Field page notifying its users of the new module and my plans
  • Moved all the active issues of jQuery UI Slider Field to SliderField
  • Contacted maintainers of several other slider modules asking them to put a note on their module's page notifying their users about the existence of a generic solution

You may ask why? I could simply continue maintaining my own module, why go into this much trouble!

As you may have already noticed one of the great things about Drupal community is that we all work together to make Drupal better. At the end it doesn't really matter if it's my module , my patch or someone else's. What matters is to have a greater and more powerful tool which we can all use.

All well known Drupal developers have done the same, they gave up their own modules to the other developers because they simply didn't have time or interest to continue developing it or joined the others instead of reinventing the wheel! I personally took over several different abandoned modules and revived them instead of making another similar one, Community allowed me to do that. The fact is if it wasn't because of this attitude we would never had powerful modules like Views, FileFiled, Panels,CCK, etc , Instead we might have had Views2, Views Plus, MyViews! and certainly none of them could possible do what Views can today, it's the hard work of many talented developers, they decided to work together and continue each other's work and that's the result.

 

So let's all do it in Drupal way :)

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web