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Reimagined on Drupal 8, in six sprints.

Processes
  • Agile/Kanban
  • Agile/Scrum
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht
  • Senior Architect
    Rob Bayliss
  • Senior Development
    Jeff Landfried

In the fall of 2016, the Rainforest Alliance and Last Call Media launched an exciting redesign of www.rainforest-alliance.org, built on Drupal 8, employing seasoned agile software development methodologies. Our productive partnership with the Rainforest Alliance resulted in a technically groundbreaking site that allowed users unprecedented access to the riches of their content after just four months of development. The tool is now primed to drive the Rainforest Alliance’s critical end-of-year development activities. 

People seem really, really happy with it. YAY!!

Danielle Cranmer, Web Manager

Over the years, RA has cultivated a repository of structured content to support their mission. While the content is primarily displayed as long form text, there is a wide variety of metadata and assets associated with each piece of content. One of the primary goals of the new site was to enable discovery of new content on the site through automatic selection of related content driven by the metadata of the content the user was viewing. Additionally, RA had a future requirement for advanced permissioning and publishing workflows to enable stakeholders outside of the web team to play a role in the content lifecycle.

Rainforest Alliance shown on phones

Drupal 8 was selected for this project based on several factors. First, its focus on structured data fit well with Rainforest Alliance’s need for portable and searchable content. Second, the deep integrations with Apache Solr allowed for a nuanced content relation engine. Solr was also used to power the various search interfaces. Third, Drupal has historically had powerful workflow tools for managing content. While these tools weren’t quite ready for Drupal 8 when we built it, we knew they would be simple to integrate when they were ready. In short, Drupal was a perfect fit for the immediate needs, and Drupal 8 met the organization’s longer term goals.
 

We’ve been getting lots or praise, internally and externally.  Brava, team!

Melissa Normann, Senior Manager Web Strategy and Development

At the close of Sprint 6, there were zero critical and only 3 moderate issues to address. The final Sprint/Project review had only 3 support questions, launching as arguably the most impressive Drupal 8 site launched within a year of the initial release of this latest major version on the Open Source CMS, and most importantly, in time for Rainforest Alliance’s major end-of-year donation campaign. The site delivers on its promise to showcase the Rainforest Alliance’s exciting and informative messages and beautiful imagery, and stands as testimony for the efficacy of the agile approach.

Read the full case study here.

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Building the new WPI.edu.

Processes
  • Agile/Scrum
  • XP
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Sean Eddings
  • Senior Architect
    Jeff Landfried
  • Senior Development
    Jeff Landfried

Clinically speaking, our recent work with Worcester Polytechnic Institute is a testimony to Last Call Media’s approach to the initial project phases of Discovery, Strategy, and Information Architecture. That said, the most important part of this story is how our flexible and adaptable work process embraced by both the WPI and Last Call Media teams resulted in a process and a final outcome that meets WPI’s stakeholder needs. Strong partnership-building was the goal from the outset, and it paid off in strong relationships and expectations satisfied.

Project Goals Last year, WPI embarked on a Discovery and Strategy phase with Last Call Media in order to:

  • Improve performance
  • Increase engagement
  • Reduce technical debt and operating costs

Thanks to WPI’s commitment to collaboration, the redesign of wpi.edu represents one of Last Call Media’s most comprehensive involvements from start to finish of any project to date. We acted as more than designers and developers, but instead as all-encompassing strategic management consultants, working with WPI to organize multiple stakeholders toward the realization of stated and unstated goals.

The project had humble beginnings. WPI had a lot of ideas, which they’d translated into a giant content model spreadsheet. We meticulously ensured that we understood it all, guiding a wireframe process in which we were able to make significant contribution to the decision-making that yielded a highly intuitive structure. We took each step iteratively, building piece-by-piece, soliciting feedback, and then building the next iteration. We facilitated a dialogue between administrators, college communications, their design department, their IT department, and Acquia to map the landscape of business requirements, organizational needs, and their desired design aesthetic.  

On the technical side, we reviewed their existing RedDot site, and built a ‘scraper’ to scrape select content out of it and import the data into its new structure in Drupal. We open-sourced the scraper, too. Next, we built a flexible layout system of building blocks that enabled them to build pages however they needed. We dubbed them “widgets,” and WPI called them “elements,” but they were central to satisfying their desire for incredible flexibility that allowed them to build unique layouts on any given page.

As part of the creative partnership, Last Call Media’s creative team worked closely with WPI to improve the look and utility of the Events Pages, the Calendar, and a database of accolades they maintain. The outcome was a set of tools that present information in simple and digestible ways. WPI’s communications team helped LCM fully understand their brand, which enabled us to showcase their identity as we applied it to the work product.

Every step of the way as we constructed functionality, WPI developers, content authors, and staff gave feedback on the project as fidelity increased from a rough, unthemed Drupal site, to a polished release candidate. At the same time, Last Call Media was enabling WPI Developers to be self-sufficient in Drupal so they could help build new functionality. Last Call Media also built a custom ‘faculty importer’ that synced data from their Ellucian Banner system into Drupal, greatly simplifying the construction and accuracy of faculty pages.

Because we were in constant contact, there were never any ‘big reveals’ for WPI leadership to react to that represented hours of work they had to wrestle with approving or sending us back to the drawing board - they’d been part of the process at two week intervals and on board with each decision as it was made.

Today, the ability of the various administrative and academic departments at WPI to use the site is unparalleled in Last Call Media’s experience. The partnership enabled WPI’s content developers, in-house communications staff, designers, and developers to fully leverage the new wpi.edu. As a result, we’re seeing profound stakeholder use of the tools we collectively built. WPI embraces our approach and recognizes the value in the systems our working partnership designed. Such engagement is the dream of every project, and we’re proud it’s being realized at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

We continue an ongoing relationship with WPI providing support and strategic counsel as necessary. What can Last Call Media do for you?

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Delivering a high stakes MVP.

Processes
  • Agile/Kanban
  • Agile/Scrum
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Sean Eddings
  • Senior Architect
    Tom Fleming

Following a branding initiative, Designow worked with Last Call Media to build and launch the initial release of a complex crowdfunding platform on Drupal.

When we began, initial prototyping and feature development had already been started. As is often the case, much of the prototyping had made its way into substantial portions of what was now the project’s foundational work. It had become difficult to determine exactly what was completely done, what was partially done, and what requirements had been left out along the way.

We used our expertise in Agile methodologies to bring order to complexity and the product to launch. We began by building and prioritizing a backlog of tasks, and getting high-priority tasks into a ready state by defining appropriate definitions of done. We focused on implementing strategies for limiting the work in progress present in the project when we started. We forecasted a few sprint goals, informed by our backlog development and resulting strategies, and quickly went into heavy development.

Immediate visibility for stakeholders into development progress became of major importance for their own ability to make quick business decisions concerning their investment. In order to maximize the value of the work, we adapted our initial Scrum iteration approach into shorter, one-week sprints of continuous delivery to get small groups of completed tasks out faster. This soon evolved into more of an ideal Kanban flow, allowing a continuous awareness and continuous delivery of the right value.

Since the initial release, LCM and Designow have continuously measured and inspected valuable feedback. Our work is ongoing, as the product is currently receiving regular releases of new features and refinements.

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Custom tailoring Haverford.edu.

Processes
  • Agile/Scrum
  • Continuous Delivery
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht
  • Senior Architect
    Jeff Landfried
  • Senior Development
    Jeff Landfried

When LCM got the call from Haverford about redoing their site in Drupal, we thought it was going to be a redesign. After an initial conversation we agreed to do a Discovery and Strategy engagement first, to determine what the true needs were and then develop a strategy for solutions. We conducted stakeholder interviews and developed the User Personas of who our work was to be for. Interestingly, none of these personas ended up being an anonymous site visitor, but instead were different types of content editors and administrators.

Haverford didn’t need a redesign; their site looked great already. The biggest issue they needed to solve was not having enough time to do new feature development themselves. They were a smart and capable team and over many years had developed and maintained a large custom PHP implementation for college’s website needs. They were finding, however, that too much of their time was being spent updating pages for college members and groups. Their hope was for us to build them a site that looked and functioned like their current site, but built on a modern CMS with exceptional user management and publishing workflows.

Once we had alignment on their needs and a strategy for solutions, we built out a Content Model, Product Backlog, and Information Architecture. The project was completed with Drupal in steady collaboration with the Haverford Communications team, in 5 development Sprints, and launched on the Acquia Infrastructure.

The Haverford Team really jumped in and took off with it. It was really great!

You can read more about this project as LCM’s Acquia Certified Grand Master Developer, Jeff Landfried shares details of his experience here.

Since then, Last Call Media has continued to work with Haverford on an ongoing basis as part of our dedicated Continuous Delivery relationship, where our dedicated team of developers helps to keep their site secure, up-to-date, and assists as needed with anything from strategy to design to development.

The migration of Haverford to Drupal on Acquia remains one of our favorite projects to date, and it’s a great source of professional pride for all of us. We look forward to a long partnership with Haverford as we continuously evaluate how their online experience is meeting the needs of the College.  

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Forklift to Drupal 7 in 8 weeks

Processes
  • Agile/Kanban
  • Agile/Scrum
  • Continuous Delivery
  • XP
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Sean Eddings
  • Senior Architect
    Tom Fleming

Leveraging a small multidisciplinary production team and agile methodologies, LCM migrated SUNY Potsdam from their self-hosted legacy CommonSpot CMS to Drupal 7 on Acquia in just 8 weeks.

The small team at the SUNY Potsdam Office of Public Affairs had been managing the proprietary CommonSpot CMS since its implementation in 2008. It was inflexible and the team struggled with reliability issues, so SUNY Potsdam was looking for a more useable, stable, efficient, and scalable solution. They chose Drupal 7, Acquia, and Last Call Media.  

SUNY Potsdam partnered with Last Call Media and Acquia to migrate their site to Drupal 7. Leveraging the scrum methodology, LCM broke down and organized the major site features into a prioritized backlog, groomed for two-week iterations. While planning and backlog refinement was ongoing several times a week, the core development team at LCM met with Potsdam every other Friday to review work completed, provide training on the new CMS, and to facilitate the feedback-gathering process.

Since SUNY Potsdam had recently gone through a redesign, the project required the new site to maintain the existing look and feel. We began with an in-depth audit of all the different page types and page elements. Instead of doing this manually page by page, we first looked for a programmatic solution. Since CommonSpot did not provide a way to generate this information within the CMS, LCM used its HTML Crawler tool to programmatically crawl the existing production site and analyze the various HTML tags to determine page elements (such as slideshows, feeds, etc), including where and how often they appear. This provided tremendous visibility into the site’s underlying structure, which was critical in planning our approach to the migration to Drupal.

Potsdam Art Page

 

After reviewing this data with SUNY Potsdam, we began the process of consolidation– instead of building one-off page elements, we consolidated similar elements into single widgets that behaved differently based on where on the page it was placed. This helped reduce the vast number of options a content author has to choose from, making it easier for them to do what they need to do: focus on the content. To achieve the desired platform flexibility, LCM built a repository of flexible and adaptable widgets to allow the marketing team at Potsdam to build custom pages. 

The migration included several different page templates and tens of thousands of pieces of content, which required writing and testing a series of migration scripts to get all the content from one CMS to another without downtime or a lengthy content freeze. Since the CommonSpot installation did not have a concept of structured content, LCM used it’s HTML crawler tool again to programmatically identify page content and then map it to its new location in Drupal. Once the custom scripts were written and tested, the migration took only 15 minutes for tens of thousands of pieces of unique content and the associated metadata, such as date published, authoring information, and URL

Potsdam Events Page

 

The new site also pulls in events automatically from their event management system, SOGo, and tags the event to the relevant department or office in the CMS so that it appears on that organization’s page.  

Lastly, in order to make it as easy as possible for content authors to login to the site, we leveraged the identity management service at Potsdam, Active Directory, to allow users to use their domain credentials to authenticate with Drupal.

This project addressed several internal pain points with the SUNY Potsdam main website, allowing the marketing team to move from maintenance and support tasks to other organizational priorities. The site loads blazingly fast on Acquia, and Potsdam continues to work with LCM in an ongoing support relationship.   

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Agile Drupal migration.

Processes
  • Agile/Scrum
Team Leadership
  • Senior Producer
    Kelly Albrecht
  • Senior Architect
    Tom Fleming
  • Senior Development
    Kelly McCabe

Rapid migration and training for six departments.

The Dean of UMass Social & Behavioral Sciences (SBS) school had provided a grant to its departments to migrate and update their out-dated static websites to Drupal.

Each department had its own web team, so the engagement was more about collaboration, with LCM doing much of the heavy lifting, while also facilitating and coaching an agile process.

We recommended a rapid, iterative, agile approach to migrate each static HTML site into database-driven websites using the University’s identity management system, Shibboleth. To achieve the highest value within the budget, each department, working with a Last Call producer, could decide how to prioritize tasks for migration, training, and new feature development.

To accomplish the overall project, LCM divided the total grant and project scope into a series of one-week sprints, two sprints per department. We met with each department to develop and prioritize the initial backlog of desired tasks for each department site. Each sprint started with a sprint planning meeting, which included department web teams as collaborators. Some departments were able to prioritize training, enabling them to do more manual migration of content, which in turn freed up sprint time for LCM to do more new feature development.

Leveraging the UMass University Relations custom theme, we rapidly developed numerous websites and provided training and support for each department to develop and deploy their own websites.

The process was very fast and highly collaborative. Due to the agile approach, several departments got additional features beyond the migration of their content from their static websites.

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Finder’s performance boost with an improved release process

Finder helps millions of people worldwide make better decisions by allowing them to compare a wide range of products and services. Finding the right credit card, buying a home, or getting health insurance can be a daunting task. Finder.com makes the research more straightforward, and consequently, can save users time and money.  

Since a major part of Finder’s business is to compare numerous products, Finder.com needs to provide users with tools that are quick and easy to use, while still displaying a wealth of dynamic information. In order to accomplish this goal and give users a great experience, Finder’s team of developers needs to be able to continuously improve the platform, iterate quickly to regularly evaluate what it is that delights users, and drives engagement for the platform. 

Last Call Media supports Finder’s efforts to build an exceptional digital experience for its users within the WordPress platform. We also helped their software development team rethink the way they deploy to production.

How we did it

On a daily basis, dozens of developers work simultaneously on Finder.com, adding new functionality, fixing bugs, and creating new ways to provide value to users. As the team scales, it is faced with several challenges around managing the deployment pipeline. 

Until recently, developers were often limited and blocked by a complicated build process, where any code change would take about 12-16min to go live. Making that change often required modifying multiple repositories since all the themes and plugins were split and could not be fully decoupled. Deploying to staging environments was a manual process, and code reviews required lengthy instructions and thus were error-prone. The developer that authored a change, needed to remember to merge all repositories for a successful deployment or risk bringing down the site. 

Speeding up the deployment process 

An ineffective deployment pipeline can easily add up to hundreds of hours of time a month waiting for a build to complete that could have been spent on delivering other functionality instead. The development workflow should be smooth with stumbling blocks removed. Since Finder’s engineering team is growing rapidly, this problem needed to be addressed first. 

To speed up time to market, we overhauled the build process at Finder. We implemented Buildkite to enable continuous integration in a more efficient way. As a result, build time decreased by more than 50%, to only 8min. 

This increased efficiency sped up the process for Finder’s developers to get their work onto staging environments and out to production, and in the hands of customers.

Finder-main

Offering stability to the development team

Another challenge for Finder was the stability and time it took to deploy a hotfix to production. If multiple developers were trying to deploy to the product at the same time, they would often frustratingly block each other, further increasing everyone’s time to production. 

To release this functionality, we identified and rearranged certain key jobs so they could be run in parallel. We also identified build steps that could be made more efficient. For example, there were many jobs downloading the same libraries, and when the Docker image was built in the end, these libraries were again downloaded, synchronously. By limiting this, speed was improved significantly.

In the end, speeding up the build process, meant increased stability, and a decreased time to deploy a hotfix. 

Building comparison tables

In addition to platform work, Finder brought Last Call Media on board to help improve their comparison tables. Finder’s business model requires them to accurately connect users with relevant products. If a user with a “poor” credit score tries to apply to a credit card that only accepts “very good” scores, they’ll waste their time, and Finder will not be succeeding in its mission to connect users to relevant products. The tables were written in legacy JavaScript, HTML, and CSS and we worked to rebuild the tables in modern React, adding modals on top of the tables to surface the most important data filters to the user first.

Now, after users make an initial selection, they can see the most relevant results for their case. We added advanced interactive features such as calculators to the top of tables so users can input data relevant to their personal circumstances and see automatically calculated savings for each product.

Finder-tables

Taking advantage of the WordPress platform and Buildkite, Last Call Media empowered Finder’s development team to deploy to production efficiently. The improved build process enabled developers to get their work to production and in the hands of customers much quicker. Additionally, Finder’s comparison tables now present results to users that are personalized making their experience so much more satisfactory. 

Now, Finder has a path forward to build stable, interactive comparison tools for users in a highly iterative way.