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Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

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  • 1.  Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 18, 2018 14:14
    For those of you who have taken an existing Drupal site to a new agency, how common is it for the new agency to experience ongoing/long-term problems resolving drupal bugs in a timely fashion? We're experiencing some long resolution times, even after a year at a new agency, and even after paying for an initial site audit. Wondering how common this is. Are some agencies just better at sleuthing/trouble-shooting? Any advice would be appreciated.

    Julie Wokaty
    Publications & Website Specialist
    Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
    New York, NY
    Tech Accelerate

  • 2.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 18, 2018 14:22
    It's hard to say without more information about the nature of the bugs. I would expect them to provide transparency into their timing and any issues with problem resolution. I.e. you should know from them why it's taking longer than you expected, and the fact that  you don't have that clarity would be a red flag for me.

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  • 3.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 19, 2018 01:57
    I guess it would depend upon the nature of the bugs. I would hope the agency is being transparent and somewhat explaining why the issues might be taking longer.

    Some agencies are better at trouble shooting because they are deeper in the code. Additionally they just know of better tools for debugging which can sometimes speed up the process.

    Sean Dietrich
    Kanopi Studios
    Sacramento, CA

    Tech Accelerate

  • 4.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 19, 2018 13:12

    Sorry to hear things aren't going so smoothly. :-/ Like others have noted, it could be a communication issue rather than a technical one.

    However, I'd also say that maintaining a site you built and maintaining a site built by someone else can sometimes be dramatically different things. Some people/agencies can do very good work at the first (using their standard techniques for building sites) but really struggle with the second, since there's really diverse ways to go about building a Drupal site. For example, if the agency normally bakes a lot of the site functionality into a custom theme, but took over a site that instead makes extensive use of Panels (or other big contrib module), it could take them a lot longer to figure out how to make minor changes.

    There are Drupal companies that specialize in doing support and maintenance on existing sites, so if that is the problem, you might have a better experience working with one of them. Full disclosure: my company (myDropWizard) is one such company. :-)

    Hope that helps!


    David Snopek
    Milwaukee, WI

    Tech Accelerate

  • 5.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 20, 2018 08:36

    Hi Julie,

    In general I'd agree with the others. From a technical perspective there are reasons some things may take longer or not. And yes some agencies will simply be faster than others (more experience, more understanding of Drupal itself, more technical depth, etc).


    However I'd argue that this shouldn't be your issue to worry about. The purpose of a support service is just that, to provide service. It's not your job to know what issues are technically difficult or not. That's the whole point of why you have an agency. They have the technical expertise and should be assessing your change requests, understanding the work and timing involved in fulfilling them, communicating that, and delivering. If this is their business they should have processes in place to provide all this. If they've gotten familiar with your site they should often have a sense from your request whether it will take time to fulfil or not.


    If you're purchasing this service from them, it's only fair for both of you to be on the same page about what you're paying and what you're getting. What is the expected time for an initial response? What is the expected time to resolution for routine issues? What is the communication protocol for issues that require more investigation? What is the escalation path for you, if these standards are not being met?


    My perspective is, you're agreeing to a deal where you both have expectations from each other (you give them money, they give you service). Both parts of that arrangement deserve equal clarity. If it's not clear to you what service should be delivered, that's akin to them not being clear how much money you'll deliver.


    I'd suggest that the next step is to try and escalate with them, sit down and have a conversation about what's not working for you with a senior person there, and move towards getting everyone on the same page around expectations going forwards.


    Sorry, not to come off too negative or anything, but communication is important and setting expectations is only fair, and generally really does help everyone involved. :)





    Martin Hansen
    Senior Consultant / R&D Lead
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  • 6.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 20, 2018 10:49
    Chiming in as someone who's been both an org staff Drupalist and now provides support as a vendor: there are some Drupal bugs that can be cost prohibitive and/or take a lot of time to fix. Whether they are core or module bugs, or in the custom work that got passed to your new support provider. But your support people should communicate that if it's the case. 

    Good software support and development is, in my experience, at least 80% clear human communication, 20% technical skill. 

    Anyway, I hope you get some clear answers from them!


    Tech Accelerate

  • 7.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 20, 2018 16:11
    Thanks for all of your answers - much appreciated!

    So in general do agencies dread supporting a site they didn't build? Or is it really no big deal?  (Your answers would seem to suggest the latter...) And if a newly hired agency performs a site audit, can I as a client expect that its developers will use this time at least in part to establish a baseline familiarity with my site, which they'll build on over time? Or does an audit serve some other purpose in the agency's eyes? Looking backwards, I also feel like the results of our last audit spent perhaps too much time discussing new features we might implement, and not enough time on the impact customized modules might have on support.

    Julie Wokaty
    Publications & Website Specialist
    Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
    New York, NY

    Tech Accelerate

  • 8.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'
    Best Answer

    Posted Aug 20, 2018 16:40
    Me again!

    It can be really hard to support a site you didn't build. That's part of the risk with using open source software like Drupal (or WordPress -- same problem). There are 42+ ways to build almost everything on a Drupal site. This can be both a blessing and a curse. Some of the 42+ development approaches are considered "best practices", but even then, what's considered a "best practice" can change over the lifecycle of the Drupal version. 

    There are many patterns for building sites in Drupal that are considered "Drupal best practices" by the Drupal community. We sometimes call this "The Drupal Superhighway". But it's easy for a developer who knows PHP or the Foundation framework, but who doesn't really spend much time in the Drupal community, to build a site that totally works on launch day, but is "off the Superhighway" - and that can mean a codebase that is brittle, fragile, and difficult to sustain long-term.

    When we do an audit, it gives us baseline knowledge of how a site was built. We usually try to say in the audit (of which the client org receives a copy) "this wasn't built in a standard way, and if it needs to be fixed, it may take extra time". But it's hard to capture everything. At minimum, an audit usually gives us the baseline familiarity to at least know what kinds of development patterns were used, and what kinds of tasks are going to be easier and harder to support or enhance going forward. More importantly, the audit is an opportunity for us to communicate our findings back with the client org so everyone knows where the site stands, as much as is possible. 

    That all said, I do wonder if your issues are less about technical stuff, or the standard vs non-standard build of your site, and more about communication. Or not enough communication, in your case. 

    Others may have more thoughts on this. I'll stop procrastinating by rambling on. :) 

    Happy Monday,


    Johanna Bates
    Technical Director, Principal
    Twitter: @hanabel

    Tech Accelerate

  • 9.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 21, 2018 11:20
    Hi Julie,

    Lots of good advice here -- hope it helps you move forward to a more effective relationship.

    Taking over a Drupal site is common enough that someone coined a term for it -- a Drupal Rescue :(

    We've done a bunch of Drupal Rescues and while most have turned out to be great projects and good relationships, a few did go sideways -- and always, to Johanna's point -- as a result of communication issues.

    One good conversation to have is whether there are things they'd prefer to redo or rebuild rather than continue supporting as-is.  So if (for example) most of the site uses panels but there's an old section using blocks and context, they may be spinning their wheels supporting that old section -- but if they'd stop and spend a few hours' work now to rebuild it, it might end up saving many more hours in wasted effort.

    Nathan Gasser
    President & Executive Chef
    Report Kitchen
    A more delicious way to publish your
    project, policy, and research reports.

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  • 10.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 22, 2018 12:41
    We do this kind of work as well. We've worked hard over the years to put a program together in order to be as responsive as possible. In many cases we're able to demonstrate that we're making headway on an enhancement or an issue within 2 weeks despite the amount of work we're currently managing.

    As stated before, it's about communication, but we also prefer to be proactive versus reactive. If you can be talking with an account manager at a high level about your goals for the year and any projects, bugs or issues you want to tackle, prioritize those items and have them scoped/planned and budgeted out with a senior developer prior to starting that work, you'll be making informed decisions an next steps and that much further ahead when you're ready to start the work.

    Hope this helps.

    Dennis Powers
    Business Development
    Cheeky Monkey Media
    Kelowna, BC

    Tech Accelerate

  • 11.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 22, 2018 19:03
    I would add to this discussion that at Congruity Works we've done a number of Drupal rescues as well and we've enjoyed some of the troubleshooting involved, though it has also brought challenges.

    I wonder sometimes if it isn't an easier task for smaller agencies (we're a four person shop) that are used to wide variances between different clients. Big shops have standard ways of setting up Drupal sites that make for more much more efficient in house management. We've done rescues from some of those big shops and it can be confusing to untangle things. Perhaps smaller shops are more likely to tolerate a lot of variance between clients and also more likely to have coders talking directly with the clients rather than having a layer of management between them. As Dennis and others have said, communication is especially crucial in rescue scenarios.

    Tim Nafziger
    Congruity Works
    Ojai, CA

    Tech Accelerate

  • 12.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 23, 2018 08:44
    Ultimately the issue here is not so much how long it's taking, but the apparent lack of communication.

    Jon Lebkowsky
    Polycot Associates
    Austin, TX

    Tech Accelerate

  • 13.  RE: Feedback needed: switching Drupal agencies + website 'adoption'

    Posted Aug 27, 2018 17:38

    I would agree with Tim. We do a ton of Drupal rescue and see a range of implementation styles. That has gotten us to be very good at sifting through the site looking for ways that something may have been setup out of the norm. And sometimes it takes a lot of hours to untangle things to make them more usable in the long run.


    Patience is really needed in a rescue, but so is communications. Although sometimes we just need the time to fix what isn't working and reporting progress would be like speaking a foreign language!


    Best of luck!



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    Sleight-of-Hand Studios LLC

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