WordPress Agencies: Facing Challenges for the Next 10 Years

Last week I gave a presentation at WordCamp Paris, focused on what WordPress agencies need to do to be enterprise-ready which I think is the biggest challenge the WordPress community is facing in the next ten years.

At WordPress.com VIP, we’re at the forefront of evaluating, analyzing, and enabling enterprise and large-organization WordPress projects with WordPress developers and agencies all over the world.  As the software matures and becomes more well-known, the demand for bigger and more innovative projects is increasing, too, and the many WordPress consultancies around the world need to be ready to answer that call.

Below are the slides from my presentation and then some additional insights and advice from WordPress.com VIP Featured Service Partners to WordPress agencies and consultancies all over the world.

Q: When did you know it was time to grow your team & how did you do it? What has contributed the most to your growth?

Austin Smith from Alley Interactive: Our project management team keeps a close eye on resource allocation and lets us know when it’s time to hire. We don’t allow ourselves to grow rapidly in response to any one big site build project—the baseline revenue has to grow in order for us to take on a new FTE. This also means that we can’t say yes to every large project. We’re lucky to have watched a similar agency expansion in the Drupal world from the sidelines, and we’ve witnessed that the agencies that grew rapidly in response to a few big contracts had a very hard time surviving after those projects were delivered and the big checks stopped coming. Don’t accept a project that you can’t deliver with the team you have at the moment you sign the agreement.

Tom Willmot from Human MadeWe’ve grown organically as the amount of work coming in has grown, we’ve generally been pretty cautious when adding to the team which I think has served us well. In the beginning that growth is slow as adding a single new person could be the equivalence of growing the team size by 33% but as you grow it becomes easier to grow more quickly.

Simon Dickson from Code for the People: I think of the early days of WordPress as a ‘serious’ platform – by which I’m talking 2006-8 – as its ‘punk rock’ years. I had seen corporate web development become slow, costly and too clever by half: think Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Emerson Lake and Palmer. For me and many others, involvement in WordPress was a reaction against all that, powered by enthusiasm rather than education. We could produce great work in small teams with minimal knowledge and minimal overheads. And although we could see amazing potential in WordPress, we tended to keep our ambitions in check – no concept albums or twenty-minute solos.

But as WordPress developed, and as we kept proving ourselves on the small stuff, clients began bringing bigger and bigger projects to us. Instead of modest microsites, we were being asked to develop the main website, or a corporate publishing platform. And with greater budgets come greater responsibility. We needed to expand the team, to provide cover for the skills we already had, and to add extra skills we didn’t already have.

The bar to becoming a great web developer is higher now than it ever has been. It’s unrealistic for someone to be an end-to-end expert in everything from responsive visuals to server efficiency, not to mention sales and business management. There’s still a huge market for ‘jacks of all trades’ – building smaller sites or working with smaller clients. But to build the kind of sites we wanted, for the kind of clients we wanted, we needed to put together a team of specialists.

Q: How has your coding workflow & style changed as you’ve grown? What prompted the changes?

Tom: We’ve evolved our workflow a lot, from what was a mish-mash of personal coding styles / workflows to what we have now which is pretty clearly defined. This was important to us for a number of reasons:

  1. We enforce internal code review, all code is reviewed by a coding buddy and vice-versa. This increases overall code quality, reduces bugs, promotes consistency and is a great way to learn from each other. We rotate those buddy pairs quarterly and purposefully pair across skill levels.
  2. Having a clearly defined workflow helps us work more effectively with freelancers and clients as they can easily get up to speed on how we like to work.
  3. Our local development environment is based on Vagrant which is huge in terms of ensuring everyone is working from a consistent base.

Simon: Over the past year, as we’ve added extra employees and expanded our freelancer pool, git has become absolutely pivotal to our work process.

We are a distributed team, scattered across the UK; yet we can all collaborate safely and effectively. Features can be developed in parallel, and merged together when ready – all the more important as we each specialise in different facets of site development. And with a visual tool such as SourceTree, we always have an overview of who’s working on what, and which version of the code is on which server. I can’t imagine how we ever coped without it.

Austin: The most significant change we made was to implement code review for everything we deliver. Every line of code we ship has at least one extra set of eyes on it. It’s not supervisory, it’s peer review, which fosters collaboration. This had a very positive side effect in terms of natural exchange of ideas, and has also ensured that our Github repositories now all use feature branches, which is definitely a best practice.

We formalized this practice when we grew our management team beyond the co-founders—it’s a way for us to ensure high quality code delivery whether the founders are involved in a project or not.

Q: What was the biggest challenge your team faced in serving larger clients? 

Simon: In our experience, even with the largest clients, the day-to-day responsibility for a project usually rests with one individual. And whenever possible, we like that individual to feel like part of our extended team. We often give them a login to our company-only chatroom and our code repository, so they can see the commit messages and join the ongoing dialogue. Transparency builds trust, with benefits for both sides.

Our biggest challenge has been learning to be patient. I spent most of my career working for large organisations, from national governments to tech multinationals, so I know all about dealing with slow decision-making processes, and challenging long-established policy or practice. In those first few months working for myself, I couldn’t quite believe how productive I could be. It’s all too easy to forget that others are still suffering.If you want to deal with large clients, you just have to accept the slowness. ‘No brainer’ decisions can take months, and there’s almost nothing you can do about it – apart from being ready to respond, as best you can, when the answer finally arrives.

Austin: We started our firm to work on big projects with big clients, so the size of work has only gotten incrementally bigger. We’ve always enforced internal consistency per project, but allow for overall standards to improve from project to project.

Tom: Assuming clients want the cheapest not the best – when you come from the mindset of serving small-business you tend to be hyper focused on delivering solutions as cheaply as possible. Often when estimating a project, say to add a simple e-commerce section you’ll think “we could knock something simple together in 2 days, but to really build something great we’ll need 2 weeks”. We want to seek out clients that want us to go for the latter option.

Q: What’s one thing you wish you had done from the very beginning?

Tom: I wish we had participated more in the WordPress community, in the early days I was more of a lurker than an interacter and definitely lost out because of it, more WordPress agencies need to wake up to the power of being part of the WP community.

Austin: I’d say code review, but it I’m not sure it would’ve been a reasonable thing to ask of our smaller team a couple years ago.

Simon: Simon & I had both been through the ‘starting a company’ thing previously; and we had been working as an unofficial partnership for a couple of years. So we knew the pitfalls which lay in wait during that first year.My advice to others would be to look for opportunities to use third-party services wherever possible. Time is the one thing you can’t stockpile: so it’s almost always worth spending a few pounds/euros/dollars on a good hosted service which will ‘just work’, even if there’s a free self-hosted equivalent.

Thanks to our WordPress.com VIP Featured Service Partners for their insights! We’ll be adding more to this as the answers come in. 

USA Today Launches Multiple Sports Sites on WordPress.com VIP

USA Today has launched several sports-focused sites on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting. Welcome to the VIP family! We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.

For the Win is about tracking sports news before it goes viral and the sharing stats for each article are prominent and an important part of the site.

For The Win | What fans are talking about.

The Big Lead covers sports but also touches on everything from politics to pop culture.

The Big Lead | Sports News and Media

MMA Junkie is a site focused on mixed martial arts news, rumors, live blogs, and more.

MMAjunkie | UFC and MMA news, rumors, live blogs and videos

The Q is at the center of its NFL coverage on Sundays, Monday nights and Thursday nights as an optimal second-screen companion for fans following NFL games, filtering out everything but the best real-time analysis through editor-vetted curation and exclusive, original content.

NFL | Q

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Registration for the WordPress.com VIP Workshop: March 31 – April 3, 2014

The next edition of the WordPress.com VIP Workshop will be March 31 – April 3, 2014!

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Now in its 3rd year, the Intensive VIP Developer Workshop provides a unique opportunity to learn from the WordPress.com VIP team in person, as well as exchange ideas and experiences with other WordPress.com VIP clients through networking lunches and dinners, the in-depth WordPress curriculum and exercises, and focused, collaborative conversations.

We’re also planning to bring back flash talk sessions where WordPress.com VIPs can share their own experiences with building VIP-scale websites using WordPress, their workflows, shortcuts, lessons learned, and best practices, too.

The event is open only to VIP client developers, select partners & potential clients, and we expect to sell out quickly! Last year’s feedback was just as good as the year’s before:

  • 97% plan on attending again 
  • 95% would recommend the conference to a colleague

A quick peek at the itinerary - details & agenda will be available on the WordPress.com VIP site soon. You can see last year’s event details as well.

  • March 31: Arrival in the afternoon. Welcome, networking reception & dinner.
  • April 1 & 2: Full days of training with VIP instructors, followed by networking dinners.
  • April 3: Wrap-up, farewell breakfast, and morning departures.

Current VIP clients & Featured Partners are welcome to register now! Early bird pricing is set at $3,250 each for current VIP clients until January 20th. The price for attendees is $3,600. Registration includes 3 nights’ lodging, meals, and airport transfers from SFO.

If you’re interested in attending in 2014, fill out the pre-registration form here or send in a ticket to VIP Support. We’ll work with you on organizing payment and confirming your registration for the event. 

If you’re not a current client or partner, you can pre-register for the VIP Workshop 2014 for the full price & we’ll process registrations after the early bird period is over and as spacing permits.

Here are some pictures from last year’s event and the event recap.

WordPress.com VIP Training Days in New York, February 2014

The next WordPress.com VIP Training Days, our one-day intensive courses held in-person, will be in New York City in February 2014.

The courses will focus on small groups of students with hands-on material led by several Automattic and WordPress.com VIP instructors. The course will be very interactive and full of practical information & exercises, and students will have the opportunity to ask questions during the course as well.

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VIP Training Days – New York, February 2014

Special Note: These courses are suitable for both self-hosted and WordPress.com VIP sites/superusers/developers – the large majority of the material will focus on core WordPress functionality/features.

  • Superuser Training - February 3rd – $600 course fee.
  • Developer Fundamentals I Training - February 4th, $850 course fee.

Note: All transportation, transfer, and lodging costs will be the responsibility of each student, as well as any other expenses not explicitly stated. Lunch will be provided. Payment is required to confirm registration. 

Register for the Developer Fundamentals I training, or the Superuser training in New York in February, or read on for more information about each course’s curriculum and prerequisites.

If you’re interested in VIP training and can’t make it to the New York dates, you can register your interest and let us know your location preferences (no commitment required). It’s possible we’ll add more dates or locations in the future.

Register now!

Developer Fundamentals I Training

Description

WordPress Fundamentals I is a day-long, intensive course meant to introduce PHP developers to programming for WordPress. Attendees should be familiar with WordPress as a tool, and have a working understanding of its general terminology. Proficiency with PHP is also a must, but no knowledge of the WordPress code itself is expected.

Prerequisites

  • Proficiency with basic PHP development.
  • Awareness of WordPress as a platform, including common terminology such as a post, a page, widgets, and sidebars.
  • A local development environment running WordPress Trunk. We will provide a virtual machine ahead of time for participants who don’t have their own development environments, but they will be responsible for setting it up ahead of time.

Course Materials & Requirements

Each student will provide their own computer (laptop) for the course, with working wifi functionality. A lunch break and light lunch will be provided by WordPress.com VIP. Students should have a local working copy of WordPress trunk installed and tested prior to the training. To download trunk: http://wordpress.org/download/svn/

Curriculum Overview

  • Intro to WordPress core, SVN, and Trac, history and culture
  • Developer environment and debugging tools
  • WordPress Development Best Practices
  • Introduction to Plugins
  • Actions and filters
  • Introduction to Themes
  • The Loop & WP_Query
  • More on themes
  • …and more!

Superuser Training

Description

In this course, you’ll learn how to manage and use the WordPress interface from a site owner’s point of view; as someone who will be managing multiple users, their permissions, and ultimately sharing knowledge with them about how to use WordPress to publish a great site with an active community and/or audience. We like to think of this course as our teachers teaching your teachers – those who will serve as the WordPress expert in an organization.

We’ll also do a deep dive into the publishing process so our superusers can teach their editors, authors, and contributors how to best use the WordPress interface. From creating and publishing posts to managing tags and categories, from mastering multimedia and images in articles, and bulk management of posts and pages, we’ll cover the entire publishing process from draft to done.

Prerequisites

Users should have a working (beyond basic) knowledge of the WordPress administration panel / backend. They should be managers, administrators, or editors of an existing or future WordPress site with multiple users.

Course Materials & Requirements

Each student will provide their own laptop computer (no tablets) for the course, with working wifi functionality. A lunch break and light lunch will be provided by WordPress.com VIP to all students. For the purposes of the course, students will be given access to a WordPress.com site. Users will be requested to create a WordPress.com username if they don’t have one, and this username will be submitted to the course instructor. To create a WordPress.com username: http://en.wordpress.com/signup/

Curriculum Overview

  • User Management: roles, permissions, and invitations
  • User Profiles: settings, preferences, and Gravatars
  • Comments: moderation, spam, and notifications
  • Creating & Publishing posts
  • Managing tags and categories
  • Mastering Media: images, galleries, and slideshows
  • Bulk management of Posts and Pages
  • …and more!

Register for the Developer Fundamentals I training, or the Superuser training in New York in February!

Refunds

We’ll provide a full refund if the cancellation is requested within 30 days from the event date, and 50% thereafter. No refunds will be provided for cancellations 5 days before the event.

Register now!

WordPress isn’t Suited for Major Publishers?

austin@alleyinteractive.comIn this post, WordPress.com VIP Featured Service Partner Alley Interactive‘s managing partner Austin Smith shares his thoughts regarding a recent article which dismisses the potential and power of WordPress as an enterprise solution. We naturally disagree with the article and turn this post over to Austin. 

Felix Salmon sounded off earlier this week, at some length, about one of my favorite topics—choice of CMS for news organizations. One of his central points is that Vox Media has a distinct advantage because of its über-CMS. I admit, what I’ve read about Chorus makes it sound pretty awesome. But there’s a broader question here about CMS models in general—do you want your CMS to run everything, or do you want it to be a component in a broader digital ecosystem?

First, I can answer this question for myself and most of our clients—I think the CMS should be a component in a broader digital ecosystem. From the look of the screenshots on TechCrunch, Chorus includes an ad management platform and a full-scale user management system. I’m not jealous of these features, nor are we often asked for them. The heft of maintaining such a platform would be unbearable for most publications, and to this extent I take Salmon’s point that an organization that can own the full scope of its digital experience may ultimately come out ahead. But we generally handle these features via third-party integration and our publisher sites still succeed.

Second, we build publisher sites on both Drupal (The New Republic, National Review Online) and WordPress (The New York Post, Digiday, Flavorwire, The New York Observer), so I’m in a unique position to take offense at Salmon’s casual offing of both:

Off-the-rack CMSs like WordPress and Drupal are OK for small-to-medium sites, but aren’t particularly well suited to be the framework for a major publishing operation.

Ouch! On whose authority? You could build a platform like Chorus on either WordPress or Drupal, and probably come out ahead. Drupal has long called itself a “Content Management Framework,” and would be naturally suited to this challenge. Similarly, anything you can do in PHP, you can package as a WordPress plugin. Plus with WordPress, you get the added benefit of editorial commonality—chances are pretty good that your reporters will have seen a WordPress admin screen before.

Also, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. These über-CMS projects have a tendency to fail pretty spectacularly, and humble as they apparently are, WordPress and Drupal are antidotes to this syndrome. The TechCrunch article about Chorus mentions WordPress.com VIP specifically as an alternative to this model. By virtue of its bulletproof reliability, careful curation, constant monitoring, and strong system of developer support, WordPress.com VIP takes a ton of this risk off the table. And in collecting a large number of high-traffic media sites, they’ve built a common set of shared plugins which handle many common publisher-site tasks. When WordPress gets better for one, it gets better for the others, too. Similarly, our biggest Drupal projects have launched successfully on Pantheon, and many other Drupal publishers run on Acquia.

Perhaps the “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality does not translate to digital media, as an open-source developer like me would prefer. But even if you buy into an eat-or-be-eaten mentality, it’s hard to believe that your CMS will win or lose the war.

Invective aside, one point I can take is that owning the full stack is a luxury that requires an immense scale. But is it a necessary condition for success? I don’t know, and I’m not sure Salmon does either:

I’m fascinated by the Medium experiment: I think it has a lot of potential, especially if it starts to support custom domains, like Tumblr did early on.

Great, but which is it? Medium or Chorus? I think we can agree that it’s too early to say, and that there could be plenty of room for both. But WordPress and Drupal do great things for big publishers too, and they aren’t going away.

Thanks to Austin for his commentary.

Interested in more information about WordPress solutions for publishing and media? Get in touch. 

NASA launches two more sites on WordPress

In addition to the NASA Open Government Initiative Websites powered by WordPress, NASA recently launched two more sites on WordPress.

The Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL) contributes to NASA’s mission by promoting individual and team excellence in program/project management and engineering through the application of learning strategies, methods, models, and tools.

APPEL – Academy of Program:Project & Engineering Leadership

Visit http://appel.nasa.gov/

Office of the Chief Knowledge Officer — their Chief Knowledge Officer has two important advocacy roles: facilitator and champion. The CKO leverages, nurtures, and highlights formal and informal work happening across the agency and serves as a conduit between the workforce and leadership to ensure the workforce has the tools and resources necessary to meet NASA’s most pressing knowledge challenges.

NASA Chief Knowledge Officer | Share. Connect. Engage.

Visit http://km.nasa.gov/

If you’re looking for information about government sites using WordPress, check out our spotlight on Building Government Websites with WordPress CMS or get in touch directly with the WordPress.com VIP team.

Canadian Olympic Committee launches Winter 2014 Games site on WordPress.com VIP

Today, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) officially re-launched Olympic.ca, marking the 3-month countdown to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Derek Kent, CMO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, remarked on the site’s redesign: “Our vision is to create a website that is best-in-class among National Olympic Committees. We know our fans, athletes and our partners are hungry for Canadian Olympic team content. This and the next generation of the website will ensure our athletes’ stories are told, and shared in more compelling ways with fans at home and around the world.”

We spoke with Todd Denis, Director, Brand Connections of the Canadian Olympic Committee, about the decisions made regarding the Olympic.ca redesign, which is hosted on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting.

Canadian Olympic Committee

Q: How is the website different from previous Olympic Games?

We wanted to make sure that the entire digital experience was driven by a ‘fans first’ approach. We’ve seen mobile traffic on Olympic.ca go from 15% in 2012, to 30% in the first half of 2013, and as of October, 2013 it was at 40%. So, in addition to the more obvious social hooks, we knew that re-designing around fans meant meant we needed to be ‘mobile first’.

We had our design partner Zync focus on how things would actually behave as mobile content and navigation – on function, then form – making it easy to share articles, photographs and videos, with a content and menu system built specifically for those smaller screens.

And the site lives within a responsive grid, as we felt this provided our best immediate mobile product, while putting us in a great long-term position to benefit from the constant evolution in responsive design.

Canadian Olympic Committee _Samsung_Responsive-showcase-presentation_970x580

“WordPress.com VIP allowed us to focus on the fan experience and front-facing content, instead of the servers powering it.” — Todd Denis, Director, Brand Connections, Olympic.ca.

Q: Why did your team choose WordPress.com VIP as the platform for the Olympic.ca website?

We had to ensure that the site would be ready for any traffic and performance load that the massive Olympic Games audience could throw at it, but we also had to be aware of the limited internal resources we could expend on site administration. We were already running a self-hosted WordPress site, but it was in serious need of a technology and stability update. WordPress.com VIP allowed us to focus on the fan experience and front-facing content, instead of the servers powering it.

Q: How long did it take to put the project together, from start to finish?

From initial RFP to final launch was more than six months, but it was approximately 16 weeks as a pure timeline around UX, wires, content migration and development. We worked with Toronto based brand and marketing agency Zync, and their programming partner Trew Knowledge, to design, develop and support the site.

Q: How will your team use social media to complement the Canadian Olympic Committee website, and to drive traffic to it?

The site is social from top to bottom, with best practices in place for social sharing and channel promotion. But we’ve also got widgets that pull in context specific content from our social channels. For example, while the universal footer across the site is a direct pull in from Instagram, many of the Twitter feeds are grabbed based on the context specifics of the athlete or sport tags on the page. It’s these small things that help build to a more engaged fan-to-athlete experience.

We will also be launching a Canadian Olympic I.D. in the coming months, which will initially behave as a sort of registration system on the site to help streamline saving and sharing of content – and the I.D. will be powered by social registration to help us better understand who our fans are and what type of content they enjoy.

Canadian Olympic Committee_Samsung_Smartphones-white_970x580

Visit Olympic.ca and see for yourself the new site!

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Recent Enterprise WordPress Launches & Redesigns: HBR Blogs, Know More from Washington Post, NYT Corporate, TechCrunch

There have been lots of exciting launches and redesigns happening lately with WordPress sites — here are just a few which caught our eye.

The New York Times has launched their corporate site, nytco.com, on WordPress:

The New York Times Company Corporate Site

Washington Post launched their new ‘viral’ site, Know More.

Know More (a Wonkblog joint) is a site for people who like learning stuff. Not sitting-in-front-of-a-textbook-for-hours learning, but getting-sucked-into-a-Wikipedia-hole-for-hours learning. The kind where you just can’t stop tunneling deeper and deeper until you know the name of every Brigadier General in the Union army and what campaigns they participated in, or can list every item in Grace Jones’s discography, or exactly who was going to get what job in the cabinet of a hypothetical Reagan-Ford co-presidency.

Our job is to give you a place to start. Each post is a picture, chart, video, or quote that, we hope, will fascinate you, or fascinate a friend who shares it with you. But at the bottom of every post is the option to really “Know More”. Click on that button and we’ll take you deeper. Much deeper. It’s the red pill — you take it, and we’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Know More by the Washington Post

The Harvard Business Review Blog Network has recently migrated from Movable Type to WordPress.com VIP! Same great content, awesome new platform.

Harvard Business Review Blog Network
TechCrunch did a redesign of their popular tech site which is hosted on WordPress.com VIP — read more about the redesign details on their site.

TechCrunch - The latest technology news and information on startups

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Why Big Brands and Enterprises Love WordPress

Earlier this month, hundreds of WordPress developers, content creators, and users gathered in Leiden, The Netherlands, for the first WordPress conference for all of Europe, WordCamp Europe. 

I was present and it was a great opportunity to hear how European countries are accelerating adoption of WordPress with big and small brands alike. I presented “Why Big Brands Love WordPress” — a presentation which delves into the reasons why big brands are choosing WordPress and what they have to say about it, directly from their mouths. At WordPress.com VIP, we work with a lot of enterprise and big brand clients as well as we work with those global brands to tell their WordPress stories right here on this site, so we often hear the many reasons why they pick WordPress and continue to love it.

Here’s the presentation (slides). The Russian translation is now available at the bottom of this post.

Here’s the video of the presentation from WordCamp Europe which is on WordPress.tv.

If you know of any examples or quotes which you’d like to see featured in a future version of this presentation, let us know!

Here’s a peek at some of the reasons Why Big Brands Love WordPress:

  • It’s easy to use.
  • It’s beautiful.
  • It Scales.
  • You own your data.
  • You can launch quickly.
  • It integrates & plays well with other services.
  • It goes mobile and Responsive.
  • You can iterate quickly with a small development team.
  • It can humanize data.
  • It’s a dynamic platform.
  • The WordPress Community.

Here’s just a sampling of the sites and clients included in the presentation:

Links about WordPress.com VIP & the WordPress open source project:

Some WordPress.com VIP clients mentioned in the presentation:

Other WordPress sites mentioned: 

Russian Translation

Thanks to Alexey Vidanov for the Russian Translation.

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