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. 

Answer the Annual WordPress Survey!

wordpress-logo-hoz-rgbThe third annual WordPress user and developer survey is open!

If you’re a WordPress user, developer, or business, you should definitely submit your feedback as it helps to get a sense for the WordPress community and how they’re using WordPress.

The data will be shared with the world during Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word address during WordCamp San Francisco later this month. It’s usually even made available for download for your own data mining and discovery, so add your voice to it!

Answer the annual WordPress survey!

WordPress in Government Workshop

wp-in-government

A few weeks ago in Washington, DC, WordPress.com VIP hosted a half-day workshop focusing on WordPress in Government, which was co-sponsored by our friends at GovLoop.com. The workshop was a huge success and I wanted to take just a few moments to share with you some highlights from the day’s events.

First off, why government? WordPress powers close to 19% of the top 10 million websites on the planet and we’re seeing major growth in all areas. The government sector, from federal to the state level and all the way down to local cities and towns, is experiencing some major technology shifts which have led to big changes in the way average citizens relate to and get information from their government. It’s an exciting time to be a technologist or developer at any level of government and it’s leading to some really interesting opportunities for WordPress, as there’s real interest on the part of government to move towards open source software and the availability of responsive platforms that help deliver on-demand information and government services.

We wanted to showcase some of the innovation that’s happening with WordPress for the government sector, so we hosted a workshop at the District Architecture Center in Washington, DC. We gathered over 115 key technologists and decision makers who work inside and outside of the government to network and to hear some presentations about some innovative things happening with WordPress in government. The attendees represented a big cross-section of agencies and organizations and many discussions centered on what they’re currently doing with WordPress and how they plan to scale their platforms.

We had attendees from:

  • Department of State
  • Peace Corps
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Millennium/Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC)
  • National Cancer Institute
  • Northrop Grumman Corporation
  • US Navy
  • U.S. Postal Service
  • Patent and Trademark Office
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Commerce
  • And more…
  • We’ve gotten some great feedback so far on the content of the event, and over the next few weeks we’ll be posting various presentations from the workshop here on VIP News so that you can learn more what’s happening with WordPress in government.

Here are some of the presentations from the event (we’ll be adding more as they become available):

You can read through some of the tweets and real-time reaction that was taking place through the event on Twitter (see below). #WPGov tweets can be found here, and thanks again to GovLoop.com for partnering with us on the event.

Here are some pictures from the workshop:

If you have any questions about WordPress inside your government agency, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Read more about WordPress in Government.

2013 VIP Intensive Developer Workshop Recap

One month ago, dozens of WordPress.com VIP clients, partners, and enterprise WordPress users gathered for our second WordPress.com VIP Intensive Developer Workshop in Napa, California.

WordPress.com VIP Workshop 2013 Group photo

The event was decidedly bigger than the inaugural event and it sold out quickly. We wanted to keep the intimate feeling of the exclusive event so all attendees had a chance to interact and get to know each other during networking breaks and dinners.

We’ve gotten some great feedback from the attendees:
95% of participants surveyed said
they would recommend the conference to their colleagues
97.37% said they would come again! 

This year we added flash talks from select VIP clients including CBS, Simperium, AlleyInteractive/KFF, PMC, Local TV, The Washington Post, Time Inc, Grist, Metro UK, Quartz, The New York Times, and Maker Media, about how they are using WordPress and WordPress.com VIP to power their businesses. We’ll be reposting those presentations right here on WordPress.com VIP News.

Developers from WordPress.com VIP and the extended Automattic team lead hands-on training sessions that covered everything from Security, Advanced Caching Patterns, MySQL Query Optimization, Building JS Apps with WordPress, Front-end performance, Backend optimization, Automated Testing with WP, Building Mobile sites with WP, in-depth looks at WordPress.com functionality, and more.

We also dedicated some time to open discussions on subjects which are dear to VIP clients like development workflow, single sign-on, administrator tools and utilities, and content embeds and integrations. The open format gave everyone a chance to share their ideas, solutions, and for VIPs to learn from each other directly as well as from the WordPress.com VIP team.

A special thanks to Jeff Veen (VP, Adobe) for his insightful welcome speech, and to all the VIP clients and partners who attended! Below are some of our favorite moments from the event.

We’re ready for what’s next, too!

The WordPress.com VIP team is busy planning the next installment of the VIP Workshop, as well as a series of VIP training this fall which should be interesting for both developers and superusers such as site administrators, managers, and editors!

If you’d like to receive word of the next WordPress.com VIP training or networking event, sign up for the WordPress.com VIP News & Announcements newsletter to receive the latest, and stay tuned to the VIP News site!

If you have any questions about WordPress.com VIP Services, be sure to get in touch!

The Dream Internship: Work at Automattic (Summer 2013)

Update: The application period is now closed. Thank you to all who have submitted an application! We’ll get in touch with potential candidates via email. 

Our company Automattic — which runs WordPress.com, Akismet, VaultPress, and many other services — is looking for a few stellar summer student development interns, specifically to work with us on the WordPress.com VIP team.

As a paid intern, you’ll be working on a range of projects depending on your skills & passions — everything from doing development work on plugins that improve WordPress functionality for large media companies to working on core WordPress.com features and development. Last year, our interns had a great time developing code for WordPress.com that launched and is still in use! One of our intern developers worked on an early version of WordPress.com Enterprise, and another worked on Push Syndication, which is live on the WordPress.com VIP platform now.

Where will you be working you may ask? Anywhere! We are a distributed company and are happy if you work from wherever you are — including your parent’s summer beach house — as long as you have a good broadband connection. The internship runs 8-10 weeks between June 1st and August 1st, 2013, but we are flexible on the dates.

Interested? Write up a post on your WordPress blog and leave a comment on this post with a link to it telling us what you’d work on — for example, a killer plugin or integration, a feature improvement, etc. Your comment and link will remain private to the VIP team.

Send in your internship application by May 1st, but the earlier, the better!

Looking forward to hearing from all of you.

WordPress.com VIP mixes with London VIP clients

In February many members of the WordPress.com VIP team headed to London to meet up with some of our VIP clients and partners. One evening we organized a WordPress.com VIP client and partner meetup and the turnout was great!

There were many conversations about what’s next for the growing WordPress community in the United Kingdom, how UK enterprises, media companies, and large organizations are doing interesting things with WordPress, and what’s coming up in WordPress 3.6.

That week, we were also happy to sponsor the WP Meetup in London and meet some of the WordPress users and developers using and building web applications with WordPress in London. (Are you following us on Twitter? @WordPressVIP)

That weekend, Automattic also sponsored the PHP UK conference and several WordPress.com VIP developers were on hand to interact with the PHP UK community, as well as to share how a PHP application can scale as large as it does on WordPress.com.

We’ll definitely be heading back to London soon and often, so if you’re there or have colleagues there, let us know!

Are you in London or nearby and interested in WordPress.com VIP events? Are you, or an organization you know, doing innovative things with WordPress? Leave a comment below or get in touch.

NYC VIP Party – Thank You!

Hudson Hotel

To those of you who were able to join us last Thursday in NYC for the VIP Happy Hour, I wanted to extend a hearty thank you – we really enjoyed seeing so many of you there! We had about 120 attendees, ate some delicious chocolate fondue and enjoyed the beautiful courtyard space at the Hudson Hotel. We’re really looking forward to our next VIP Happy Hour – in London next February (more details on this soon…).

If you have ideas for future events that you’d like to see us host or sponsor (both social or professional welcome!), please get in touch. We really enjoy bringing everyone together and we’re looking forward to some awesome events in 2013.

WordPress Powers Politics

WordPress is the most powerful content management system in the world – today it powers just under 17% of the top one million websites in the world. Millions of people from across the globe turn to WordPress to build websites of all shapes and sizes and across all different categories.

Now that the political conventions are over and we have officially turned the corner towards the November election, WordPress.com VIP is proud to release this infographic which clearly shows that WordPress is now the backbone that powers websites from across the political spectrum.

Check it out!

This research project started when we began to notice that more and more political websites were being built on WordPress. We focused on a couple of key categories: state parties, U.S. House races, U.S. Senate races, and Gubernatorial races. We looked at all of the major-party candidates across these categories and manually checked to see what content management system was being used. We were excited by the results and thus, they became the impetus for this lovely infographic.

If you want to learn more about WordPress for your political website, or any other purpose, get in touch with the WordPress.com VIP team here.

Spread the Word

Copy the embed code below to share the infographic on your own site:

<a href="http://vip.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/wordpress-powers-politics/"><img title="WordPress Powers Politics -- compiled by WordPress.com VIP: Enterprise Hosting and Services for WordPress" src="http://vip.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/wordpress-com-vip-politics-infographic-final-1.png" alt="WordPress Powers Politics - Infographic" width="759" height="1896" /></a>

Video: Matt Mullenweg | State of the Word 2012

If you missed WordCamp SF this past weekend, or didn’t  catch the live stream, the fine folks who work on WordPress.tv have the keynote by WordPress co-founder and Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg ready to go: