There are a variety of reasons why an organization would want to engage with an agency-partner (partner) like Mediacurrent to support and optimize their existing Drupal site.
Before sizing up an agency’s capabilities, the first question to ask yourself when making this decision is: “Why?” Why are you considering a support or maintenance agreement?
In my experience as both a client and an agency Project Manager (PM), the answer most often falls into two buckets. Either “we need to supplement our existing staff” or “we have internal knowledge, but want to take advantage of expert-level knowledge, while supplementing our existing staff to successfully maintain and expand our web properties.” (Read Client Success Manager Emily Hawkins’ post, What Client Success Means to Mediacurrent.)
The former (Supplement, for the purpose of this post we’ll refer to this as the “Contract” approach) is understaffed and most likely seeking development hours, but as opposed to going the route of hiring a contract employee, or part-time contract employee for 20 hours a week (80 hours a month), they turn to a partner for 20 or 30 hours a month.
The latter (Support, for the purpose of this post we’ll refer to this as the “Partner” approach), needs some additional resources, but is also interested in leveraging the partner’s expertise across many different aspects of a website including development best practice, security, accessibility, UX, design, SEO, analytics, and strategy. (See a range of Drupalcon Seattle 2019 sessions presented by Mediacurrent’s multidisciplinary team.)
Contract Hire or Support Partner: Which Approach is Right for Your Organization?
Overview of working with a support partner
An agency partner has a wide range of expertise available. At Mediacurrent, every support/optimization client will have a dedicated Project Manager and assigned developer(s). Mediacurrent’s internal security team assesses every security alert released against all our clients, in order to patch affected sites as quickly as possible.
In addition to development requests, our developers periodically review modules that have updates available and assess the priority of updating (should we do it now, or can it wait?). This helps keep each client’s site current which is not just important for performance, but critical when a security update needs to be applied. In some instances, if you are too many versions behind, you may have to update modules before you can apply the patch.
While each support client has access to a developer, Mediacurrent’s support agreement is not limited to development tasks. The partner approach provides tremendous flexibility of resources. If the client wants to utilize hours toward an accessibility audit (read Why Ignoring Accessibility Is Hurting Your Business), Mediacurrent can bring that resource in for a specified period to conduct and present the audit. This can then inform future development work, but more importantly, help the client mitigate the risk of a lawsuit for non-compliance. The same can be said for analytics and SEO. The post-audit work can be done by Mediacurrent or by the client’s internal staff. The key aspect to keep in mind is that a support agreement provides the flexibility to pull in team members who do this specific work every day and are experts in their specific area of focus. The client can also benefit from consulting with these individuals as they are planning future development.
5 Benefits of a Support Partner vs Contract Hire
How do hours work? What do I get for the hours I'm paying for?
For those with the Contract approach in mind, there are some significant differences when you hire a Partner Agency.
- A support partnership offers a dedicated project manager
Unlike a traditional contract employee who is hired for some time at a set number of hours and reports to your organization, and does the work you ask him/her to do, a support Partner offers the benefit of an assigned PM. The work done by the developer will go through the Mediacurrent QA process before passing it back to the client for approval.
- A support partnership provides constant communication and project tracking
The PM will serve as the primary point of contact for all communications with you, the client, and the Partner team. This may come as a status call or email providing updates. The PM monitors the budget, providing regular updates to the client. The PM works with the client to ensure priorities are set for work to be done and to plan for known upcoming tasks ensuring forecast for the proper individuals is secured in advance. New tickets, as a best practice, should be tied to organizational KPI’s and prioritized accordingly by the client and understood by the partner.
- A support partnership maintains high QA standards
QA is essential to meeting client needs. Mediacurrent’s workflow goes from developer approved to QA in advance of User Acceptance Testing by the client. This process puts the best result forward first and minimizes the review time required by the client and the back and forth required if the step is skipped and the client identifies issues that would have otherwise been caught by QA.
- A support partnership builds you a strategic roadmap
With a Partner agreement, you will have some early strategy discussions to create a roadmap of what you want to accomplish over the duration of the agreement. Sometimes this takes place during the sales process and is confirmed and refined when a PM is assigned. With the roadmap, Mediacurrent can then line-up the proper resources from across different internal departments, at the right time.
- A support partnership provides access to experts across disciplines
Expertise across a wide range of disciplines is also unique to the Partner approach. At Mediacurrent we are asked by clients about various topics or requests that arise in internal meetings and our contact is interested in knowing if it can be done and how heavy is the lift. This could be related to developing a new feature or functionality, it could come from legal regarding accessibility, or IT concerning the security of the site. Having a team of experts to provide a quick response for the contact to deliver to his/her internal stakeholders is a great benefit of having a partner. In most cases, the questions one client has we have likely already answered for another.
As a result of the above, if you have a 30 hour a month agreement it is not 30 hours of development time, because you have to account for the QA, PM, and meeting time.
What would happen if I cut out everything except development?
Cutting out the QA and PM roles would leave a gap in communication, quality, vision, and potentially compliance. Priorities would not be known to the developers and forecast could not be managed to ensure the right people are available to work at the right time. It would also increase the review time. Failure to leverage security, accessibility, and compliance (such as GDPR), could also become very costly to your organization. Even if a client has internal resources accountable for these areas, it is always of benefit to have a better understanding of what other companies are doing and how these topics are being addressed by Mediacurrent.
Managing hours is critical to get the most value for your expenditure coupled with the least risk to your organization.
How is work managed in a partner agreement?
A typical working relationship includes all of the items mentioned above (road map, priorities, status calls, emails, etc).
In addition to phone and email, each client is set up in Mediacurrent’s Jira ticketing system. This solution records tasks to be completed. Each task has a detailed description, an assignee can be added to a current or upcoming sprint, or placed in the backlog if it is a low-priority item.
The developer will add comments on the work completed and the next steps. Once the work for a ticket is complete, testing instructions will be added and the ticket will get assigned to a member of the QA team.
Mediacurrent has a dedicated QA team with a defined process that is followed. Once approved by QA, it is assigned back to the PM to alert the client that the ticket is ready for their approval.
Clients are all offered the opportunity to have credentials to access their board, but not all do so, instead opting to communicate via email and phone. Having access and using the board, however, allows the client to check on the status of a ticket at any time of the day, any day of the week.
Is Your Approach a Right Fit for an Agency Partner?
It is imperative in any joint venture that both parties are aligned in terms of expectations of what one another will do and provide prior to the start of the relationship.
Hiring a partner is very different than outsourcing or contracting for an individual resource. If the only thing your organization is interested in is getting x number of development hours per month, then a partner is probably not the right direction for you.
On the other hand, if you are looking for development support, but also the ability to tap into a range of resources, then a partner is a very good option due to the flexibility of resources available.
Another situation when a partner can be invaluable includes when a client for whatever reason loses their current support and needs a new one to cover, fast. Given the diversity of skill sets within a partner, the partner will be able to find the right people to assess the site and needs and then identify the right partner resources to make a smooth transition.
In some cases, the maintenance and optimization agreement with a partner, provides the client with a good option when a client internal request arises, such as the need for something new requested by a single department that would be bigger than the current agreement allows. In these instances, the client contact provides the PM with the outline of what they are interested in doing, and the partner will assemble a team to meet with the client and discuss the project in greater detail. In some instances, a solution is found that can be done within the existing agreement or it could become a change order or a new and separate contract.
The partnership approach to hiring an agency provides significant benefits to the client when the client embraces having a partnership. Entering the agreement with a good understanding of what is available, how the partnership will work, and the flexibility of resources based on your current or future needs will help to create a successful partnership that sees all parties benefit and may even land you a promotion.