It's been quite a while since we've posted on our blog. It's all good. We've released a number of smaller sites and a larger web app will be releasing early next year. In particular, the rate at which owners of Drupal sites are contacting us to support them has picked up exponentially.
The conversation goes something like this: "We are just not getting calls back from our developer", or... "It takes them forever to even acknowledge that they are going to work on our site", or... "Mumble, mumble... I don't know what's going on; all I know is that our web site is abandoned".
I find myself put into the role of apologist for the Drupal community. When they ask me why this happened to them, I deflect and say that I hear their story frequently.
- Contractors. The world of technology moves quickly and so do people and companies. Independent contractors move or take a "real" job. These same contractors can lose interest in a small project and move on to a sexier gig.
- Drupal shops. Drupal shops have their own set of issues. It can be harder to motivate developers and designers to take over someone else's work. They would rather be doing development. Just like contractors, Drupal shops can move on to the next project, which is always using newer technology and promises to be an even bigger splash.
The "Look! Something shiney!" attitude is forced on all of us by the rate of change in the industry, but it comes across to clients as irresponsible and immature. They feel betrayed by the individual, the company and even the bigger community.
Bad news. Technologists and designers are not always the best communicators, especially when they have bad news. Folks in our industry are pleasers. We get off on being able to make our technology jump through hoops that our clients didn't even know existed. We are also optimists. We know we're good. So when budgets and deadlines get tight, we feel that we should strap on our cape and tights to fly to the rescue. (Sorry. Bad word picture.) The short story is that it is (seemingly) easier to just fade off into the sunset than to give bad news. Especially if you've been paid.
We all recognize this, but don't speak of it in public. It can be much more difficult to support an unfamiliar site than to develop a new site from scratch. This axiom has been true since before the old IBM Mainframe COBOL days.
In defense of the Drupal community, when I get these calls, my radar is up. I have fired my share of clients. Whenever we hear "This will be easy for you.", we know we're in for it. Like a recent starter conversation I had with a prospective support customer, "What's the lowest cost that we can get <insert something vauge> done?" Sorry... We must have a bad connection...
As we all know, scope creep is rampant in our industry and especially when you're using a technology like Drupal. The client gets so used to you doing amazing things, that they tell themselves that you can do an ill-defined project in a negative amount of time. I have at least one customer who is my Kryptonite to all of our "super" quantifiable project management systems. Spoiler: If you haven't guessed by now, the answer to this multiple choice question is C: Continually measure and communicate with your client. If you don't have someone in your organization who does that, better fix that.
This is going to sound stupid. People do talk to one another. I find that we have inherited multiple clients from the same Drupal service provider on many occasions. Even in the era of Google, we still live in a world of imperfect information. Due to demand, the Drupal folks who have abandoned customers, for whatever reason, will continue to work and their reputation will not be significantly sullied.
Corporate culture. At Monarch, we talk a great deal about who we are and our values. At least I talk about it. (I hope I'm talking out loud.) In every company I started, when a customer calls, everything stops and we address their needs. That doesn't necessarily mean that we work on their project immediately, but they are calling to communicate to us and we owe it to them as fellow human beings to address their problem with a solution that we can provide. (I've been told that people like working with us just because we answer the phone. Sad!)
Treat people like you'd like to be treated. Not only with the good news. Like a father or an uncle (or mother or aunt), you must also say the truth and lay out bad news with alternatives. If you are truly genuine from day 1, it goes a long way to having a successful business relationship... and friendship.