FierceMarkets needed a Drupal web development team with a proven history of successfully delivering sites with tons of content, complicated information architectures, and challenging design requirements. While the FierceMarkets site needed help in all these areas, it was really just the tip of the iceberg in an even larger effort to refresh and update their brand along with all their other publication sites. We are currently in the process of designing, architecting, and building an ecosystem that will update and move more than 60 FierceMarkets publication sites from Drupal 6 to Drupal 8. It’s a lot of work, but lucky for us we love this stuff.
Good Processes Make Good Websites
At NEWMEDIA we like to build websites. We like to build good websites that meet the objectives of our clients. And we like to enjoy ourselves in the process—that means we need good processes—that means we have good processes. We have developed processes for everything from design iterations to fully automated website deployments. Every project has its unique set of challenges, and FierceMarkets was no different. We were able to confidently accept and proceed with this project because we trust our team and we trust our processes.
The Website Design Process We Used…
Discovery: We had several discovery meetings with the FierceMarkets team to fully understand every component of the site, as well as the site as a whole and its purpose.
Requirements Document: With this information, we created a requirements document that details all the features of the site in high-level user stories and acceptance criteria.
Build Specifications: From there we took those stories and began to define the site information architecture in a build specifications document. The “build spec” is a spreadsheet that accounts for all the content types, fields, views, and other Drupal site building structures required for this site.
Jira: We also converted the user stories from the requirements document into Jira tickets (our project management software of choice for Drupal projects). This allows the development team and project management team to assign, prioritize, and track tasks.
Sprints: We used the tickets and stories in Jira to define the tasks we needed to complete for each two-week development sprint.
Demos: At the end of each sprint we ensured all our changes for that development period were pushed to the staging server. This way the FierceMarkets team could access the current state of the site and see the progress for each sprint. We also set up bi-weekly meetings to demonstrate the new features to their team. This allowed them to see the site develop in incremental changes, give feedback, and helped avoid large surprises at the end of the project—the night before the site goes live.
Deployment: During the development cycle, we set up and tested a deployment protocol so, when all the initial stories defined in the requirements document were completed and accepted by FierceMarkets, we already had a process in place to smoothly transition the site from our development environment to their hosting environment.
Everyone is Happy: This is our goal.
Issues, Goals & Results
Don’t Tell it, Show it
FierceMarkets knew they could not just describe how many publications and stories they produce on a daily basis to potential clients. They needed to show the latest content, show the publications, and show the authors in real time as this content is created and published. This meant a lot of content needed to be loaded from their publications and displayed on the site so users could see and browse the new articles, read the bio of their in-house authors, and visit a publication within a targeted market. All of this content was coupled with easy-to-digest data points and icons that worked like infographics to show they had 197 original stories per week, 13 individual publications, and seven expert writers—just for the Life Sciences market.
In order for all the content and data to be managed and displayed from the central and most recent content and data source, we needed to hook into and display data from their Solr instance throughout various parts of the site. For example, the Latest News section on the homepage is populated directly from the Solr instance and displayed in real-time on the homepage. Using this same method we also displayed the latest news from key authors on their editorial staff, as well as the latest content organized by market and publication.
There were also several places where large amounts of data needed to be initially inserted into the system and updated in an efficient manner. The NEWMEDIA Denver web development team was able to set up a tool that imported content from Excel spreadsheets, organized that data within the infrastructure of the site, and displayed it in a user-friendly format that matched the designs. This not only allowed their team to enter data in a rapid fashion, but they did not have to worry about any formatting issues. For example, the advertising rate cards had large tables with lots of data that needed to be formatted in a very specific manner in order to display correctly. Instead of having the FierceMarkets team create tables with just the right markup, multiple columns, and many rows, they are able to simply populate a spreadsheet that the system then converts into fully marked-up tables with the content displayed as designed. This is a huge time (and headache) saver.
It’s About the People
Like so so many projects, the FierceMarkets site was not successful just because of a specific technology, color choice, or user experience decision. It was successful because of the people involved on all sides of the project. Before the NEWMEDIA team built any of the sites, we collaborated with the FierceMarkets design team, “includ”, to ensure the site could be built as represented in the designs. We also worked closely with the FierceMarkets team throughout the entire project, setting up weekly and daily meetings to keep their team informed of where we were on the project, providing an update on hours and resources used, answering questions, and ensuring the site launched on time.
The FierceMarkets team is located in Washington D.C. and NEWMEDIA is in Denver, therefore we used a combination of GoToMeeting, Basecamp, and Google Docs to always keep an open line of communication and to ensure the proper communication tool was available for both teams. Throughout the project, we had a great relationship and rapport with the FierceMarkets team. Alec, Mitch, and many others made timely and sensible decisions. They trusted us to design, make, and demonstrate small design and functionality changes and tweaks based on our judgment for their approval. This made for a rapid and stable development experience where we not only delivered all the features defined at the beginning of the project but also added several other features that helped enhance the overall site experience.
The success of the FierceMarkets site allowed us to develop a trusting, ongoing relationship with the FierceMarkets and Questex teams. We are currently working on the next phase of designing and moving all their publications into Drupal 8 and look forward to working with them for years to come.
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- Rick Manelius, Project Manager
- Naomi Wells, Project Coordinator
- Ryan Blyth, Front-End Developer
- Bryon Urbanec, UX/Graphic Designer
- Barrett Langton, Back-End Developer
- Owen Bush, Back-End Developer