You may be wondering why seemingly trivial updates to your site cost so much. The answer depends on the circumstances, and is usually full of technical details you may not understand.

However, there are some common themes. Often, the developer tasked with the update isn’t the developer that made the site. Despite Drupal being one platform, there’s a few different versions in circulation and many ways to skin the cat that is your site. Also, the developer tasked with your maintenance may not be familiar with the modules your site uses, or how they’re configured.

But all is not dark and bleak. In fact, there are a few tips that Drupal website owners can use to lower the costs of their Drupal services.

Unravelling the Mystery

From the developer side of things, a maintenance task received starts out as a mystery. The first step is unravelling the mystery. I have to familiarize myself with the site:

  • What version of Drupal is it running?
  • What are the credentials to their server?
  • Where is Drupal installed on their server? (You’d be shocked how long this can take.)
  • Is there a revision system in place using Git or SVN?
  • Is there a development and/or staging environment where the fix should be tried out first?
  • Is there some special way to deploy code from development to staging and staging to production? 

Only after ALL these questions are answered can the next step begin.

Next comes the understanding of the client’s request. When a developer receives a ticket, it often comes with a conversation thread between a project manager and a client. The back and forth can be illuminating, confusing, or both. It can sometimes sometimes take up to 20 minutes and a conversation with the project manager to understand what the problem is.

After all that, the developer has to be able to reproduce the issue. Some tasks bounce between the developer and client, often times through a PM, several times, before the developer understands the situation well enough to reproduce the error. There’s a lot a client can do here to reduce unnecessary communication and the costs associated with PM and developer time.

Here are 5 ways to lower your maintenance costs.

1. Stick with one developer

No one knows your site better than the person who made it. If you explain your issue to them, they don’t have to unravel a mystery and acquaint themselves with your particular Drupal installation. When your developer is familiar with your site, they may know how to fix the issue before they’ve even finished reading the ticket.

Although sticking with one developer isn’t always possible, doing so will always save you time and hassle. If you switch developers, by choice or by necessity, expect some higher costs while your new partner is getting to know your website.

2. Make clear requests

When making a support request, include screenshots and URLs. Include operating system, browser, browser version, and explain the steps you took so your developer can recreate the problem.

This is a big one. The back and forth between developers, project managers and clients just to understand an issue can become quite expensive. I’d estimate the cost of communication for a trivial update can be as high as 90%; it’s not uncommon for it to be 50%. Anything you can do to clearly state the issue and ensure it can be understood and reproduced will save you lots of hard-earned money.

3. Opt for simplicity

When your developer presents you with several options to move forward with something, it’s always a good idea to ask which is the simplest option. That option will likely be best for all parties. Not only will it take less time to implement, but it makes your site easier to understand in the future. Your developer(s) will also thank you for it!

4. Use the established request process

Email may suffice for some forms of communication, but project management is not one of them. We use TeamWork for our project management for a host of reasons: clients have access to this online space and requests made through it instead of email save a step for the project managers.

More often than not, requests are pasted from email into Team Work, and sometimes the lack of context adds to the confusion. Skip that step! Use the request process established by your project manager to save time… and money.

5. Bundle small maintenance issues together

Have a series of small updates to be made? If the change isn’t that urgent and isn’t compromising functionality, wait a bit. Pooling your small changes together helps your developer start working on your issues just once to take care of several updates. If there’s something developers can’t stand, it’s having our attention being pulled 10 ways at once. It’s not just stressful – it’s inefficient. Pooling changes goes a long way to avoid that.

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