How to Build an Effective Drupal Team for Large-Scale Projects

How to Build an Effective Drupal Team for Large-Scale Projects

What does it take to build an effective Drupal team? What are the main characteristics of high-performing, successful teams working on large-scale Drupal projects? 

How do you scale your small team to accommodate the needs and requirements of more complex, custom Drupal projects?

Is it really just a matter of... numbers? Is it as simple as having more people with the same Drupal-specific roles (site builder, Drupal architect, back-end developer, themers etc.) in your team?

Or is it more about thoughtful planning?

About attracting the right talents into your team, the right skill set, and expertise? And, last but not least, about a set of shared beliefs (e.g.“ empower the end-user, help the client succeed”)?

Now, let's get you some answers!

Here's what it takes to put together the perfect team for handling challenging, large-scale Drupal projects.
 

1. Deconstructing a Large, Yet Effective Drupal Team: The Winning Formula 

What goes into a large, yet high-performing Drupal team?

Here are 2 characteristics that they all share:

  1. multiple team members holding the same Drupal-specific role (more than just one Drupal architect, more than one designer, front-end developer etc.)
  2. a hierarchy of responsibility

But let's talk facts — “formulae of success” —  shall we? Here's the ideal structure of a Drupal team scaled to meet the complexity of a large-scale, custom development project:

The project management team

  • project manager
  • engagement manager
  • quality assurance specialist

The technical team

  • technical lead
  • junior developer 
  • senior developer
  • themer
  • technical architect 
     

2. Critical Drupal Roles & Their Clearly Defined Responsibilities

When striving to build an effective Drupal team —  +60 people — clearly defining tasks and responsibilities becomes critical. It's the very foundation of a good Drupal team management.

And since you'll be assigning tasks by roles, let's briefly describe some of the must-have team roles in your large Drupal team:

Note: do keep in mind that all too often job titles don't correlate with Drupal roles (a front-end developer, with some level of Drupal expertise, could take on the role of a themer) and that it might take more than one department to complete a task.
 

Site builder 

If it's a truly challenging custom development project that you're dealing with, you might want to consider assigning site building tasks to multiple people in your team. 

To those presenting the right set of skills for this role, of course:

  • expert-level knowledge of Drupal core
  • specific technical knowledge: proficiency in configuring modules, in evaluating, selecting and upgrading them
  • expertise in setting up Drupal websites that meet specific business requirements
     

Back-end developer 

  • expertise in modifying the existing code
  • … in writing custom code (custom Drupal modules) from scratch whenever a new functionality or integration needs to be implemented
     

Themer 

  • a front-end developer with in-depth knowledge of the Drupal theme layer
  • he/she/they'll be responsible for turning the designer's work into a custom theme or sub-theme with the user experience in mind
  • both form and function will “dictate” how the final theme should come out
     

Designer 

  • the visual designer(s) will be the one who'll craft the look and feel of the website
  • basically, he'll be the one putting together all functional needs and technical requirements, turning them into an app or visually-appealing and engaging website
  • Note: it's not necessary for the designer to have some level of Drupal knowledge, however, it is strongly recommended; this way, he/she would be able to create designs that are easier to implement (an efficiency booster that you can't afford to underrate when you try to build an effective Drupal team, right?)
     

Project Manager 

  • we couldn't even be talking about an effective Drupal team collaboration without mentioning the project manager, one with outstanding communication skills
  • he/she's the one responsible for the project being delivered on budget, on time
  • the one to assign tasks, keep track of project resources and manage timelines
     

Front-end developer 

  • once the designer's work lands in his/her hands, it grows into an interface or web page
  • it's the front-end developer who'll test the resulting Drupal website/app on multiple browsers, platforms, and devices
  • the one who'll make the website interact with the library that best suits the project's functionality needs and UX requirements: YUI, jQuerry, Prototype and/or JavaScript library
     

Technical lead/architect

  • a back-end developer with in-depth experience in working with Drupal
  • that Drupal expert in your team who'll put together the whole development strategy: what modules to be used and how they should be configured, what integrations should be added, what security, scalability and performance measures and techniques should be integrated into the team's workflow
     

Specialist 

  • depending on your project's specific needs, you could have a quality assurance specialist, one or more app testers, a UX specialist etc. within your large Drupal team
     

3. And How Does This “Dream” Team Operate?

And it's a fact: you can't expect a large project to be running effectively on a self-organized process.

Although a unified one, to handle cross-functional needs, can be put together, it can't account for all tasks and requirements.

Therefore, here's a sneak peek into that multiple-process mechanism behind any successful large Drupal team:
 

  • the product management-focused processes: user research, identifying the client's and the end user's needs, putting together a coherent and cohesive roadmap for meeting them
     
  • the customer success-focused processes: at every few sprints, the Drupal developers in your team take turns handling all those incoming lower-level-effort requests/suggestions on how to help the customer... succeed 
     

4. How to Build an Effective Drupal Team: Must-Have Skills & Shared Beliefs

OK, so now you (at least) have a clue on:

  • what essential Drupal-specific roles your team members should be filling
  • what are the main responsibilities corresponding to each team role
  • how the whole “infrastructure of processes” looks like in a large Drupal team that handles complex development projects

Now you might be wondering:

“What special skills should I look for once I start to build an effective Drupal team, one capable to meet a complex project's needs?”

And here's your answer:

Once you've evaluated your candidates' level of expertise in their fields, test their organizational skills, as well. These skills become crucial in a large team, working on large-scale projects, broken down into silos.

Also, in order for a very large team to be effective on a long-term, a lot of drive is needed...

“And how about shared beliefs?” you might wonder.

In case of highly successful “mega teams”, the “empower the end-user, help the client to succeed” is the true driving force.

The one that future-proofs their success, as well. 
        
The END! This is how you build an effective Drupal team, one that's perfectly “equipped” and structured to tackle really complex, custom development projects.

Would you have added other characteristics, as well?