Unitarian Universalist Association
Building a community backbone
- Strategic and technical Drupal development
- Data architecture
- Solid knowledge of PHP, MySQL and front-end technologies
- Project management
- Large-scale project planning
- User-centric product design
The Unitarian Universalist Association provides a home for anyone with a desire to connect with their personal spiritual path. They are inclusive and pluralistic. All of their communal activity — whether under a roof, online, or in an app — is purposed toward creating a place where anyone can go to align with love, justice, and peace.
CoLab felt an alignment of ideals. Here was an opportunity to serve an organization that provided space for people to explore their connectedness and higher purpose.
Before CoLab, UUA was moving in a great direction. They already had a team composed of talented tech experts: a web manager, front-end and back-end systems architects, and a design firm they had partnered with, Proverb. They had vision and lots of spreadsheets. They didn’t need a whole team takeover. They needed people who could collaborate with their internal team in addressing specific challenges.
UUA was approaching a major milestone in their online presence, but they were locked into a proprietary CMS that did not allow quick and easy connection between everyone in the UUA community. They needed a more effective way to spread their message. It would be a huge project: create and connect three websites, transfer data from old to new sites, and manage the different needs of each site. While the UUA team was hugely tech-savvy, they had never approached a project of this size before. It was CoLab’s task not only to help them with the development and migration, but also to train their team on our established processes for large-scale tech deliveries.
We started with four months of planning and training, laying the foundation for a rewarding collaborative effort. We took the data they had compiled, and reimagined it through the lens of user-experience, shifting focus to the user. Next came analysis and refiguring. Their system drove three websites and operated with even more back-end systems. We needed to make sure these systems were speaking to each other properly. We approached this complex network by using a combination of multi-site architectures, featurized modules, and internal data architecture.
This process was not without its setbacks, and we didn’t get everything right on the first try. Herein lies one of our greatest successes with the UUA project: we stuck with them for the long haul, problem-solved, improved, and grew along side them. The relationships between the UUA team and CoLab is strong. That is our greatest indicator of success with this project: the mutual trust and appreciation that exists between our team and theirs.
But, don’t take our word for it.
The UUA came to CoLab as an unusual kind of client — our IT Web Team wanted to hire CoLab to teach us how to move our large site into Drupal, doing the tough stuff and showing us how to do the run-of-the-mill Drupal work. Rather than giving CoLab a spec or RFP and waiting for them to deliver a website, we said, "Show us how!"
Learning Drupal development has been a hard climb — Drupal is as complex as we had heard — and we are also learning Agile development, automated testing, and other best practices. What’s been exciting about working with CoLab is that there’s a depth of experience in a wide range of development technologies and methodologies, so we’ve been able to avoid stupid mistakes and learn to do things right.
Because our project includes three websites, we assumed that we’d be using Domain Access, the Drupal module that’s built for serving multiple websites from a single installation. CoLab was reluctant, because of the complexity of the module and the difficulty in getting it to work with other Drupal modules. When we eventually talked to Acquia — the center of the Drupal universe — they admitted that they’d never done a really successful Domain Access project. CoLab saved us from a costly mistake, and is working on a simpler way to get us what we need.