WebOps Wednesday AMA: Drew Gorton

Hi I’m Drew Gorton, Director of Developer Relations. I spent much of my career running an agency called Gorton Studios. I joined Pantheon in 2015 in an acquisition of a Gorton Studios spin-off company called Node Squirrel. For two+ years I led a department called “Agency and Community Engineering” to better serve our core market of Drupal- and WordPress-focused agencies. Though we now use the more industry-standard term “Developer Relations” for what we do, agencies remain a huge part of our current and future success.

We will need buy-in on WebOps from agencies of all stripes in order to reach our goals. On that subject and others, please Ask Me Anything!

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Our WebOps messaging is emphasize the importance of small, frequent releases. How can we take that message to agencies that still lean toward big rebuild / redesign projects that take months or years to complete?

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Great question. I’ll start by sharing some background for context. Many agencies who are long-time users of Pantheon have built successful businesses that have focused on very large projects with a high-profile launch. Many of those agencies will continue to work with their customers after that big launch event, but often treat it as an afterthought. From the agency sales side, it makes some sense. Those big rebuild projects are meaty and have a high dollar value - which is super valuable for any services business.

There’s also a problem with this model, however. It’s not working as well for the customers. Those big launches can fail to deliver the expected results… and when that happens, the budget is spent and the time is gone, so there’s no opportunity to go back and fix things. It’s a very high-risk endeavor. As more and more marketers realize this, they’re asking for different working relationships.

And, in an interesting twist, these big relaunches also carry big risks for agencies as well. While the dollar value is high, they also consume a huge amount of team resources. If a dispute happens, or a late payment or anything else goes wrong, that can be a huge problem for an agency. There are a lot of eggs in very few baskets, as it were. It also leads to a boom-bust business cycle as the agency struggles to find the next big deal and time it to start right when the last one finishes. That’s very difficult to do well and repeatedly. This business model feels like it’s a rush from one sugar high to the next - and just like sugar - it’s not sustainable or healthy. Tension, burnout, employee churn, customer (un)happiness are all impacted by this pattern.

So - with that background, I think the answer lies in reassuring people that a different business model can benefit everyone involved. Happily, we’re not alone in this. Many agencies have figured this out on their own and are doing really well. Building a large book of stable, recurring revenue from a lot of happy clients is a GREAT way to do business for all involved. Those relationships are built around small, ongoing releases, regular measurements and improvements based on those measurements and the clients evolving needs.

Sharing this perspective and the stories of agencies who are doing it well is a part of convincing any skeptical agencies that small releases can be a sustainable and rewarding way to run an agency.

And, frankly, there’s also a part of WebOps culture that benefits the big release mentality as well. Quoting from the WebOps FAQ:

Just as DevOps asks developers and system operators to work together to balance their competing priorities, WebOps brings together developers, designers, marketing systems engineers, content editors and other marketing roles. WebOps is technologically more narrow than DevOps is because it focuses on websites, not the whole of tech. WebOps is broader than DevOps culture in the wider set of roles on the team. The goal of WebOps is to increase the value of websites by maximizing their capacity to change.

This perspective is valuable to anyone doing work on the web, regardless of release size.


Hey @dgorton, question for you!

As our online forum continues to gain momentum, I am interested on hearing your thoughts on how we can begin to paint this picture in our community to appeal more to marketers/agencies alike. Right now it seems like most of the chatter in the community (both slack & Discuss) is heavy on the Dev side. Maybe it’s a simple fix–like creating seperate categories for marketers & agencies & then empowering our existing community members who are in each space respectively to join and add immediate value? Do you have any thoughts on this?

Also, love these #AMAs :clap: Do you know if there has been any discussion about opening up these AMAs to the entire community in the future?

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I’ll take the easy one first:

Also, love these #AMAs :clap: Do you know if there has been any discussion about opening up these AMAs to the entire community in the future?

I think that would be an excellent idea. Sounds like a new program for our Community Team. :wink:

On the other front, we are Dev-heavy in general, not just in Slack and here. This is another place I’d love to see you and Tara experimenting, however. All of Pantheon (from our product, blog posts, white papers, presentations AND community) needs to get better about engaging with the rest of the WebOps team. This is another place our Community could shine - you have a chance to lead by example here.

So - yes - I think you and Tara should feel empowered to try making these kinds of changes and monitor, measure and improve them over time. :slight_smile:

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Awesome, thanks for weighing in @dgorton :clap:

That’s a great point. I think I speak for the whole community team when I say we are ready for the challenge and excited for all of the amazing things to come!