New website for the Andrew Marvell Society

Screenshot of Andrew Marvell Society website

While the majority of our work in the web team involves developing and maintaining the main University website, using our enterprise content management system TERMINALFOUR Site Manager we do occasionally get asked to develop sites for other areas of the University such as schools and research centres. It is one such request that I’ve been working on for the last couple of months.

Sometime during the last quarter of 2012 we were approached by Dr Matthew Augustine of the School of English to migrate the websites of the Andrew Marvell Society from their current location, hosted by St Edward’s University in Austin, Texas to a new, custom-built site hosted here in St Andrews.

WordPress

During initial discussions about both features and resources we decided to use our new installation of WordPress multisite. This is something that we’ve been keen to use for many years; a simple lack of resource to support it was, I think, the main hurdle to getting it installed.

While I’ve done quite a lot of work with WordPress as a standalone application, and as part of the hosted WordPress.com service this is the first time that I’ve had to develop for a multisite-enabled installation, and actually the first serious work I’ve done with WordPress for about five years (having been developing with it since version 0.7).

Theme development

Development, I am pleased to report, has been fairly straight forward. We decided to start with a pre-developed, responsive theme (GoodSpace by Goodlayers) and customise it to our requirements.

I selected this particular theme for a number of reasons:

  • Similar design
    It was very similar to the design that I’d loosely sketched out on paper with Dr Augustine. (He had wanted something that was comparable to the look and feel and tone of the Milton Society of American website; Marvell himself was a friend of John Milton.)
     
  • Page builder and shortcodes
    I was very impressed with the theme’s built-in page builder and shortcodes, which seemed to offer a simple way of creating complex page layouts. After all, once I hand it over I’m not going to be the person who is maintaining the site.
  • Speed
    This approach got us up-and-running much quicker than if I had needed to develop a new theme from scratch, even basing it on one of the default WordPress themes.

Having used premium themes before I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the documentation shipped with this theme. The theme also came with an example site XML file which I imported and then spent a day exploring to understand how the various built in plugins and features worked.

Agile development

I’m using an Agile-style iterative approach to development, with one week iterations (or sprints), regular meetings and demonstrations with Dr Augustine, and using Trello to plan and manage iterations. I’ve really enjoyed this approach.

Trello board showing columns of index cards

Planned sprints for the next three weeks.

One of the principles of the Agile manifesto is “responding to change over following a plan”. I had scoped out the project for the first four sprints, planning to implement a new feature at the end of each sprint (join up form, migrate the newsletter from another WordPress site, implement a bbPress forum, etc.).

I had planned to implement the join up form this week, but I got an email from Dr Augustine on Monday morning saying “my next priority is to get the old newsletter rolled over to the new site”.

Great! So, that’s my next priority now too. I swapped the order of two columns in Trello, renamed them sprints 2 and 3 accordingly and got to work researching custom post types.

That’s the story so far.

We launched the site last Tuesday, three days early, and as you may be able to see from the fuzzy image above we’ve still got things planned out for the next few weeks. In good Agile style, we wanted to get a working site up and running and then incrementally add to it. Which has also been a really satisfying and motivating way to work.

This is fun… I’m going back to work now.

Footnote

By the way, if you’re wondering who Andrew Marvell is, he was an English metaphysical poet and politician who lived between 1621 and 1678. You can read more about the life and work of Andrew Marvell on Wikipedia.

Also, this has been unexpectedly one of the hardest projects I’ve worked on in terms of spelling the person’s name right! His name is Andrew Marvell. I work in St Andrews where we have a halls of residence called Andrew Melville Hall. How many times have I written Andrews Melville?

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Trello at St Andrews

At the meeting of the Scottish Web Folk, on Thursday 31 May held at the University of Edinburgh, I gave the above presentation about Trello from Fog Creek Software.

Trello is, according to its own help text,

a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

We’ve been using it since December 2011 within the web team at the University of St Andrews and are finding it really useful.

Summary of presentation

The first part of the presentation outlines something of our journey from a team of two members to (hopefully) six by the end of 2012. As our project backlog grew we knew that we needed to manage projects and tasks more collaboratively, to get details out of people’s heads and into a centralised tool.

We started to adopt Agile practices in 2008 which led to us creating a scrum board in the office. But in September 2012 Steve, our Web Manager, broke his foot and when he returned to working from home in December we knew that we needed to move the board online.

We had checked out a number of online, free and hosted applications such as Basecamp, Pivotal Tracker and Jira. However, Trello proved to be for us the perfect match.

The second part of the presentation takes a quick tour through the Trello interface and how it works.

The last part of the presentation involved a hands-on demo of the software. I’ve replaced this with two simple slides representing the two ways that we use Trello.

  1. We have one board called “Web team” which tracks the big picture: project requests, current projects being worked on, know issues, admin tasks, backlog of tasks, etc.
  2. Then we have multiple project boards, one for each project. These have a standard number of columns (backlog, in progress, waiting for, testing, done) and the labels (new feature, enhancement, PHP/JavaScript, bug, documentation, web team admin) are the same across every project.

If you have any questions or observations please leave a comment below or email me directly (gareth.saunders@st-andrews.ac.uk).

Note: this article was also posted to the Scottish Web Folk blog.