I work with an awesome group of people. Every day, programmers, designers, project managers, and SEO’s come together to collaborate on a huge variety of projects. At our firm, we are a competence-based culture; we like to get things done right, the first time, with few mistakes.
To make this goal a reality requires constant communication between the departments. Project managers need to know what the programmers are doing to update clients, the programmers need the designers to flesh out their code, and the designers need the SEO’s to put together optimized content and finalize the meta data of each page. Needless to say, we are all pretty comfortable being in each other’s business when it comes to getting the job done.
That said, one of our project managers just got off the phone with a client who was angry about having to pay extra for us to fix his website after his newest Magento Extension broke it. Instead of running down the reasons why it didn’t work, I decided to focus this post on something very important: The Development Site.
What is a Development Site?
Simply put, a Development Site, (or Dev. site for short), is a place on your server where the entirety of your site is copied and replicated for development and testing. Technically speaking, it means that we login via FTP to your host, and we create a subdomain in your root folder and completely copy the site over.
This is no simple copy and paste. Most of our development projects are for medium to larger commerce sites, some of which do over 50k in business a day. For these clients, they have huge databases to organize and gather all of the client data they gather during the checkout process. A dev. site has to then replicate all of those SQL tables, paste them into the new subdomain, and then rewrite their paths so that any changes made to those tables do not affect the main site.
The development site allows all of the people working on your site the security of knowing that if they miss a keystroke, or have to test something new, that the main site won’t go down.
Who Sets Up a Dev. Site?
Your designer, your hosting provider, can set up a development site or you can do it yourself. We recently finished a project where the owner of a site, with very limited PHP and SQL knowledge, researched and implemented a perfectly created dev. site. It was pretty astonishing for us to find out that he had done it himself, but it goes to show that with enough determination and a lot of research, nearly anyone can set up a development site themselves.
For those that don’t want to go through such a process, most web developers or Magento programmers can set them up for you, at their hourly rate. This is the most expensive route; so I would make sure to set a static price for setting up a dev. site instead of going by the developer’s hourly rate. One of our projects from October 2011 had this very problem. The owner of a site was working with an outsourced development firm, who charged very little in terms of hourly rate, but never set prices or hours needed for a project.
When they set up his dev. site the first time, they messed it up. This wasn’t that big of an issue because their rate was about 1/6th of an American developer. It was after they messed it up for the second, third, fourth, and finally fifth time that our client realized he needed to get help. What outsourced developers do to make their money is constant revision, this client had paid so much to those programmers that when we took him on, we were able to delete the subdomain and install a fresh dev. site in 2 hours. He had spent 3x that amount for a non-working dev. site with outsourced developers.
If you can’t figure out how to set up your dev. site, and you don’t want to risk outsourcing development or paying the high hourly rate of local developers, the only place left to turn to is your hosting company. Some hosting companies have a service where they will create a development site for you. In our experience, we recommend sites that require many stages of development to move the hosting to HostNexus. This isn’t a plug, as I am no way affiliated with that hosting provider, but in terms of ease of use, and cost, HostNexus has it all figured out. For a very low flat rate, they will create a dev. site within hours that is completely ready for development.
All in all, having a dev. site will reduce the number of mistakes that you see the developers make. Not that a dev. site will automatically make programmers have less mistakes overall, but the beauty of a development site is that they can make their mistakes and fix them without affecting the functionality of your site. You can sit back and still have a working site, and simply go to the correct subdomain in your URL and see the progress that developers are making on your version update.
Fewer mistakes, less cost, more transparency, and more overall comfort; development is no longer a headache with a dev. site.