Our Work


ILAO Builds! Kick Off

Submitted by Gwen Daniels on Mon, 10/20/2014 - 2:42pm

Today we officially kicked off the build of the next generation of Illinois Legal Aid Online's products. For the last 12 years, we've used a custom content management system to publish our content to IllinoisLegalAid.org, AyudaLegalIL.org, IllinoisProBono.org, and IllinoisLegalAdvocate.org, as well as to our two mobile apps. We've hosted our websites on our own servers, building them as a closed-source platform on Adobe ColdFusion. Primarily, we have employed a waterfall methodology to website development. Our content strategy has evolved over time and we've responded by adding new ways to do things and developing new products on top of our custom code.

But now it's time to throw out the old model and rebuild all of it. The next generation of development will radically change how ILAO manages technology, delivers legal information, and delivers services through its technology products.

There are 4 elements that we are focusing on during our "renovation" project:

  • First, we are ditching ColdFusion and our custom-built platform. In its place, we're moving to Drupal's content management framework. This will allow us to focus on building innovative products internally while leveraging all the work the Drupal community has done to provide the building blocks for creating those services.
  • Second, we will stop managing our own web servers. We've already set our development and staging sites up on Acquia Cloud, Acquia's platform as a service. We've known that we wanted to move to the cloud for a couple of years but while most cloud services (Rackspace, Amazon Web services, Google cloud) take away the hardware management and capital outlays, they still require us to manage the operating system layer and the application layer. By moving to a "platform as a service" provider, we can focus entirely on the Drupal layer.
  • Third, we're moving to a Scrum process for project implementation. Our old model included creating large requirements up front and then sending me into my office to "go go build". As our projects have grown in scope and scale, this model hasn't been as effective at keeping projects on track or responding to changes in technology. Moving to an Agile process like Scrum will help ensure that we meet user needs and deliver high value features.
  • And fourth, we are rethinking our content strategy and processes. The content team has been hard at work with a business process analysis consultant to identify how we can improve the way we develop and manage content. This includes brainstorming about different ways we can present information so that it is most accessible to our users, getting them exactly what they need when they need it.

This morning, we kicked off our first sprint. Over the next 2 weeks, the development team (all of our content managers and me) will work through items that we selected from the backlog created by Teri, our product owner. We specified acceptance criteria in order to meet a documented definition of done. During the sprint planning meeting, we determined what we think we are capable of doing and will check in each morning in a daily scrum to organize the work amongst ourselves and make sure we are on track. And if we get stuck, our ScrumMaster, Chris, will help us move forward by removing impediments for us. When the sprint is over in 2 weeks, we'll demo it to our stakeholders, a group that includes the rest of the staff and may also include external constituents and partners we invite to join us and give feedback for the next iteration. Finally, the team will review the process so we can improve for the next sprint.

The team will be blogging about our process: what worked, what didn't, why we made the choices we made, what we've learned, and updates on our progress. We invite you to subscribe to the blog and follow along. And we welcome your comments and suggestions along the way.

Hope that you join us for the ride,