“A 5 minute change.”

A while back, I wrote about how web design projects are like pizzas. No matter how big or small the pizza, there are lots of steps in common that take the same amount of time no matter what:

It takes a little longer to make [a] bigger pizza. It takes a little longer to make a fancy set of toppings. It takes a little longer to make three pizzas. It takes a lot longer to make 10 pizzas, each with different toppings. But every time, you still have to do all the setup work no matter what.

This morning, I had a small client request: change the color of links on the site.

This is what one would think of as a quick change. How long could it possibly take? 5 minutes? I can write the CSS to make a link green in about 10 seconds:

a {
    color: #477D0C;
}

This seemed like a good opportunity to document all the steps involved in making this change so you can get an idea for what’s involved to make even the smallest of changes to a website.

Steps to Change Link Color

  1. Start timer.
  2. Open my file editor and load up the project.
  3. Start local development environment. This is a copy of the site on my computer where I test changes.
  4. The local site if out of date so I need to do updates. This one takes a little longer because it’s a paid plugin and doesn’t support automatic updates on my local site.
  5. I didn’t build this particular site, so I have to figure out how the link color is set. If it’s a setting (it’s not) I’ll make the change there.
  6. Now the actual changes can begin! Choose a color to match their site and test it for contrast since it’s used for text. Luckily, there’s only one type of link that I need to change.
  7. Establish good hover and focus styles so people can interact with the link.
  8. Make the code change (~8 lines) and test to confirm it’s working. It works!
  9. I notice another small visual bug and fix it.
  10. Establish a secure connection to server.
  11. Upload the two changed files.
  12. They changes didn’t work! Why?
  13. Log in to site. It was a caching problem. Fixed.
  14. Email client with update about the fixes.
  15. Stop timer & document the work I did for record keeping and invoicing.

All told, it took about 18 minutes. (I removed a couple to account for the note-taking for this post.) That’s not actually too bad, but it represents lots of steps with lots of potential for small complications that add time.

How to Get the Most from a Developer

If you have a web developer you work with, don’t let this discourage you from asking for small fixes. Websites should be constantly improved!

Instead, the way you can get more from fewer resources is to create batches of change requests.

If you look back at the list of tasks, the technical fix took up about 4 steps out of 15. Notice that steps 1-4 and 10-15 are general tasks involved with making any changes. If I get another request for the same site tomorrow, most of those tasks will get repeated.

What you can do is pack more change requests into the middle of this process. That reduces the cost-per-change associated with the startup and wrapup work for the session!

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