A Tugboat case study

Shifting left for better code and faster release cycles

Lullabot and Tugboat logos

A more recent addition to Lullabot’s service offerings is Support & Maintenance, which provides a few different types of services to clients, depending on needs and budget. For clients with constrained budgets, this team does the heavy lifting of updating modules, security updates, and bug fixes. For clients with large budgets and more in-depth needs, Support & Maintenance serves a more development augmentation role, triaging work tickets, participating in regular sprints, and functioning more like a client services team.

Starting a new service offering at a web development agency can be daunting, but after adding Tugboat to their workflow, Support & Maintenance has increased velocity and quality with both types of client engagements and is providing a better experience for clients and team members alike.

A Streamlined Development Process Enables Context Switching

Unlike a traditional web development agency model, where a group of developers often work on a single client’s project for months or even years, Lullabot’s Support & Maintenance team provides support to many clients each month. Lullabot provides a dedicated technical project manager and team for each project, but there are times when team members may need to jump into other projects to help out for a few hours.

With Tugboat in the development workflow, developers don’t always need to maintain a working local that enables them to build a site and test locally. For some tasks, they can pull down the git repository, make changes, and push up changes to initiate a Tugboat deploy preview build and kick off automated tests. While that’s happening in the background, the developer can switch to another task.

Illustration of a person multitasking. By Freepik Storyset.
Thanks to Tugboat, the overhead of context switching between client projects is drastically reduced.

Or, instead of switching to another task, if teams are using Base Previews to speed up deploy preview builds, changes are ready to review quickly—typically in moments. Developers can then verify changes in the Tugboat build, check the automated tests—including visual regression tests and Lighthouse accessibility and performance tests—and request a review or fix issues before rebuilding.

Switching clients, a task that could take anywhere from hours to potentially days for more complex client projects, instead becomes a task that takes minutes.

A Consistent Workflow for Contractors

Depending on the size of a project, there are times when it’s necessary to bring a trusted contractor onboard to ensure first-class service. When that situation arises, it’s important to get the contractors up to speed quickly and provide a consistent workflow.

With Tugboat in the workflow, contractors can easily do work, push it to a Git repository, and auto-generate website previews. Contractors can then review visual diffs to have additional validation that their work doesn’t introduce breaking changes. Project managers and team leads can review the deploy previews to verify the work, and give a final sign-off before merging the pull requests.

After a one-time setup—creating a config.yml that tells Tugboat how to build the project, and what steps to execute after it’s live—nobody in this chain needs to understand the complex process that the client uses under-the-hood. By abstracting away every client-specific build process and workflow, Tugboat provides contractors with a consistent workflow no matter which client they’re working on, or how many hours per week they bill.

Automating Repetitive Tasks to Provide Additional Value

Tugboat provides additional value for Support & Maintenance clients with limited hours and budgets. Lullabot’s Support & Maintenance team uses Dependendabot (or Violinist) and Tugboat to automate module updates. With these tools in place, alongside Behat, Cypress.io, or other automated tests, the team has created an automated process to:

  • Check for updates to modules
  • Apply any updates
  • Build working website Previews in Tugboat
  • Run tests against the Tugboat Previews
  • Review changes in the testing suites, and look at Tugboat’s visual regression tests and Lighthouse integration
Illustration of a person operating a machine with a conveyor belt. By Freepik Storyset
The automation Tugboat provides means productivity and stability gains
for the Lullabot Support & Maintenance team.

With all of these steps automated, only a quick check of the automatically generated PR and providing a manual review of the environments are required before changes can be merged to complete the updates. This is often as simple as confirming all the tests have passed and there are no visual regressions. Team members can easily click into working website previews if manual testing is required. Alternatively, they can review build logs to confirm the update was a success.

With this automation workflow, a process that used to take hours of manual work by each developer on the team now takes only a fraction of the time. This gives team members more hours to fix client bugs, improve systems and processes, and provide additional domain-specific expertise to clients.

Getting Clients Involved Earlier to Avoid Rework

In addition to leveraging Tugboat’s robust automation capabilities, Lullabot’s Support & Maintenance team values the ability to share working website previews with clients to solicit feedback early and often. Director of Support & Maintenance David Burns says:

Tugboat is amazing for a lot of automation stuff, but on the manual side, Tugboat's strength is in empowering our clients to be more involved earlier—to give feedback so we're not having to redo work.

David Burns, Director of Support & Maintenance, Lullabot
Illustration of a person taking notes while another person shares ideas. By Freepik Storyset.
With Tugboat shipping review environments for in-progress work, the Lullabot Support & Maintenance team is able to share their progress with stakeholders early and often.

By getting input from clients early in the process of fixing bugs or doing development work, iterations can happen faster, and reworks are avoided more often. This preserves and stretches the limited pool of hours the Support & Maintenance team has for each client, enabling them to get more done and provide a better value to clients.

Conclusion

By enabling Lullabot’s Support & Maintenance team to streamline workflows, automate repetitive tasks, and involve clients earlier in the development process, Tugboat gives this team the ability to really drive value for its clients. Support & Maintenance can get more done, faster, and build better relationships with clients, increasing retention and word-of-mouth referrals.

If you’d like to talk about how Tugboat can propel your Support and Maintenance team to success, drop us a line—we’d love to accelerate your team’s productivity in supporting your clients.

All illustrations by Freepik Storyset.

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