Drupal logos from 7-10 illustrating upgrade path

Drupal 7 Migration
A Community Effort

Author: Liz Vines

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...oh wait, that opening has been taken. Allow me to start again.

In late 2018 the Digital Solutions team began discussing the need to migrate the customized version of the software on which the Digital Commons platform is built, Drupal (version 7), to the then newest version (Drupal 8).  At that point Drupal 'End of Life' was scheduled for late 2021. It was later extended due to the pandemic.

There were several questions that needed to be answered. 

  • How can we migrate to Drupal 8 while preserving our existing data?
  • Will migrating to Drupal 8 break any of our website’s existing features?
  • Will migrating to Drupal 8 break any of our integrations with third-party software?
  • Will our core Drupal modules work as they always have?
  • What about our contributed and custom Drupal modules?
  • Will our Drupal theme function correctly?

Commencing, in earnest, in early 2019 while continuing to onboard sites and maintaining our platform of over 40 sites, we researched and planned for over a year. 

Illustration of woman with Drupal numbers floating overhead depicting upgrades

The team worked out a migration pipeline to that ensured each agency went through the process in the same way. Every member of the team had specified duties. There would be a need for information architecture, a migration script, project management, training, and of course, lots of communication. 

Our process included

  • Migration schedules 
  • Pre-migration content clean up meetings 
  • Pre-migration assessments
  • Communication letter with all relevant info on the process
  • New site configuration
  • Agency training
  • Post migration clean-up
  • Webforms and views set up

One state with a similar number of websites noted that they contracted with three Drupal vendors to help with the migration. 
The Drupal migration process in North Carolina was unprecedented in that 95% of the migration work was completed in-house by our core staff. This was a feat in the government website space. Our (rotating) team of only eight to ten staff researched, planned and executed the entire process. The Digital Commons team utilized only one outside developer. 

Known for our We Are NC.gov conferences that gathered local and state government entities to talk digital services, we convened our first We Are Digital Commons event to include only our agency partners in an effort to keep our community close during the planning process for Drupal 7 migration journey. We would go on to hold two more events during the nearly three-year migration process to keep everyone up-to date and informed.

Partner agencies were encouraged at a Lunch and Learn to begin 'cleaning' their sites'. We charted a Digital Commons User Group (Web Advisory Group) and launched a Teams channel so that we could work together with agencies as we commenced on the journey from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. Internally, mini-teams were formed and assigned migration tasks in addition to their regular work.

As an Agile team we worked in two-week sprint cycles, midway moving to three-week sprints. We also moved on to (the less laborious upgrade to) Drupal 9 mid-migration. Our agile ceremonies helped keep us on track and in regular team communication. Sprint Retrospectives allowed us to reflect and refine processes so that each cycle became more efficient and effective. Our agency partners also instrumental in offering feedback along the way. 

We successfully migrated fifty (50) sites. All without one day of downtime for any site.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Ok, the migration wasn't Dickensian in any way, but it was a supreme team effort that was supported by a wonderful, active community of users. And, we are not resting. Did I mention that in the middle of the migration we rolled out a new theme for the Digital Commons platform and onboarded fifteen (15) new websites?

Stay tuned, this team is on fire!



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