Working with an Agile driven agency

By Ania Kierczynska

What to expect from working with Certified Scrum Professionals and Certified Scrum Product Owners

If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably interested in the benefits of hiring an experienced Agile agency. Or perhaps you are wondering what it means exactly when an agency mentions Agile, and ‘how this methodology might improve our products’? 

Let’s start with Agile.
Agile means: “[to be] able to move quickly and easily and able to think quickly and in an intelligent way” (Ref.1). If you think about your products - how do you want them to be delivered? Probably in a quick, easy, and smart way. But remember, easy delivery doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is simple! It means that you don’t need to feel the pain points whilst producing it. So how do we go about creating a great product? And most of all - why Agile?

According to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Pulse of the Profession 2017 (which I encourage you to read), “71 percent of organisations use Agile approaches for their projects sometimes, often, or always” (Ref. 2.). Agile is widely embraced by companies and organisations that value a more flexible approach to project delivery. 

Furthermore, the key to Agile project success is through being engaged in building your product. Working in an Agile environment means gone are the days where we state all requirements upfront, have business analysts creating huge documents, then pass the project on to the developers, only to get a product 2 years later that no longer reflects the current market, business, or users. Agile encourages active conversations during the project period. A conversation is so simple, yet so powerful. PMI notes that the average percentage of projects with actively engaged executive sponsors is increasing constantly, even last year it went from 59% in 2016 to 62% in 2017. Communication will help you meet the business goals and create something that users will love. 

Communication, therefore, is key to reducing waste. 
How many times in the past have you developed something that was never used? Or decided to close the project as its business goal was no longer valid (after investing in months of work and loads of cash)? How much money did you lose because of the lack of the reaction to the changing environment? And here’s the most important question - if you could have changed the requirements, priorities or specification at the time when change was happening around you - would you have been more successful? An Agile approach guides you on the path to success, which might mean failing early and learning from mistakes - when these mistakes are not as painful to fix or as costly. Agile teams deliver small parts of a working and fully tested application. You won’t get a whole product at once, but rather, get smaller chunks of it more often. You have unlimited access to your product backlog to change your requirements, prioritise them, and make sure your product has the features that are needed. And you have an experienced Agile professional who will help and support you!


Let’s go a little bit deeper into Scrum
Another term that you may have come across in relation to Agile is Scrum, a subset of Agile and a framework for Agile development. But why Scrum? According to the Scrum Alliance’s ‘2015 State of Scrum Report’, “the overall success rate of projects delivered using Scrum is 62%” (Ref.3.). If you’d like to read more, you can read the full report on the Scrum Alliance website.

What can you expect from a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP)?
I am a Certified Scrum Professional and this is  what it means I can do for you. You can be assured that I have at least 3 years of a professional Agile experience, during which I served as a Scrum Master and/or Scrum Product Owner. The CSP must also have a certification in at least one of these roles (in my case, it’s CSPO). The CSP certification is a very involved process which requires the practitioners constantly improve their skills and to be up-to-date with new knowledge in their field. Many CSP’s (including me) even run events or host coaching sessions in order to facilitate knowledge sharing within the community. Remember, the CSP is an experienced and active Agile practitioner who leads by exemplifying the Scrum values focus, courage, openness, commitment and respect. And this is what you can expect from me.

What can you expect from a Certified Scrum Product Owner?
A Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) is typically a more business facing person on a Scrum Team. The CSPO works with all stakeholders to define requirements and to prioritise the backlog accordingly. At The Cogworks we have seven CSPOs and having us on your project means we will be able to establish a high-level vision and understand the goals of the business, in order to maximise the ROI for the project within the set budget. The CSPO will also assess features and functionalities at the end of each Sprint in order to align with business values. 

What can you expect from The Cogworks team?
At The Cogworks, our Project Management Team consists of Agile practitioners who also specialise in particular frameworks. Some work with Kanban and others with Lean. If you are looking for an XP passionate, we even have those too! And of course, Scrum is a particular favourite. We have one Certified Scrum Professional, and seven Certified Product Owners, and a stellar track record for delivering successful projects. What you can also expect from us is advice, coaching, and help. We keep up with the latest techniques through participating in the Project Management Institute and regular Project Management and Agile meetups. If you’re not sure whether Agile works for you - I’m happy to show you the benefits and help you discover how Agile can help you achieve your business objectives. Plus, you can expect a friendly environment with people who are committed to helping you create a great product. 

If you are new to Agile and want to learn more about Scrum, I can’t recommend enough Mike Cohn’s and Mountain Goat Software blog. It is full of wonderful material to help you get started. Just be careful, because you can spend days reading it and you will only want more and more! If you are interested in speaking with me and my colleagues, please do get in touch. I am excited to embark on an Agile adventure with you!


1. http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/agile

2. http://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/pulse-of-the-profession-2017.pdf

3. https://www.scrumalliance.org/why-scrum/state-of-scrum-report

Top 10 things we love about agency life

By Estelle Lautrette

By Estelle Lautrette

Read on to discover the top 10 things we love about our day-to-day office life... 

1. Exmouth Market is just a stone’s throw away!

Exmouth market

There’s a great variety of unique shops and restaurants lining the streets of Exmouth Market. From arty boutiques selling one-off pieces, to mouth-watering food stalls serving up freshly cooked dishes from around the globe. Exmouth Market is perfect if you want to grab a bite for lunch or simply enjoy a stroll on a fine English Summer’s day!
 

2. We’ve got the coolest cafe in town.

Cafe

With its rustic wooden tables and walls bursting with flora, The Social Coffee Co. really is the ultimate super cool spot to grab a coffee, or enjoy a meeting, whilst taking in the stunning skyline views of the city. If you stop by, make sure to try one of their infamous ham and cheese toasties!
 

3. We’re big travellers

The Cogworks team comes from all corners of the world - from Australia to the Americas and of course, we have an office in Poland as well! Our Polish colleagues get the luxury of great snow in winter, which gives us a good excuse to go visit. If you go away to travel or to visit your family, you can’t come back empty handed, we expect at least a fridge magnet and preferably some foreign treats too! 
 

4. We embrace the greenery

Plants

From mini cacti and sweet succulents, to fresh cut flowers, there are plants dotted all over the office, on desks and between cubbyholes. We have just reorganised our office to make it more pleasant and enjoyable to work in. We think bringing a little bit of nature into the office can improve our creativity and help our ideas flourish. 


5. No dress codes! 

slippers

We are encouraged to express ourselves through what we wear to work. For example; some people put on their thinking caps, but others have their coding slippers. One of our devs wears slippers or flip flops to work, depending on the season, as he says: “his feet need to be free” in order to code. Other colleagues even coordinate their outfits for special occasions or national holidays. 
 

6. Slack is our communication platform of choice

Birthday

At The Cogworks, we use Slack as an essential tool to keep everyone in the loop with work and fun. We can join different Slack channels depending on our interests. For example, in the ‘prague-matic-learning’ channel, we take turns sharing fun facts about a different country every day. Slack is also an essential tool to plan surprise birthday parties and organise who will be picking up the cake and card.
 

7. WE LOVE DOUGHNUTS!

doughnuts.png

Can anyone resist the temptation of a dozen delicious doughnuts? Not us, that’s for sure! If there aren’t doughnuts in the kitchen on Friday morning, then someone will have some serious explaining to do. One of our devs pretty much lives off doughnuts and claims he could eat up to 8 in one sitting. Leave us a comment below if you have a guess as to who that might be!
 

8. It’s not all holiday chocolates and doughnuts! 

Fruits

We’re actually a very health conscious office and pride ourselves on our leafy green lunches. We get a fresh fruit delivery twice a week - although  if you want a banana, you’ve got to be quick, because you can be sure they will be the first to get snapped up (we’ve actually had to implement a one-banana-per-day limit). There’s even one Cogworker who likes to think of himself as a bit of a banana Banksy! Here’s just one of his masterpieces…


9. We welcome a bit of friendly competition

As you may have guessed, Coglympics is a combination of Cogworks and Olympics. Every week, we organise head-to-head competitions or games between teams of staff. It’s a really good way of getting to know your colleagues better and you may even learn something. Why not try your hand at one of our recent Poland quiz questions: Which animal is on the Polish crest? Leave us your answer in the blog comments!
 

10. We spread the community love through our Umbraco Festivals

As an Umbraco Gold Partner, we started the Umbraco UK Festival seven years ago in order to rally Umbraco enthusiasts. Now it is one of the biggest Umbraco festivals in the world! The event always starts with a Hackathon with Umbraco developers. Then, on the festival day, you can choose between several streams of workshops and talks about all things Umbraco. Plus, the good folks at HQ always dish the dirt on the latest happenings. Our UK Festivals have been such a success that we have now expanded to hosting annual festivals in Poland! The next one is on September 15th so make sure to save the date. 

Why Content is Queen

By Sam Bailey

Why content is Queen

When you think of content, are SEO, Google rankings, web traffic, and driving customers to your site, the first things that come to mind?

While you wouldn’t be alone in thinking this way, with the proliferation of content and social media raising the stakes and giving us access to customers in a new way, there is a lot more to content than first meets the eye.

Google Digital Evangelist Avinash Kaushik’s take on it is that: “Content is anything that adds value to the reader’s life”. 

While business owners may know the value it has to their own company, what Kaushik makes clear is that for readers or potential customers, content is only relevant if it matters to them. 

And why do we care about this? Well, apart from hopefully wanting to give your customers something useful and building your community, Google cares too. 

As MarkITwrite puts it: “Google wants to rank websites on the strength of their content, not by how many times a keyword appears on a page – it looks messy and is no use to anyone. So, don’t be tempted – just write great stuff”.

So with this in mind, content should be focused on value adding and rewarding readers for clicking on your site. It’s not about spamming, humblebragging, or creating content with the purpose of improving your SEO. 

Before we talk more about how to write valuable content, let’s look at the semantics and define what content is first.

In the web world, there are two types of ‘content’; I’m going to refer to them as ‘copy content’ and ‘blog content’.

‘Copy content’ relates to anything word related on a site - think product information, homepage copy, brand slogans, mission statements, about us sections, basically anything with words.

At The Cogworks, this is how we most commonly refer to content and is the basis for what our content team handles day-to-day. The content team oversees content migrations (in which copy is moved from one CMS platform to another - in our case to Umbraco), but they also take on crafty copywriting for company websites, one great example is the project we’re working on for coffee revolutionaries; CanDo Coffee. We wrote just about every word on their site (coming soon), catchy slogans and all.

The other kind of content - ‘blog content’ is something we write for our company website The Cogworks

Blog content is anything written as a blog or article to share ideas and thoughts. So for the purpose of this argument, we’re referring primarily to blog content.

Writing great blog content will be the difference between you getting unique page views, shared, retweeted or...zilch.

So why then is it that often content writing is an afterthought for companies? Why so often do we wait for something to happen or be released before we write about it? 

Why not start thinking out of the box, brainstorming and thinking ahead of the curve in order to produce shareable content ahead of the game? Instead of waiting and bashing out any old thing when you’ve got a gap in content or site interest, let’s get proactive. Let’s make content queen, now is the time to bow down to the power of the written word.

How do we do this? Let’s discuss what makes good content. Here are five important considerations for writing successful content. 

Talk about what you know
As much as you may be inclined to talk about something topical or trending (and by all means it’s great to have your finger on the pulse), if it’s not something you have a good scope of knowledge about or can’t write with passion and conviction, then no one will buy it. Stick to what you know and your opinion will be more valued and you’ll connect with the right people.

Write for your audience
Use previous blog posts to learn what has resonated the most with your audience. This is a chance to go back and embrace the power of Google Analytics. Thoroughly review the posts using analytics - who are your audience? Which countries are they from? Where do they come to you from - i.e. through social, organic searches, other blog referrals? Pour over your social data - who likes, shares, retweets, follows you? What do they do and why did what you write resonate with them? Use the data, learn the trending patterns, and write more accordingly.

Back it up
We’re not talking saving data to external hard drive, we’re talking concrete ideas, facts, links, quotes! The only way to have a voice of authority or be seen as making a valid argument is to back it up with secondary sources. We learn it throughout school and university and it still stands today. There are exceptions to this rule of course, in terms of technical pieces (i.e. code how-tos) and personal blogs (i.e. reflective pieces), but if you’re out to get clicks, hits and reach a wider audience, then you need to offer more than one opinion. Sources will help to contextualise and validate your piece.

Know your message
What is your company ethos? What message do you wish to leave your readers with? Are you a bold, dynamic, digital authority? Are you specialists who stick with what you know and avoid the mumbo jumbo? Whatever your brand personality is, write for that. The tone reflects your company and potential clients will either be drawn or discouraged from it.

Provoke an action
From a business perspective, the purpose of content writing is to connect with the audience. So, go on, write compelling content! Inspire people to try something new, inspire them to be a part of a community, inspire emotion, inspire learning and knowledge share, inspire personal growth. Just inspire. As the saying goes, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Go and make magic happen!

Now that you are armed with the five key considerations to make content queen, we hope you’ll go forth and create some great value for your customers. If you need any additional help, contact us to speak with our friendly content team. 

Seek and ye shall find...

By Ismail Mayat

The Cogworks reveals exclusive Examine course in partnership with Umbraco...

It’s 2009, Michael Jackson moonwalked for the last time, Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States and in Australia a young super developer named Shannon Deminick - working for the Farm - releases Examine.

Before Examine, we only had the umbSearch package which provided search functionality using Lucene.net. Some of the more notable issues with it were usability and performance, particularly with large websites. Umbraco was in need of a good search solution...Examine was born!

Examine is a wrapper around Lucene.net and UmbracoExamine is a specialised Examine provider that is specifically for Umbraco content. UmbracoExamine makes it easy to index and search Umbraco content.

I have been using it since day one and after a few projects became quite an expert if I do say so myself ;-). Over time I started to see more and more people having similar problems with it on our.umbraco.com. It wasn’t a problem with Examine per se it was more lack of understanding of how it works and more importantly how Lucene.net works.
 

The Godfather himself...

The Godfather himself...

Answering the same questions again and again gave me the idea to hold a talk on Examine at Umbraco UK festival, so in 2012 I presented - 'Examiness hints and tips from the trenches.' I then followed up with a series of blog posts detailing key tips from my original talk. Both went down really well and I received a lot of positive feedback. 

Over the years I have helped people out via Skype and our.umbraco.com and again the same issues seemed to crop up. During these sessions a number of people remarked we really needed a course on all this stuff.

So this seed germinated into a boot camp which I then ran at Umbraco UK Festival in 2015. Again it went really well and garnered plenty of positive feedback. One thing I noticed while writing the course was that I actually had enough material to run a full one day course.  

So, given that Examine is part of the Umbraco core and search is an essential part of any website I suggested to Adam our joint CEO at The Cogworks that we should propose a one day official Examine course to Umbraco HQ and include it as part of their training offering.

Adam approached HQ and the rest is history!

So, we at The Cogworks in partnership with Umbraco are proud to announce the newly created one day 'Searching and Indexing' Examine Course.

The course will consists of the following topics:
Lucene.net internals
Examine configuration
Examine Fluent API
Examine events, gathering node and document writing
How to debug Examine queries
Indexing and searching PDFs
Boosting
How to build your own custom indexer
Multi-index search
Multilingual search
Indexing complex data types
Spatial search with Lucene.net contrib
Faceting

After the one day training there will be a 20 question exam with an 80 per cent pass mark. 

We have already had a full trial run with fellow Cogworker guinea pigs to fine tune and feedback from HQ has been incorporated into the course materials so we can officially announce the first event will be 27th March 2017.

For more information sign up on the official booking page.

I hope to see some of you there or at one of the other planned sessions over the next few months!
 

Embarrassing content? Don’t worry, we’ve seen it all before…

By Katie Archibald

Have you ever found yourself late at night, frantically Googling a remedy for a rather sensitive issue you’d rather not be dealing with (in incognito mode of course)? Or perhaps you’ve been intrigued by an article on your morning commute which you swiftly swipe past, before the person to your left catches you reading ‘The top 10 ways to prevent sweaty feet this summer’ (although in the back of your mind you know you’ll bookmark that one for later – your trip to Fuerteventura is just around the corner and those brown sandals do kick up quite a stink!). But I bet you’ve never stopped to wonder; “Who on earth is managing all this unsavoury content?”.

Well, that’s us! Here at The Cogworks we deal with a wide variety of digital content, much of which comes under the umbrella of ‘Health, Home and Hygiene’. So you can begin to imagine the sorts of topics which might fall into one of these categories. To give you an idea, it could be anything from articles on antibacterial wipes combatting the spread of highly contagious gastrointestinal infections, to tips on removing body soil from carpets…dare we ask?!

In our day-to-day office life it’s not unusual to hear things such as, “Hey, would you be able to make this fungal nail promo image a higher resolution, the client would like to be able to see the discoloration and thickening of the toenail in HD?” or “The market thinks it would be better if we exchange the XXL condom pack shot for the SML pack on the homepage carousel to reflect the current retail demand” - you just get used to it.

As the digital world continues to expand and grow on a daily basis, topics that were once solely limited to being discussed with one’s nearest and dearest in the privacy of your own home, are now out in the open on the world wide web. Today the internet is all about sharing (sometimes a little too much) and making information accessible to as wide an audience as possible, often sparking a far-reaching positive global impact. For example, our recent blog 5 Umbraco sites that are making the world a better place highlights just some of the brands and sites we work with running campaigns to promote sexual health awareness and international aid. 

We work with a host of multilingual global websites and despite the office collectively speaking some 20+ languages, we can’t know them all! This means that, at times, we are blissfully ignorant of the content we are editing, enabling us to maintain objectivity throughout. It’s also important to bear in mind that ‘content’ doesn’t only refer to the words on a page but encompasses all elements of the site by way of imagery, videos or infographics. Ensuring all elements on the page fit together, as a well balanced painting would, makes for a smooth site flow and an enhanced user experience.

So, if you’ve got some interesting content and are looking for a friendly and reliable company to manage your website drop us a line! Rest assured we’ve probably seen worse and we at The Cogworks pride ourselves on delivering a high quality content management service with a professional result. 

We’re about to release our new content package and will also be offering copywriting services, so you can even leave the writing to us!

Umbraco in fashion

By Huan Song

Umbraco hit a monumental milestone this month with more than 400,000 active Umbraco sites worldwide in 198 countries. While the internet serves as a nebula of content, Umbraco is hitting home with some of the biggest and brightest brands in the world. The flexibility of Umbraco spurs brand creativity; this has not gone unnoticed by the leading creatives. As Fashion Week descends upon London, we explore how Umbraco has been used as a tool to enable fashion houses, publishers and educators to be more exciting and accessible. 

Talent - Storm Management
Heard of Kate Moss or Cara Delevigne? Both international supermodels were scouted by Storm Management, a modeling agency we have the privilege of working with.
Storm Management wanted to showcase their creative talents in a modern and eye-catching way, but needed a powerful content management system that could support high resolution images amounting to over 500 gigabytes of data. Umbraco became the CMS of choice. On top of managing the visual data, we also helped Storm with automatically cropping the images to suit mobile, email, and e-casting use. In recent years, a model’s social media following has become a crucial consideration for talent selection. In order to showcase this, The Cogworks custom built a feature that sources information from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to give bookers an overview of their social reach.

Fashion Brand  - Calvin Klein 
Since 1968, Calvin Klein has served as a cultural catalyst and fashion powerhouse driven by a mission to provoke discovery. Like every piece in every collection, Calvin Klein’s web presence must be an extension of this narrative. The site is clean, responsive, and undeniably sexy. The design principles not only apply to users to visit the site, but also to Calvin Klein employees in 8000 stores globally who needed a powerful and user friendly tool to manage store details and communicate with their suppliers.

Publication - Vogue
In an interview with Mashable in 2015, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour commented that when she critiques certain designs, “functionality is key.” She further adds, "It would be a mistake to think something is wonderful just because it looks great. What would be the point? We're careful to look at both." Using this lens to examine the British Vogue website, we can see that while the site is extremely content-rich, it is a pleasure to navigate and can handle high-traffic volumes with ease. The British Vogue site is just one example in Condé Nast’s suit of publications that uses Umbraco. Others Umbraco sites include Glamour, Wired and GQ.  The development team at Condé Nast Digital in London’s West-End are regular contributors to the Our Umbraco community and constantly spearheading innovation in the fields of fashion and technology. 
 

Education - Condé Nast College 
Located in Central London, Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design was established by the Condé Nast Publications Ltd in order to give students an intensive and immersive industry experience in one of the world's leading fashion and publishing capitals. As Umbraco is the CMS of choice for Condé Nast, it is only natural that the College also uses this CMS. The Cogworks started our collaboration with Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design before the official opening of the college in 2013 and helped with the design and build of the site. Prospective students can browse through all of the course offerings and apply to their chosen programmes. Graduates of the college have since gone on to work at prestigious industry giants like Net-A-Porter, Chanel, and Elle to name a few. 

While you won't see Umbraco in the front row at London Fashion Week, it's clear fashion has welcomed Umbraco into the fold. As fashion app creator Daniela Cecilio sums it up best: “At a basic level, there is a major expectation for an easy journey, from an app or website to having the product in hand.” Umbraco not only provides an easy journey for users, fashion devotees and creatives alike, but also has the power to showcase rich content in a way that will always be in vogue.

5 Umbraco sites that are making the world a better place

By Huan Song

Umbraco describes itself as the world’s most friendliest, flexible and fastest growing CMS. Everyday, people and businesses all over the world use the Umbraco CMS to broadcast and amplify their products and services. From charity organisations with the mission to empower girls, to health campaigns to help destigmatize condom use in young people, Umbraco can be customised to suit your vision of making the world a better place. Here are some great sites that we want to showcase to get you thinking about the potential of using Umbraco.

Girls Empowerment - Girl Effect
Placing girls at the centre of international development, Girl Effect works in more than 80 countries to help challenge discriminatory gender norms. Girl Effect uses technology to help girls build confidence and realise their own potential in society. An example of the work that Girl Effect do is the groundbreaking TEGA program which trains girls to use mobile technology to collect qualitative and quantitative data from hard to reach communities in order to inform development research. The data collection techniques then provide girls with skills that will help them with future employment. 

Environment - Earth Touch News
The award winning Earth Touch News Network brings viewers into the latest conversations about conservation and the environment through stunning visual storytelling. The site is a nature-lover’s paradise, filled with beautiful and exciting content like this blog that explores the world's wildest-looking turtles in celebration of World Turtle Day. 
 

International Aid - Muslim Hands  
Muslim Hands is an international aid organisation that supports schools, healthcare and livelihood programmes in over 50 countries around the world. Muslim Hands’ current work includes relief to Syria. Since 2012, the organisation has been providing emergency food and water, winter and hygiene supplies, educational services and medical treatments in Aleppo. The site was built using the Umbraco CMS and enables users to easily view current appeals, donate to the organisation and find out ways to get involved through volunteering. 

Health - Durex
‘When it’s on, it’s on’ is an eye-opening campaign launched by Durex which explores how young Brits (18-24) think about safe sex. The campaign aims to dispel the stigma that condoms are mood killers and to address the ‘invincibility culture’ of young people when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases. Along with the campaign page, the Durex.co.uk site also offers advice articles to futher educate people about sexual health and open communication with their partners. 

Sport - Sport England
Sport England is on a mission to help more people get active. Supporting the UK Government’s Sporting Future Strategy, Sport England is working on a number of initiatives to reach out to young people aged 11-18, maintaining public facilities and coordinating volunteers to participate in sporting events. Apart from these internal initiatives, Sport England also offers funding opportunities for a broad spectrum of sporting initiatives. Some beneficiaries of this investment include city councils such as Liverpool and Sheffield, various universities such as King’s College London and even national entities like the Rugby Football Union.  

What’s coming up in 2017 at The Cogworks

By Adam Shallcross

What to look forward to in 2017 at The Cogworks

Happy New Year, or is it now too late to be saying that? So a new year and a whole new set of interesting and amazing opportunities lie before us as a company.

2016 was a really great year for us. We are now 10 years old and have slowly grown up into a young adult having amazingly avoided the annoying, stroppy early teens with its tantrums and emotional hiccups!

Since we started back in in 2006 (when I had hair and no kids, not sure if those two facts are related or not!), we have grown slowly and steadily. I suppose we didn’t really know at the time where we were or where the road would take us, but here we are, still fighting and stronger than ever!

So whats coming for The Cogworks in 2017? As we move into our 2nd decade (man that sounds weird!) what do we have to look forward to?

The Cogworks Company Values

One thing we have realised as we have grown is that the larger the team, the trickier it is to keep everyone pointing in the right direction. What you don’t take into account when you start a company is the melting pot of personalities there are in the world who may or may not end up working with you.

Not everyone has the same drive, the same passion and the same goal as the owners of a company. Of course everyone wants to do a good job and enjoy going to work in the morning, but how as a company do you point everyone in the right direction?

Well, a good starting point is a set of company values. We have come to realise that after 10 years it was probably about time that we had a good hard think about who we are as a company and who we want to be. What makes us a good place to work? What keeps our clients happy and coming back for more? How can we, in a few simple words define the company culture and how we want our team to behave? So during 2016, we undertook a project to start to have a think and ‘find ourselves’!

Investors in People

Whilst puzzling away for a while, coming up with words we thought would reflect us, one of our team mentioned the Investors in People programme and whether that may help. Having seen the logo on other company websites, I assumed it was just for larger organisations. However, having investigated the programme in more detail it is in fact open to all no matter how big you are and to be honest, it’s been a really interesting and valuable exercise to go through.

One of the initial areas they look at are your company values. They use these as one of the measurements i.e. do your team know what your company goals are? What you stand for as a company, and how do you as managers drive these through the company? 
So a major part of 2017 for us is to get these in place and get us through the Investors in People programme. I will probably write some more articles on this process over the coming months.

Strengthening our offering

As Umbraco specialists we are known for our skills in Umbraco consultancy and development, however this is only part of what we offer as a company.

Traditionally we are what the industry calls a ‘design and build agency’ - i.e. we provide web design and development services. 

However over the past 3 years we have also been offering a range of other services focusing on content delivery. We have built a dedicated team of Umbraco experts who manage a range of content and site delivery projects for our clients.
We are definitely looking to expand on these through 2017 - so if you’re struggling to update your website or don’t have the time or skills, then give me a shout and maybe we can offer some help!

Focusing on Umbraco

As part of the Investors in People process it has made us really think about who we are, not only from a company values perspective, but also ‘what do we do?’ 

So, during 2017 we will be looking to refine and drive that message out as much as we can. We have honed it down to 3 main areas:
Design
Build
Content

Driving the Umbraco Community

We’ve been fully committed to the world of Umbraco since 2008. From hosting the 5th birthday party, starting the Umbraco UK Festival back in 2009 (which has inspired other local Umbraco communities around the world to hold their own), to regular London Umbraco Meetups, free developer workshops and seminars and a range of Umbraco packages, we’ve (I think) done a huge amount to raise awareness of Umbraco in the UK.

So expect even more Umbraco goodness this year. We have already kicked off the year with a big bang and are finalising our Umbraco Find and Replace package and have more events in the pipeline, so watch this space!

Poland

One major area we are looking to grow in 2017 is Umbraco in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. We’ve had an office in Kraków for a couple of years now and we have been testing the market over there. 

We have seen that there is a massive opportunity to replicate what we have done in the UK, so after running the first Umbraco Poland Festival in 2016, we are planning a whole range of developer events for 2017 to help drive Umbraco across this part of the world.

So, 2017 is going to be an exciting year for us and we’re looking forward to grabbing these opportunities and running as far and as wide as we can with them...Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to keep updated on what we are doing!

How we approach a daily scrum


By Ania Kierczynska

Agile, agile, AGILE!
Many companies in the modern fast-paced world of tech begin their day with a daily scrum, and ‘agile’ has become a common keyword that you’ll find on almost any randomly googled IT company. Why? Probably because this seemingly new trend is one everyone wants to say they follow. But I wonder: do any of these companies have a complete understanding of what it is they are doing and what value it really has?

The Cogworks’ struggle with morning meetings
A few years back we used to start our day with a daily scrum. The whole development team reviewed what they had done, will do and highlighted blockers. As a part of this, we also used a board with a high-level view on all projects that are currently worked on. As a small company, at the time we just had developers and project managers, both responsible for the quality and tests. However, as the company grew, we noticed that our fifteen minute daily scrum had been growing past a half hour meeting and we were still not done! Something was wrong - we needed to fix it.

Houston, we have a problem!
Maybe the form of the meeting was wrong? Did we need to review what we were doing in so much detail? Perhaps no one was interested in other projects they weren’t involved in? These were relevant questions. However, when in doubt, we did what any good agile practitioner does, we reviewed the process, adjusted and tested the outcome.

We altered our format, changed it to a reporting meeting, following our Trello board structure, updating each other on the progress of each task. Although we were following the cards, there was no emphasis concerning what we did to achieve the weekly goal. Task A was moved to the client’s environment and would be tested that day, Task B is half-done and means the dev is working on it and task C is still in review and the developers will begin working on it that day. We kept doing it—it was working! 

And then…we saw bored team members  who were standing there and sometimes not saying anything for the whole meeting. This was because PMs didn’t need to know the technical details and devs didn’t need to know the PM parts.

“Ok,” we said, “let’s try again. Let’s try separating our meetings - PMs have a meeting at 9:30, devs at 9:45 - but let’s keep a couple of senior devs in the PM meeting. They will be useful!” We tried it for a couple weeks then we realised that the PMs were getting updates from developers anyway after those meetings! Estimations were then pushed later in the morning. Did we really need to mix management meetings?

And… we’re back with the daily scrum. The same but improved?
After a couple of tries, we’re now back to the daily scrum format. We have our team stand-ups - the content team starts in the early morning, then project managers meet together, and then developers. After months of using the meeting as reporting, there was some debate within the team as to whether we really wanted to change. But something still wasn’t working, we needed to improve! And I’m personally very happy about it. In my opinion, doing the real daily scrum is very useful as we’re talking about our everyday work and I get to know more about other’s people projects. Occasional catch-ups don’t give you those details. And if one of my colleagues goes on holiday or is off sick, the handover is much easier.

You’re not doing Scrum!
Now you may say: “A daily scrum without a development team?! What are you doing people?!” Well, I’m not saying that we do Scrum - we take what we need from the Scrum process and adapt it so it works for us. We’re using parts of the framework that fit our needs, we are flexible, we are agile, we’re using the solutions that work and helps us to be more efficient.

Project teams now have their own stand-ups and they do involve all the teams working on a project. 

We’ve found a way to make Scrum work for us and we suggest you can make it work for you too. Just try some or all of the following:

Daily scrum: the perfect way
After this long introduction to our experiments - which in the end brought us back to where we were years ago - let’s talk about the daily scrum itself. It is a Scrum ceremony that everyone working with Agile knows. It seems to be pretty simple; but is it really?

According to the Scrum guide, stand-up should be timeboxed to fifteen minutes and every member of the Development Team should give the status of their current work. 

Asking the right questions

The three standard questions that people answer during the daily stand-up are:
What did I do yesterday?
What will I do today?
Do I see any impediments?

It’s worth remembering that the time spent in the daily meetings should focus on giving updates about the progress in the current sprint and about how to achieve a sprint goal. 

So the right questions should be (according to The Scrum Guide):

  • What did I do yesterday that helped the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  • What will I do today to help the Development Team meet the Sprint Goal?
  • Do I see any impediments that prevent me or the Development Team from meeting the Sprint Goal?

You’ve learnt the right questions, that’s awesome, but your job is not done! You need to follow the sprint progress so that you know how much work is still to do (or how much has been actually completed). This will help you avoid a surprise at the end of the sprint when the half of the tasks haven’t been completed.

Follow the progress, find the right tool
How? Listen to each other, look at your scrum board, follow it, measure the progress, use a burndown chart. It’s important that everyone in the team is aware where we are in the sprint. Scrum boards should be visible and easily accessible to everyone - they can be a physical board, or a virtual one (there are lots of tools which offer help on organising your sprint - e.g. Trello, Jira).  At The Cogworks we’re using Trello and our very own Anthony Dang (who you probably know as a famous Umbraco star) is writing some magic to customise and automate this tool to meet our needs. Use what works the best for you. Remember that if you can see the board, the burndown chart and you can see the progress then you know where you are in terms of achieving the goal. 

Scrum Master?
In this article, I describe the daily scrum that we’re having for managers. Please bear in mind that if Scrum is used in projects then your team will have a Scrum Master who will make the Development team’s life easier. In The Cogworks’ world this role hasn’t been delegated to anyone - also because we don’t really do a pure Scrum. As experienced Agilists we’re aware of the role and we kind of share its responsibilities in the Project Management team.

Meetings are for your team, not for your manager or stakeholder
Remember that a daily scrum is a meeting for the team (not the Product Owner, client or stakeholder). The team members are reporting the progress to each other so they know where they are. If you’d like to invite other people to your meeting, please make sure that your Scrum Master explains to guests what exactly the daily scrum is and that they’re not the only ones it’s been created for. Following Michael James and his Scrum Reference Card: "The Daily Scrum is intended to disrupt old habits of working separately. Members should remain vigilant for signs of the old approach. For example, looking only at the Scrum Master when speaking is one symptom that the team hasn’t learned to operate as a self-organising entity."

15 minutes of essential information
Don’t forget, there is a reason stand-ups are standing meetings - if you need to stand for more than 15 minutes then it’s probably going to get quite uncomfortable for your feet. Don’t go into too much detail! If there are problems that need to be discussed, then it is a good time to flag them, but it is not always realistic to resolve them during the stand-up itself. Timings are important because they prevent the team from going into lengthy discussions which might, for example, only involve two people in the room. Essentially, you don’t want to waste the daily meeting time! Simply give people the most important information in a clear, concise and valuable way, receive the most important information and go back to delivering your sprint goal. 

Start your adventure! 
The daily scrum is for you and the development team and by implementing an efficient strategy, it will become a vital tool that helps you in your everyday work. Don’t be afraid to use it in other roles such as management, marketing or sales. I used to work as a Marketing Specialist and I had daily scrum meetings with my team. If your team needs it, do it! You don't need to follow the full Scrum process, take what you need from it that works for your organisation. Agile is not about following one particular framework. It's about open communication and removing blockers to ensure the process of getting work though an organisation is as smooth and efficient as possible, the tools you use are irrelevant, use whatever you like as long as they work for you, and make sure you test, test, test! How do you know your changes are working and you process is improving (or not!)? If you’re saying that you are Agile, then be agile! Be flexible, play with solutions, experiment, find your own way, don’t be afraid of a change. Start your management adventure!

UX Design Through Creative Sprints

By Huan Song

London is one of the greatest technology hubs in the world. Since our HQ is situated in this vibrant city, our staff are always out and about attending various technology events after work. From our Umbraco evenings to Agile workshops, there is something here for everyone. My colleague Nisha Patel (who brought you the great read - Mind the Gap) and I went to a Outreach Digital Meetup this week at Innovation Warehouse where we mingled with other UX enthusiasts and got our creative cogs turning. 

Outreach Digital is the biggest Meetup group in Europe and London’s leading community for digital enthusiasts. The volunteer-run organisation hosts daily workshops on digital marketing, data science, UX, etc. 

Those of us working in the technology sector understand the value of continuous professional learning in today’s rapidly evolving environment. Meeting like minded people not only allows us to share ideas, but can also foster long lasting friendships. Nisha and I actually ran into one of my friends who runs the award-winning hardware startup Vorganise at this Meetup.

UX Designer Sunil Pithwa hosted a great workshop on ‘Design Driven Development for Apps’ and walked us through his brainstorming, wireframing and testing processes using his current work with Movebubble as a case study. Movebubble is an app that simplifies the process of organising flat lettings for both renters and estate agents. The app for renters has already been completed and the company is currently working on the beta app for agents.

Sunil started the workshop with an unexpected creative exercise to get our post-work brains back into gear. Instead of a full Crazy 8s exercise, we carried out an abridge version, Crazy 4s, where we were given a problem and had four minutes to sketch four ideas that would address this problem. 

Our prompt was to design an app for someone who is planning a trip, but doesn’t know where to go. You can see my very rough sketch below where each of the quadrants represents a different app idea.

The purpose of the Crazy 4s exercise was to challenge us to dig deep within ourselves in order to generate more interesting solutions. The team at Movebubble repeated the Crazy 8s activity in multiple rounds to maximize the number of ideas. 

This brainstorming idea is outlined in detail in Sprint, the authority on design sprints by Google Ventures, and is a method that we have used here at The Cogworks. A particularly interesting point in Sunil’s workshops is when he talked about looking for innovative app ideas outside of the real estate industry. 

Sunil walked us through the prototyping stage by showing some low fidelity wireframes that he used to conduct initial tests before creating high fidelity prototypes using Invision, also one of our favorite tools to use around the office. Testing with pen and paper enabled the team to respond quickly to feedback and cut down the turnaround time to test improved features. 

The point of UX design is its dedication to listening to other people. At its core, UX design is empathy embodied and enabled by technology. Design sprints are a tool to help product teams tease out the absolute best solution to solve a problem. From this perspective, Sunil and his team at Movebubble have been doing a wonderful job through continuous and creative user testing. 

Through events like this one, we hope to bring new techniques and ideas back to our daily roles and to grow professionally in this nurturing London community. 

Looking forward to the next UX Meetup!