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 combating 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 Head of Development—Anthony, 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!

Find and Replace - the story of an Umbraco package

Imagine for one moment that you are a content editor working on quite a large Umbraco website. Just before pushing it live the client sends you a message: "Our PR agency has asked us to change all the content that says 'amazing' to 'sensational' because it converts better."

???

What is your first action? How do you approach it? Using stock Umbraco you would have to go through all the pages, manually read them, replace sentences and at the end you wouldn't be 100 per cent sure that you changed all of them. Tough life you say. Well, not necessarily!

Here at The Cogworks we faced a similar issue and decided to do something about it. What happened? I'll take you through the whole story from when the need transferred to idea right through to the ready to use package. 

Let's begin: Far, Far away... 

Internally at The Cogworks we use Slack to communicate as a company. Right now we have 161 channels in there and one of those is the #packages channel where anyone can post an idea for new functionality.

 

AND THEN CAME June 22nd, 2016

If you're reading our blog you probably know most of the people from discussion. Huan is a Content Project Manager. CallumIsmail and Anthony are knights of the Development Team.


So we have the idea, what's the next step?

We use Trello for task management. It's not the regular version, we have a lot of code behind our processes  to automate things and make it as simple as possible. We will write about that in separate post, so stay tuned!

Our idea was to put it into our "Bucket" list on the Planning Board and wait for free development resources.

As you can see we're quite busy, there were 439 estimation points on that list at some point... There was also a Polish and UK festival to handle ahead of us. With a busy time in general, our package idea had to wait for it's time in the spotlight.

AND THEN BOOM

Then the moment happened and we began to start work on it! The first phase was to decide how it would work and where we should put it. We like to keep things simple and follow this rule...

"less is more"

So, functionality must be super simple. We needed the ability to select a source, form fields for the find & replace phrase and a button to invoke the search action. For the source selector we could use a content node picker and place the whole functionality as a dashboard tab in the Content section. But wait, we want it to be simple and adding a content picker on dashboard tab is not so obvious...

Hmm... 

We can use the current Content tree to select a source and add a new menu item!

 

Ok, so it has it's location. Lets add form fields and the Search button.

In the mean time: "Reinforcements have arrived"

We started working on showing results and marking changes.

results.png

We got it! Some tests were needed so we shared it internally.

internal_release.png

New feature request for Replace All functionality.

replace_all.png

Looks good

but...

 

it wasn't so flawless along the way.

We had some issues with PetaPoco SQL queries - parameters injection was not working properly for the Fetch method.

We fixed it using a LIKE statement instead of CHARINDEX.

We also had to refactor some core logic in JavaScript code to improve updating separately each replace for the same content node.

After fixing all the issues the task was moved to Code Review

and to Internal QA

Find and Replace is fully functional right now. It's simplicity is it's power, we hope it can be part of Umbraco's core functionality one day. For now...

STAY TUNED

We will share the production version with you soon.

PS: Replacing 'amazing' to 'sensational' is fake. It was client related and I had to change it, but you get the idea :)

The Evolution of the Content Team Trello Board

By Agnes Darricau

In our ever increasing digital world, it has become possible to be in the office without actually being here. In our case, with offices in London and Poland, and even some employees working remotely, having a cohesive shared platform accessible to all members of staff simultaneously is key. 

As a company, we opted for Trello and to be honest we are all slightly addicted to it! Some of our staff members even have their own Trello boards outside of work (one of our colleagues even used a checklist for planning her Thanksgiving dinner…right down to the turkey basting timings! No comment...).

I was introduced to this wonderful tool when I first joined the company as a Content Editor two years ago, now I wonder how I ever survived without it! It is so easy to use - it’s flexible, intuitive and even fun!

Version 1

In January 2014, our Trello board was very simple. We only had three editors and were only working on two main projects.

To give you an idea, it kind of looked like the screenshot below with the standard ‘To do, Doing and Completed’ columns, typical of a Kanban board where the team completes an item and then picks up the next available task from the top of ‘To Do’. Then, everything in ‘Completed’ is reviewed before the card starts the cycle again. It seems very basic but it is a useful way of categorising and prioritising our tasks.

The number of clients was increasing rapidly so we started to recruit more Content Editors. Six months ago, we reached a record number of 19 people in the Content Team! More clients, more projects and more staff meant more columns on the board. 

Adding labels

As the ‘To do’ list became too long and our priorities were continually evolving, we realised the importance of streamlining our work by dividing each project into a separate column. Since not all cards needed to be worked on at once, we also started a labelling system to make it clearer which cards were ready to be picked up. In a way, it gave the editors more insight and independence.

With the new system in place, whenever an editor became available, they would only need to glance at the Trello board to determine which cards could be moved to ‘Doing’. It also provides a nice colourful visual indicator that shows the card’s status such as ‘Blocked’ or ‘Urgent’.

A great induction tool

As our team grew, my role as Head of Content became challenging and I found myself repeatedly explaining processes and answering the same questions. One of my colleagues recently said: "it feels great to explain something you fully understand, helping someone can be really satisfying, but after explaining the same thing a thousand times, it gets boring." And it’s true, not only was it becoming tedious, but I also realised I was not giving the same level of detail to all new starters when I was presenting the job to them. 

Induction is crucial for new starters, so I thought, ‘why not use Trello as a training resource?’A few days later, the ‘New Starter’ board was born. It contains every bit of information I need to give to the new editors on their first day. 

One column for office routine information (such as dress code, cleaning schedule…Yeah, we do have one... lunch breaks etc), one for our main clients and stakeholders and another one for the tools we use, including: Slack, Harvest and Trello. 

There is a card introducing the office staff with pictures as some of them work remotely, it's nice to put a face to a voice. There is also a card for the abbreviations we use in the office and I can tell you, I would have paid good money for such a card when I began! ‘Those SKU codes are TBC on the PPT but don’t worry just do what you can on the SK CMS and the ODPC’ would leave anyone quite perplexed as you can imagine. 

We even recently introduced a WTF card! Wait, it’s not what you think...it stands for - What is Trello For. Most editors starting at The Cogworks have never used this tool before so it breaks down the basics for them. From how to use the board to how to make a card prettier, it covers all tips! If you’d like some advice on how to format your cards, here is a guide with everything you need to know. 

Beyond the induction board, we improved our Content board by adding a ‘Neverforgetme’ column where we keep all design templates, mastercards, guides, PDF documents etc. From now, whenever someone needs a specific document, my colleagues and I can easily send them a link to a card.

Ultimately, I find it useful to use Trello as an induction tool because it gathers in one place all the basics seasoned employees take for granted, it is structured and less formal than usual paper inductions. If you are a Manager or Head of a team, you should try it!

A constant evolution

Our Content board has evolved so much over the past two years, from the original three columns to the intricate nexus of 20+ columns and numerous cards, it has become vital for us to keep on top of our own processes. Adding relevant labels and tick lists to cards, keeping track of deadlines, naming attachments, creating and archiving columns, even keeping card titles up to date helps maintain the smooth flow of the board.

However, as with everything, there is always room for improvement, so we decided to set up a Trello catch up meeting every two months to discuss and review our own use of the board. Having recently discovered the Trello Power Ups which enable different ‘plugins’, we found the ‘Card Aging’ one particularly useful for our bi-monthly catch ups as it greys out any card which hasn’t been used in a long time. This makes it easier to spot cards which need to be updated or archived. We love it!

In 2017, I would like us to try the Slack PowerUp. It would allow the Content Project Managers to get a direct reminder on Slack about specific cards. Even with a highly organised team and effective processes, it can still get a bit confusing with over 150 cards on the board!

If, like us, you are a Trello fan, we recommend you pay a visit to their blog section as they always give great tips and it is nice to keep up with the new features they release! LifeHacker goes a step further with their interesting article about how to organise your entire life with Trello and we couldn’t agree more! 

The internet: a look back in time (Part 2)

A very brief history of online form development - Applying for Nationality
 

By Will Parker

In this post I explore how the web has grown and evolved with a particular focus on online forms. In particular, one form - the forms to apply for Nationality. How has the internet and easier availability of information and online forms changed how Governments and companies interact with their audiences? What does that mean for us as web developers?

First, a quick question...

Q. What do Ireland and Canada have in common in 2016?
A. Due to Brexit and Trump votes, their respective immigration websites have both recently buckled under the weight of users trying to find out more about how to become an Irish or Canadian citizen.

The early part of my digital career was spent working for the UK Home Office and Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND). I was a part of the team responsible for developing the first content managed IND website, which replaced the original site shown here. 

Image: Home Office, taken from August 16, 2000

Image: Home Office, taken from August 16, 2000

Contrast this then with the content managed site that I worked on:

Image: Web Archive

It is not hard to see how the site rapidly evolved from something basic, to something we would now recognise today.

Getting the application forms online

The simplest way to put the forms online was to digitise the printed versions to .pdf versions. It may not sound revolutionary in 2016, but in the early 2000s - and for the UK Government - it was. 

I managed to track down the office where the forms were printed - a side street off Horseferry Road near Millbank. It took me about five minutes to explain what I needed. The printers were already skilled in the digital publishing software Quark, so it wasn’t too much effort for them to digitally scan the original versions and re-create the forms so they could be exported to .pdf. As it turns out, the technology had been there for years, it was just no-one had ever created the forms as formal .pdfs.

So the result of my work came down to CD-rom which I manually carried back to the Croydon office. Whilst email was up and working then, I don’t think the Government Secure Intranet (GSI) email exchange would have coped with the file size attachments!

Applying for nationality - NOT a quick question!

Looking back at the history of passports - the first ones were issued during WW1. 

And during the research phase of this article, I came across the archive of naturalisation data from the national archives. Fascinating to see that historic nationality application form data has become a national archive. Does that mean then that in 200 years time my passport application data will be available for my great great grandchildren to read?!

For most of the 1900s, the application form was printed and distributed by the Home Office. The application process was then elongated by the fact that the applicant first had to get hold of the correct form through which to apply.

Its interesting to consider (perhaps in another forum) just how pre-internet standards allowed for Governments to control the application process. By limiting the availability and volume of application forms, the number of applicants could then in theory be more tightly controlled. No doubt Migration Watch can advise if this form of control was ever actually applied, but that ponder is best left for another time!

Although, quite possibly by the 1980s the advent of CD ROMS meant some forms were likely to be accessed more easily, however, it was the internet that really offered a change in the way immigration applications took place.

With the original content managed website for IND around 2000, for the first time ever, it was easy for everyone to access the immigration rules. The democratisation of information enabled applicants to better tailor their application. It’s little surprise that within a few years of the internet and the birth of online Government communication, various countries around the world enacted Freedom of Information Acts, legally enshrining in law that all information held by Governments be accessible to the public. In other words, the model of the internet has pushed society to improve the law and democratic access to information. Such is the power of the internet!

Back to online forms...

While the 2000 IND website version was essentially a book cover linking to a content sitemap, the 2005 version had an underlying information architecture, structured in such a way that users could more easily find the content they were looking for. Knowing the popular content on the site allowed us as site managers to develop quick links to sections that we knew people would be looking for.

My work at the Home Office resulted in the first IND website where users could -  FOR THE FIRST TIME, read plain English instructions and guidance notes which would allow them to apply for British Nationality. This replaced the old system of writing or telephoning the department and asking for the forms to be sent via the post. 

It made me immensely proud to work on delivering a step-change to how Government delivered its services. 

Now to 2016 and how does the application form process look now? Well it’s interesting to note that not much has changed since 2000:

  • The form is still only a .pdf download
  • Users are now directed to .gov.uk. I was also involved in the Government’s website rationalisation programme within the Home Office which resulted in shutting down and moving content from 100s of small Government websites that were created in the early days of the internet to one central government website portal. 
  • Accessibility standards have improved. There are no more ‘click here’s’  or text as graphics and the .pdf format is now accessible so that disabled users can complete the form offline.

So why don’t Governments have online forms for applying for Nationality?

As experts in Umbraco form development and the internal e-CRM system our client uses, we’ve got lots of valuable experience in developing online forms, but it’s still a challenge to get right every time.

An example of a form to apply to win a competition...

For this form to work, we had to configure our CMS templates to work with the e-CRM system our client uses so that the form data is securely entered into the client’s database. Then alongside opt-in clauses, we also had to ensure our code complied with EU legislation on data protection.

This form and campaign probably wouldn’t work if the form was not online. Consumers don’t have the time or inclination to print out a form, complete it and send it back. In some markets this competition is running as an ‘instant win’ campaign. This would be impossible to deliver if the form was a .pdf that needed printing and sending via snail mail.

So why don’t Government’s make things easier for potential citizens and allow the application process to be entirely online? I suspect that there are few reasons:

  1. The cost of re-engineering the entire end to end application process to run online is probably quite restrictive. Government IT projects are notoriously problematic to deliver, as the Home Office and UK Government are acutely aware (see NHS IT failures as an example).
     
  2. Making the process even simpler and quicker may be undesirable in the current immigration climate.This is controversial, but cannot be ignored. At a time when the Government is concerned about ‘uncontrolled immigration’, making the application process easier to complete is probably bottom of the priority list.
     
  3. There’s an inherent fear of data security breaches from both sides. Governments will fear that providing services online will mean a loss of data security. Equally users of Government services are extremely weary of the information they give to Government agencies. 
     
  4. The application process is not simple, requiring multiple documents which may take time to compile. The applicant would need to create a secure login where they could store partially completed applications.  
     
  5. There are still no formal ways of providing ‘official documents’ in a digital form, nor formal Government databases where this information can be held and available to the applicant. For example, applying for a passport requires the user to submit a photo, countersigned by someone else. Working out how that part of the form could be authentically and digitally reproduced would require Governments to have a way of digitally recognising and authenticating its citizens. Whilst there are various unofficial ways this has been previously set-up, there is no nationwide database of citizens nor a “digital ID card” which would enable the Government to validate counter-signatures. Interestingly, on researching this further I see that .gov.uk is now offering an online verification service for use across a number of existing government services. 

As the above shows, there are not insurmountable barriers to bringing the end to end nationality application form process online. We know from working with our commercial clients that the technology is there. Users are increasingly growing accustomed to completing online forms. As the consumer becomes more comfortable providing their data in online forms, the expectation of Government service provision will heighten. I believe it is only really a matter of time and Government inclination before the nationality application process becomes fully web enabled and it will be interesting to see when this step change will emerge. If any Government offices out there are interested in developing their nationality application process online, we’d love to help achieve that. We await your call!

 

The making of #umbUKfest

By Sam Bailey

Neil Armstrong once famously said, 'one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind,' and for us here at The Cogworks, it's the same mentality we apply to our annual festival. While the making of our biggest ever Umbraco UK Festival this year was no easy feat (there may have been a few thousand cups of coffee consumed, a series of boardroom chats, a lifetime thread of Slack conversations and an endless debate over pens and vegetarian pizza) the Umbraco community is worth it. It's a massive highlight for us and every year we are continuously re-inspired and reminded why it’s worth it. 

But, just like freshening up a site - each year we have to edit and redefine our offering to give the festival a new edge, concept, design and overall revamp (especially if we’re going to call it our biggest, best yet...no pressure at all!).

So, with a ‘game plan’ in place (literally!) we were straight into figuring out the logistics of how we were going to create something amazing for our community.

We won’t bore you with the nitty gritty details - instead here’s a fun sneak peek at key moments from The Cogworks HQ during the festival’s lifespan. 

If you’ve ever wondered what goes into pulling off a Umbraco UK Festival, this is it…

Note: no fun was had in the making of this festival whatsoever...

1. We turned to unicorns for inspiration...

Image: Marcin Zajkowski

Image: Marcin Zajkowski

2. We ate a lot of donuts

3. We sent our devs on a shameless PR spree

4. We drew a lot of foxes

5. We wrote a lot of pages and bound a lot of books… 

6. We got our swag on

And got a little lost along the way...

7. We borrowed a colleague's Polish friend

8. And recruited some Polish models too

9. We played ping pong when you weren’t looking…

10. And posed like rock stars...

11. We ran everywhere…

12. And played paparazzi

13. We got game and took on the Unicorn

14. Then celebrated with the boss

15. Then one of us stayed out late 'hosting guests' (because someone had to right?).