DevFacto Community Foundation: Software Innovation for Charities

We’re excited to announce the start of the DevFacto Community Foundation, a program that connects talented young developers with not-for-profit organizations to create software solutions that make a difference. Through the foundation, we want to help our local communities innovate the best way we know how – by building software that humans love to use.

The DevFacto Community Foundation works in two ways: it offers promising developers a chance to hone their skills while working on a real-world projects, and it helps not-for-profits fulfill their mission with modern tools and apps. The foundation has already completed its pilot project and released the first mobile app called Missions. The app was built in partnership with the Edmonton Skills Society and Lethbridge-based Southern Alberta Community Living Association (SACLA), two not-for-profits that help people with disabilities experience meaningful lives as valued citizens.

Here is a snapshot of what Missions looks like:

Missions App Demo

A bit of history

For the last twelve years, we have supported numerous charities in our communities. We fundraised, donated and contributed employee time to numerous causes which include United Way, Stollery Children’s hospital, and Movember Foundation.

Over the years, we noticed that charities have a hard time keeping up with technology. In particular, they struggle with building custom solutions, apps and portals that empower their missions and enable unique experiences for their sponsors and supporters. Charities cannot afford standard consulting rates, and even at a discount the amount of money spent on a software solution is hardly justifiable when faced with other priorities. As one of Canada’s premier consulting companies, we wanted to empower charities through technology. As it turns out, almost by happenstance, we might just have found the way to do it.

Putting skills to a good use

Young developers rarely get the opportunity to apply their hard skills in real-life projects. They know how to code, but they lack the experience that comes from designing and building enterprise-grade solutions. Applying project methodology or mastering communication and teamwork can’t be fully taught in a classroom setting. But without that know-how, it can be difficult for developers to progress their skills.

At the same time, there is a strong demand for modern tools and technology among not-for-profits that look to support local communities in new ways. They want to leverage software and mobile applications to reach those in need of help. While custom built solutions can bring these organizations closer to their communities, limited budgets often stand in the way of achieving this goal.

Aware of these challenges, we wanted to make a difference in a meaningful way, and we found just the way to do it.

High school students build an app

While judging a Skills Canada competition, Matt Waggoner, one of our star developers, met some highly capable highschoolers. Ben Lehmann and Shashank Bhat, Grade 11 and Grade 12 students at the time, who took the top spots at Skills Canada were certainly ready for the next challenge.

You may already know that here at DevFacto we’re seriously committed to empowering the next generation of software developers and we even run a co-op program in partnership with the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. However, as high school students, Ben and Shashank, wouldn’t qualify for it.

So, when Matt got back to the office the following Monday, he knew there was something he could do. With the support from DevFacto, he set out to find the right project for the students to work on. He connected with SACLA and Skills Society, two not-for-profits who were looking to build a mobile app that helps people with disabilities fully explore their community.

Under Matt’s watchful eye, Ben and Shashank spent their summer at DevFacto developing Missions, an app that makes it fun for people with disabilities to discover new interests and build a sense of inclusion with their community. Users select missions from a list of specially pre-designed activities and then complete them with their families or allies. The app offers them a chance to explore exciting things to do in their neighbourhoods and to reflect on their experiences. Skills Society and SACLA will use Missions app to empower people with disabilities and help them achieve their individual goals.

See a complete demo of user functionality in Missions:

DevFacto Community Foundation: how does it work?

The DevFacto Community Foundation offers not-for-profits a chance to build custom applications at a fraction of the cost. Talented young developers do the coding while seasoned DevFacto consultants manage and guide their work. As DevFacto, we provide methodology, on-going mentoring, and project management throughout the engagement. We also closely guide the students to ensure that the final product meets the business needs of our not-for-profit partners.

All the proceeds from the project go exclusively towards student’s wages. DevFacto offers its services pro-bono. In the future, any money left from the projects delivered by the foundation will be put towards a scholarship fund for students who participated in the program. We trust that this will further support young developers and encourage them to pursue education in STEM fields.

And now, the good stuff! DevFacto Community Foundation will build more apps in 2020. If you represent a registered charity that needs a consumer-grade application, we would love to hear from you. Let’s find a way to empower your organization with technology – get in touch.

It’s more than just a meeting room.

You may have heard that we’ve been renovating our Edmonton office. Thankfully, the construction is done and we’re finally ready for the big reveal! And while there are plenty of interesting new features in our newly expanded office, there’s one space I’m most excited about: our new Ideation room.

What’s Ideation, you might ask, and why does it require a dedicated space? Come to think of it, why would someone get excited about a meeting room? The answers to these questions lay in the process of great software design.

Over the years of building award-winning software, we came to a realization that there’s a piece missing from a typical application development project. Time and time again, we saw businesses arrive with an established idea of what they needed, only to realize once the project was complete, that their new, beautiful, functional solution didn’t quite propel the organization forward. It became clear to us that standard requirements gathering sessions are rarely enough to really understand the problems any business is facing. All the focus on features, functionality, and technology causes people to overlook what’s really important: user satisfaction and tangible value to the organization. Our customers needed a better way to translate real-world pains into solutions that made a difference. They needed solutions that humans would love to use.

So, instead of gathering requirements we flipped the model and we began hunting for the root causes behind them. We based our approach on our shared experiences and drew inspiration from the Design Thinking and Service Design methodologies. This led us to developing an Ideation workshop, a process that’s become a foundation for our customer’s success.

What is Ideation?

At DevFacto, Ideation is a collaborative process we use to facilitate our customers’ innovative thinking and problem solving. It helps us uncover the ideal solution through a series of exercises that shift the perception of the challenges at hand. Through a mix of convergent and divergent techniques it explores opportunities and reveals the hidden value within any organization. And by bringing cross-functional teams together, it encourages collaboration and idea-sharing without long, drawn out meetings.

As cognitive science proves, humans are hardwired to think convergently. When faced with a challenge, we want to come up with a single, well-established, logical answer. We constantly narrow down the options until we arrive at the right solution. Once we have it, we head straight to executing. Any alternative solutions that were discovered in the process end up discarded.

While that is a great approach for hacking away at day-to-day tasks, it doesn’t encourage meaningful change in an organization nor allow for innovative thinking. When we go straight from the perceived problem to the seemingly obvious solution, we skim over pain points and miss perspectives that can fundamentally alter our vision for the future.

Our ideation process disrupts the typical approach to solving problems by bringing people together and affording them the chance to think collaboratively in different modes while driving alignment around the most powerful ideas.

Over the years, Ideation has helped our clients realize numerous benefits  – from experimenting and testing ideas before setting them in motion, to reimagining user experience, boosting customer satisfaction, and cracking new markets.

Software Ideation Session

Why do we need an Ideation room?

Meetings, deservedly, have a bad rep and the typical conference room design only escalates this problem. Large conference tables lower meeting engagement, while poor flow discourages collaboration – both of which are critical to creativity and innovative thinking. We are creatures of our environments far more often than we think. Which is why a new approach to the space is so powerful. We wanted to create a space that transforms the mindset and inspires fresh ideas. One that changes the expected meeting dynamic and gets everyone active, working, and exploring. By setting the stage for ambitious collaboration, our ideation room does just that.

We’ve built it with creative, brainstorming sessions in mind, so it’s is full of light and bright workable space. Writable surfaces all around the room facilitate idea sharing, while standing-height desks help get people moving and collaborating. Although the typical conference room fare – long conference table and chairs – is gone, we kept some uber-comfortable high stools to maximize accessibility. And because Ideation sessions can get quite intense, we’ve added a lounge area just outside the room so that the participants can recharge when it’s time to take a break.

Just last week, I facilitated my first workshop in the new space with one of our clients that’s looking to deliver a WOW experience to their end-users. Being a part of an Ideation workshop held in a space designed to foster empathy and common understanding among teams was eye-opening to everyone involved. We saw inspiring ideas spring to life but also witnessed a diverse, cross-functional team come together in an unexpected way. For this group, looking at a business problem in a new way, in a completely different type of environment brought results that went beyond what we could anticipate.

Powerful ideas are just around the corner, and sometimes a special kind of meeting in an entirely different space is just what’s needed to find them.