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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.

We’re Launching a Sabbatical Program to Help DevFactonians Grow

When David, Ransel and I set out to design a different type of company over twelve years ago, we were all young and naive. We knew what we liked and disliked about our past employers, and we were driven to create a different kind of work environment: one with a great, constantly evolving culture and a lot of flexibility. As our first joint decision at DevFacto, we came up with a simple mission statement, or rather a simple mathematical equation (since the three of us are geeks): “Happy Employees = Happy Customers”. This equation has stood the test of time and has been our guiding beacon ever since.

Years later, it isn’t just a nice-sounding catch phrase. It’s how we work. In fact, we continuously measure employee happiness and client happiness. We take this so seriously that our executive team’s compensation is closely tied to these two metrics.

To keep our employees happy, we look after their well-being in many different ways. And while the list of our perks and benefits is vast and fairly unique, we felt it lacked something to reward our longest-serving staff. The ones who have been with us for many years, doing great work for our clients and pushing us to get better along the way. The smart, talented and loyal employees that most CEOs dream about. The kind of people that recruiters call me about to express how frustrating it is to try to “poach” them from DevFacto. We owe our success to them. Although we don’t believe in rewarding roles based on tenure, we wanted to celebrate and honour employees who have been with us for a long time. So, after some conversations with our amazing staff we came up with the concept of “Discovery Days”.

“Discovery Days” is a two- or four-week fully paid sabbatical, duration of which depends on the length of service with the company. It’s main purpose? Expand the employee’s horizons as a human being. Employees that qualify, apply for the program by sharing what they will do with the time and how it will take them outside of their comfort zone. It doesn’t need to be extreme, although it very well could be. Anything goes, as long as it meets the following criteria:

  1. You will do something that will help you grow as a person.
  2. You will document the journey and share it with the team via a Pecha Kucha talk.

The program has launched, and the initial reception has been great. I can’t wait to learn about our employees’ adventures and if you’re as curious as I am, be sure to keep an eye on our social media profiles where our marketing team will be sharing these journeys in the upcoming weeks/months. After all, personal growth and self discovery enrich the entire community and not just the individual.

And who knows, maybe we will end up rewriting that simple equation to “Happy Employees + Discovery Days = Delighted Customers.”

 

2018 DevFacto Winter Summit

Hi there! It’s Don here, DevFacto Consultant from the Regina branch, bringing you a “consultant’s perspective” on our semiannual DevFacto Summit event.

“What’s a DevFacto Summit?” you might ask. In a nutshell, it’s a laid-back, one-day event designed to fill the DevFactonians in on what’s currently going on in the organization and what’s being planned. In addition, we typically have an interesting keynote address and an opportunity to get some hands-on training.

The Winter – 2018 edition delivered on all of these, in spades!

Embracing the Change

The first item on the agenda was an inspiring talk by our keynote speaker, Mr. Bruce Kirkby. If you’ve not heard of Bruce, he’s what you’d call the adventurous type. He’s ridden across deserts, led his family on a round-the-world tour (without electronic distractions of any kind), and tackled more challenges than any ten of us combined will probably ever face.
Bruce’s talk was all about change and overcoming the inevitable obstacles that crop up when you want to, or are forced to, make a transition from where you are now to where you need to be in the future.

Bruce Kirkby Speaking at Devfacto Summit in Edmonton

Adventurer Bruce Kirkby at the 2018 DevFacto Summit in Edmonton

This subject is especially relevant to us in the IT consulting field, because our world is ripe with change! Whether planned or imposed, we face it constantly and understanding how to deal with it can make our lives a whole lot less stressful and our work much more effective. Through stories of his family’s adventures, Bruce explained what challenges to expect when we work through the process of change, and how to overcome them with understanding and by taking care of our minds and our bodies.

I found Bruce’s talk to be extremely relevant and enjoyable. As I was listening, it struck me that this wasn’t the typical keynote address that one would expect to hear at a technology company’s event. Instead, Bruce’s content addressed the personal – rather than technical – well-being of everyone in the room.

Tackling the Future

Next on the agenda was our own David Cronin, co-founder and CTO of DevFacto, who led us through no less than 19 initiatives that the leadership team has planned for 2019. I’m not going to go into detail on each, but as a summary I can tell you that many of the planned initiatives will directly impact the experience of our employees in a very positive way.

One item that particularly stood out for me, is the planned implementation of employee sabbaticals that will include not only time-off but also awards funds to be used during the sabbatical. To me this goes well beyond the clichéd “employee appreciation.” Rather, it proves that when our leadership says that they care for the happiness of all employees, well, they’re not just saying it because it’s a nice sound-bite but because there is a true intent behind those words.

Devfacto Summit

New perks sure sound exciting.

David’s address finished up the morning of our summit and brought us to a fine lunch where we had a chance to recharge the batteries and socialize a bit with our DevFacto family.
After lunch, DevFacto’s Taylor Reese, our in-house illustrator supreme, User Experience expert and all around great-guy (no, he didn’t pay me to say that – honest), led us in a hands-on learning session on the topic of Ideation. It went something like this…

It all comes down to Ideation

First, for those of us who don’t really get what this whole “Ideation” thing is all about, Taylor explained that it’s our process for getting to the bottom of what the end user needs really are and which of those needs should the client be focusing on.

The task laid before us was thus: brainstorm a solution for how to implement a dress code, given a limited budget and stiff business criteria to meet.
The group was divided into teams and we quickly got to work.

Now, I have the honor – perhaps dubious – of being the oldest DevFactonian, and I’m not talking service-years. Along with me, there are a few others in the company that, while not quite as ancient, can still remember when the words “dress” and “code” rarely appeared in the same sentence so, for us, the stated problem didn’t really look like a problem at all.
As one of my teammates pointed out, “What’s to think about? Shirt, tie and suit. Simple! Problem solved.”

Indeed, I wore a suit to my first job interview those many moons ago. When I was hired, I wore a suit, and every day for the next 5 years, I showed up to work in a suit. Even though I rarely dealt directly with customers, it was understood that that was the way I was supposed to dress, and I can’t even tell you how I knew it! The dress code, though never explicitly stated, was universally understood. It was a given, not a problem to be solved.

Facing the ideation challenge reminded me of what Bruce Kirkby was talking about in the morning. Life is all about change and working around, through or over the obstacles standing between where you are and where you want or need to be. That process involves overcoming fears, uncertainty and resistance and coming up with a way of moving past those barriers.

As consultants, we need to be able to embrace the concept of change and help our clients to do the same. We need to be equipped to guide them through the process of achieving a solution to the challenges that inevitably come with change, and we need to be able to do this in a manner that makes an impact.

In my mind, Ideation isn’t just a service offering that a few of us in the company are designated to deliver. Instead, it’s a mind-set that each of us must embrace in order to deliver real value to our clients.

As was apparent in the solutions that the teams presented, the challenge was met with creativity and innovation, and while some ideas stood out more for their comedic value than their practicality, it appeared that the entire room gained the insight that Taylor intended.

It was a great ending to a day full of knowledge sharing and fresh ideas leaving us all inspired and ready to hit the ground running in 2019.

DevFacto 2018 Team

Empowering women in tech one executive lunch at a time

Earlier this year, we held a large meeting at DevFacto with around 20 attendees in our main conference room. Our CEO, Chris Izquierdo, was running a little late and joined us a few minutes after the start of the meeting. As he walked into the room filling it with his larger than life personality, he looked around and declared with much surprise, “Wow, all dudes!” Up until that moment, I hadn’t even realized that the only woman in the room was me.

To be honest, has he not mentioned it, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this at all. I have been in the IT consulting industry long enough to get used to having few women around. However, Chris’ remark got me thinking about my team and the rest of the women at DevFacto. How did they feel about being the only females in a meeting? How did it affect their experience at DevFacto? Could we be missing important insights because they weren’t in that room? It was clear that, as female DevFactonians, we needed a forum to share our experiences – one where we could learn from each other, encourage each other and to push each other to be drivers of change. With that, an idea for Women at DevFacto was born.

Our group was very informal at the beginning, with get-togethers at somewhat loud restaurants and an agenda that two good friends of mine – who also happened to be two of the wiser businesswomen I know – helped me put together based on their experiences. After a couple of meetings, our group has evolved into a Women at Devfacto Series, with female leaders coming to our offices to share their insights with us. The first guest we hosted was Kelli Littlechilds, CEO of Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan (ASEBP), whose visit was a smashing success because of her candor, warmth, and willingness to share her learnings from more than 30 years working in the health benefits industry. We left that meeting reenergized, excited and ready to immediately start planning our next session. The positive energy was so contagious that several of our male colleagues (including the CEO) stopped by to say, “I will put you in touch with so-and-so – she would be a great guest for the Women at DevFacto Series.” Suffice to say, the outlook for our group is fantastic.

Today, women make up slightly over 20% of our team at DevFacto, which is a huge step from where we were five years ago, or even at the beginning of this year. We continue to recruit and hire amazing women and men to join our company, and we are already planning what the Women at DevFacto Series will look like in 2019. There is still plenty to be done, but one of the things that makes me most proud of DevFacto is that we truly live out our company values always remembering to care for our team and to constantly keep improving. Women at DevFacto group is certainly a proof of that.

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