Behind The Scenes: Developing New Features at Cialfo

Last month, we sent an email to all customers about our latest feature, the Task List. I guess you could call it “marketing”, though we prefer to consider it “talking to customers”. But a lot of work goes into these new features, and it’s a coordinated effort between everyone at Cialfo—from the engineering team to the customer success and marketing team.

I thought I’d share the kind of work that goes into developing a new feature, and what the average day looks like at Cialfo, in case you find this sort of thing interesting.

While documenting this day, I also learnt two things:

  • Our day-to-day work is largely fairly boring—it’s a bunch of people sitting in a room working on laptops. Doesn’t make for exciting TV.
  • Nobody in this team knows how to pose like a normal person.

10.30AM

Our working hours start a little later than most other companies. We have several parents here at Cialfo, and mornings are for herding children to school. Generally, we start rolling in between 10.30 to 11AM.

The biggest thing on our agenda today is a customer visit. Kavita from The Red Pen is dropping by! To commemorate this occasion, Will, our Head of Product, brings in a camera.

11AM

By now, almost everyone has arrived. Angela, Head of Customer Success (if you’re a Cialfo client, you’ve probably met her!), orders pizza and opens the floodgates for the team to ask “where’s the pizza” every ten minutes.

At Cialfo, we follow a variation of the Agile methodology we call Scrumban, a mix of Scrum and Kanban.

In Scrum, we don’t provide detailed descriptions of how a project is to be completed—we believe the people working on the project knows best. You can learn more about the Agile method and Scrum here.

We usually hold daily scrums at 11AM every morning. During these daily scrums, we discuss what we did yesterday, what we’re working on today, and if there are any anticipated roadblocks.

For example, if Josh (Product Engineer) says one of his projects is stuck because he’s waiting on information from Will (Head of Product), Will now knows he has to get the information over ASAP.

But today is Friday, and Fridays are the exceptions. On Fridays, we order take-out and gather around the conference room to hold a sprint retrospective.

During these retrospectives, we talk about what we’ve accomplished this past week, pat ourselves on the back, and talk about what we’ll focus on next week. And then we eat pizza until we can’t move.

12.15PM

Still recovering from our post-pizza coma, we begin our sprint retrospective and Friday session. This week, we fixed several bugs, added 61 ApplyTexas schools to our school database, and released our Outlook Calendar integration. A lot to talk about!

After the retrospective, we hold a Friday session. The topic varies by the week—today, we’re discussing Goals, both professional and personal.

We’ve had this discussion a month ago at the start of the new year, so today is just a check-in for accountability.

Stephan had his eyes closed, so we put some awesome sunglasses on him.

2PM

All eight boxes of pizza successfully polished off, we wrap up our retrospective and return to work. Check out our office!

As you can see, we’re a fan of Post-it notes and the Kanban methodology (which is just another way of saying we use Post-it notes a lot). We’ve mentioned we use a mix of Kanban and Scrum. Scrum can be rather prescriptive, with several very specific guidelines. Kanban, on the other hand, requires three things:

  • Visualize workflow
  • Limit work in process (WIP)
  • Measure and improve flow

Which, for Cialfo, translates to a whiteboard with three columns:

  • Scheduled
  • Doing
  • Done

Much simpler.

We credit this mixed Scrumban method as being the reason why we can ship features so frequently. There’s something supremely satisfying about getting up to move a Post-it from “doing” to “done”.

Psst: notice our long-term roadmap in the right-hand side over there? We’re in this for the long haul 😉

Meanwhile, we begin setting up the photoshoot equipment to prepare for Kavita’s arrival. Being technology geeks, we make appropriately awed sounds over the equipment.

3PM

Kavita arrives! We begin shooting her story of how The Red Pen uses Cialfo. If you want to be the first to know when it releases, subscribe to the blog and we’ll let you know.

4PM

It’s a wrap! Back to work, people.

6.30PM

It’s the end of the day! We wrap up any work left to do and crack some jokes. Team leaders review the Scrum board and take a mental note of what needs to be scheduled for next week.

And finally, we return home to spend time with our families, and come back on Monday with new ideas and renewed energy.

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