Team Building & Communication with Ivy Consulting
At Evans & Chambers Technology’s recent 10-year anniversary retreat, Gary and Janet Smith of Ivy Consulting led our team through two sessions: Building a Winning Team, and Leadership and Communication.
We cannot stress enough how invaluable this group was to fostering the collaboration and team-building that we were trying to develop at ecCAMP! To begin, Gary and Janet asked everyone to contribute to a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of Evans & Chambers Technology. Each team member, from developer to President, had an opportunity to contribute their ideas, and all were taken quite seriously. It was very eye-opening to hear the perspectives of a diverse group of technical people working on customer sites and back-office staff working remotely. I think we all developed a better understanding of the challenges we each face as we completed this exercise.
To foster communication, Gary and Janet asked very pointed and thought-provoking questions, such as “What excites you most about working for EC?” They helped us identify communication gaps and things that team members need in order to promote EC with their current customers (one developer suggested help with “elevator pitches”).
The talk turned to providing customer service. Many of our team members work on client sites and they represent EC each day. Talking through building our brand and thinking about the customer’s perception of EC helped hone everyone’s focus on what each team member can do to create impact for our clients. After our discussion, everyone walked away with some tips for impressing our customers every day.
In an afternoon session on Leadership and Communication, Janet started us off by “interviewing” us as if it were 5 years in the future, and we had to describe EC’s current state and the actions we took to get us there. One thing is for sure: we are an aggressive bunch! The hypothetical EC grew quickly, and it was due to our ability to work together as a team.
We went on to discuss how to communicate with our teams, and how to work together as leaders to achieve EC’s goals. And, did you know, that in a study of valuable leadership traits, researchers found that honesty was the #1 desired trait? Armed with this and the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats assessment, our leaders came away with plenty of ideas for growing EC at the level that employees are confident that we can achieve.
Gary and Janet are fantastic group facilitators, and very well versed in identifying areas for improvement at all levels of an organization. We really enjoyed working with them, and would highly recommend them to companies wishing to identify strengths, weaknesses, and the leadership and communication skills to foster for success.
Welcome EC Interns!
Besides working on rewarding projects, our interns get to develop professional relationships and mentorships with our team and company leadership.
Applying to our internship program is a great way to get your foot in the door at Evans & Chambers Technology, as many of our interns are offered paid positions after graduation. If you’d like to know more about our program, visit www.evanschambers.com and fill out a general application.
To celebrate Evans & Chambers Technology’s 10 year anniversary, our whole team and their families, “stay-cationed” at Lansdowne Resort for a weekend of celebration and team-building. We branded the event ecCAMP, or “Evans & Chambers Celebrates Anniversaries and Milestones Powwow.” It was the best description we could think of to encompass the purpose and environment of the retreat, and we think we achieved it!
Team members arrived on Friday night, and checked into their rooms to find a bottle of champagne, chocolates, an EC polo shirt, and activities for their kids. After settling in, everyone gathered for cocktails and a flashy (and delicious!) cake. As everyone arrived for the weekend, we began to reconnect with those we don’t get to work with everyday.
After a brief message from President Jamil Evans, we headed outside to kick back around a fire pit. Thinking ahead, our recruiter had brought marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers for s’mores. Sitting in a circle around the campfire, roasting marshmallows, and talking was a great way to kick-off the weekend. It enforced our idea that we were there to have fun as a team! The night got a little silly with various s’mores-eating contests and a hot-rock-touching contest (we do not recommend this). It was a blast.
We woke early the next day, and after an awesome breakfast buffet, we gathered in a meeting room to meet with Gary and Janet of Ivy Consulting, who led us through an incredible session designed to get us thinking critically about EC’s strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats, the challenges we face as a team, our culture, and more. Janet and Gary asked very pointed questions to really get the whole team thinking strategically. We definitely came away with some action items, such as to work on our “elevator pitches” and to communicate, communicate, communicate.
After taking a few group photos, we had the rest of the afternoon free to enjoy the resort’s amenities: some of us enjoyed spa treatments, played a round of golf, hiked along the Potomac River, or visited a local winery. Later in the evening, we rejoined for a wonderful four-course meal at the Crooked Billet restaurant. The food was fantastic, and more late-night revelry and fun followed. By the way, our group was so large that we organized a table-long, stadium-style wave. We only wish we had captured that on video!
With the arrival of the cold weather on Sunday, we gathered up our families, said goodbye, and decided that, really, we ought to do this every year. We came away with a new sense of who we are as a team and with some new inspiration for making Evans & Chambers awesome for another 10 years!
Rebuilding TASN’s Online Presence
When the Tennessee Association of School Nurses decided to update their website, they called on us. They knew what they wanted – a clean, modern update and complete reorganization, plus a behind-the-scenes Custom Management System (CMS) that would allow them to update the site on their own.
The Tennessee School Nurse Association (TASN) is a professional member organization of school nurses with the mission to promote, improve, and maintain quality comprehensive student health services by advancing the professional practice of school nursing. An affiliate of the National Association of School Nurses, TASN members enjoy member events, educational opportunities, and a variety of resources available to help them improve their nursing practice and stay up-to-date on state guidelines and legislation.
Navigating TASN’s site, however, was difficult. It was a complicated web of links with no discernible structure. Users found it confusing to navigate, and it wasn’t visually attractive. Plus, it wasn’t easy for new users to find out how to join the Association. Right away, we knew that designing the site for usability and member conversion was important, and TASN had other things in mind: namely, the look and feel of the site. TASN’s new red, white, and blue logo didn’t match the site, and, for that matter, the site wasn’t at all attractive to modern users. To improve, TASN wanted modern images that rotated on a cleaner, modernized homepage, and wanted to make it easier for users to find out how to join TASN with a button that would direct users to a sign-up form.
After gathering these requirements, we offered suggestions for reorganization, and created a few design options from which to choose. We also suggested that the new site be built on top of the WordPress CMS – that way, TASN can update their events, resources, and administration information without a developer. While we built the site, TASN focused on reorganizing their links, resources, and content for an improved user experience.
The site itself featured a clean design and was manageable using WordPress, no development experience necessary. TASN can edit page content using a what-you-see-is-what-you-get editing tool. We incorporated WordPress widgets into the site to feature an RSS feed to promote news from the affiliated National Association of School Nurses, a callout box with information on joining the Tennesses Association of School Nurses, and sidebar information for each of the subpages. TASN can edit this content, and even move the widgets around to change the order in which they appear.
To improve the look-and-feel, TASN chose several modern images for their site, which we featured as main images on each subpage, and as rotating images on the homepage. Using WordPress, TASN can change the order in which the images appear, add new images, or feature specific images on each subpage. When the site went live, it was completely unrecognizable.
To close out the project, we showed TASN how to work with WordPress until they were comfortable making changes themselves. The new site is is now a far cry from the previous one – it is easy to navigate and looks great. TASN is very glad that their internet presence represents the professionalism of the organization. So much so, they provided us with the following feedback:
For years I have put off updating our website since it seemed like such a daunting task. Working with Evans and Chambers was the best decision I made when I finally bit the bullet to move forward. They expertly guided me through the process, gently redirected me if I strayed from my vision and offered professional advice when I was really stuck creatively. Most of all, they were beyond patient as I revised, revised and revised again up until minutes before we went live. Since the new version was launched, the support has been fabulous. I received an easy to follow tutorial so I can now manage the website on my own. If you could only have seen the mess my website was before compared to the clean, professional version I have now. I am happy to point people to our website and the feedback is very positive. Kudos to Nicole, Jamil and the rest of the Evans and Chambers team!
~ Lisa, President, Tennessee Association of School Nurses
University of Maryland Students: Meet EC!
Are you a student at the University of Maryland thinking about your career? We’d love to meet you!
Deanna Hess, EC’s Human Resources Manager, will be available to meet with students on April 16 at UCC – 3100 Hornbake Library as part of UM’s Employer-in-Residence Program.
Deanna has an extensive background in human resources and is an expert in providing one-on-one career advice to those who are just entering the career workforce. She would love to meet with you to look over your resume, help you practice your interviewing skills, learn more about careers in technology, or get advice on job searching techniques. The topics are completely up to you, and no career topic is off-limits (“Trust me,” Deanna says, “I’ve heard it all!”).
This program is offered by the University of Maryland Career Center. For more information and to register, please visit the UM Career Center website.
We recently announced Evans & Chambers Technology’s 10-year anniversary, and decided that our logo needed a special facelift for the occassion. We batted around a few ideas and concepts, but ultimately decided to pursue a design that was simple, professional, and consistent with our existing branding.
We worked with an awesome designer, Jason Paul at Trasaterra. He designed our regular company logo, so we knew he’d be the perfect guy to create our anniversary logo.
We knew we wanted the logo to include the word “celebrate,” somehow. It’s a positive word that not only reflects the way we feel, but also speaks to the way that we value fun. We also knew we wanted to use one of our existing typefaces in the logo to keep it clean and sophisticated. Jason showed us how the logo typefaces could work together without competing – using initial case on the tagline “celebrating 10 years” gives enough contrast to the all-caps logo without overpowering. Incorporating our regular logo into the special design ensured that our branding remained consistent and recognizable.
And to create a good sense of cohesion between the logo elements, we added a horizontal bar between the main logo and the tagline. This serves to solidify the layout, making for a strong “lockup,” or final logo form.
So, here is the final result:
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
Here at Evans & Chambers, we really value the things that our employees value, including the ways in which they like to give back to their communities.
With that in mind, our EC Cares program was developed to invite employees to nominate the philanthropic organizations that mean the most to them, and to which EC can donate its resources.
Here are a few contributions that EC made in 2012:
Patrick Henry Family Services: Patrick Henry provides children’s homes and counseling services. We donated interview clothing and gift cards to youth that are transitioning from family services into new careers and apprenticeships.
Multiple Sclerosis Society: The Multiple Sclerosis Society “helps people affected by MS by funding cutting-edge research, driving change through advocacy, facilitating professional education, and providing programs and services that help people with MS and their families move their lives forward.”
Equal Footing Foundation: EC’s sponsorship and participation in the Run! Geek! Run! 8K race event benefitted the Equal Footing Foundation, which fosters youth education and development, empowering students in the Northern Virginia area to shape their professional and technical skills and teaching them to be leaders in their communities.
US FIRST: FIRST is a non-profit public charity whose mission is “to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”
What’s in a Name?
Java was developed by Sun Microsystems in the early 1990′s as a system for professional, skilled programmers to develop application software.
There were other implementations of the same or similar language, however. Microsoft was developing Internet Explorer as a competitor to Netscape Navigator, and they dubbed their dialect of the language “JScript” in order to avoid trademark issues.
It’s Our Birthday!
It’s hard to believe that Evans & Chambers Technology is crossing the 10-year milestone! That’s right, it’s been 10 years since Jamil Evans & Andre Chambers first met and discovered a common desire to create impactful websites for local businesses! EC officially started business on 1/1/2003, under the moniker “Evans & Chambers Internet Consultants.”
Shortly after landing its first job – building a website for a commercial furnishings company – EC expanded into the Federal Government market, winning our first contract with General Dynamics. We earned our 8(a) certification in 2006, which drastically increased our competitiveness in the Federal marketplace.
Since then, EC has provided specialized IT services to commercial and Government customers alike.
Public vs. Private Agility
The way an IT project is managed can determine whether deployment happens on time, within budget, and with its expected functionality. IT projects can be risky and incur cost overruns and schedule slippages, but a well-run project minimizes these issues. The Agile Methodology isn’t the only management method, but it’s increasingly becoming the preferred approach to IT acquisition for buyers in both the private and public sectors.
The most differentiating feature of the Agile method is the development of incremental pieces of system functionality in defined “sprints,” all the while collecting regular customer feedback. During the development phase, an Agile team will probably collaborate daily and will work together to solve problems.
The method, sometimes resembling more of a philosophy than a process-driven approach, calls for shortened delivery lead times and has four distinct principles:
- Value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
- Value working software over documentation.
- Value customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
- Value response to change over following a plan.
Across both public and private sectors, use of this method is generally increasing.
A recent State of Agile Development Survey was conducted by VersionOne. This software company polled Project Managers, Developers, Team Leads, and other IT staff from a variety of organizations. 60% of repondents reported that their projects use the Agile methodology, and 80% responded that their organizations as a whole have adopted the methods. 84% indicated that implementing Agile improved their ability to manage changing priorities.
Respondents also identified a few barriers to Agile Adoption: That it requires a change in organizational culture, personnel with the right skills, management support, and is sometimes prohibited by project complexity.
In the public sector, unique challenges emerge, as reported by a recent study published by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). Officials from the Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Internal Revenue Service, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration identified these major challenges to Federal Agile adoption:
- Team culture makes it difficult for the team to collaborate and transition to self-directed work.
- Agencies had trouble committing staff to more timely and frequent input.
- Technical environments were difficult to establish and maintain.
- Procurement practices do not support the flexibility required by Agile.
- Federal oversight bodies want status reports and statistics at waterfall-based intervals, which may not align with Agile’s delivery of demonstrations of working software.
The same respondents identified several effective Agile practices:
- Start with Agile guidance and an agile adoption strategy.
- Continuously improve Agile adoption at both project and organization levels.
- Seek to identify and address impediments at the organization and project levels.
- Obtain stakeholder/customer feedback frequently and closely.
- Empower small, cross-functional teams.
- Gain trust by demonstrating value at the end of each iteration.
- Track progress daily and visibly.
What is your experience with Agile Methods? Have you been a team member of successful or unsuccessful Agile teams? Tell us your tale in the comments!