Learn how startup MEDarchon is using LeanKit to facilitate collaboration and transparency as the company develops ground-breaking new healthcare communication technology.
MEDarchon’s mission is to improve the efficiency and accuracy of healthcare communications, conceptualizing secure messaging as a means to reduce medical errors.
Founded in 2012 to reduce medical errors through improved workflow communication
Secured messaging application designed specifically for healthcare
Community-focused, distributed team that mentors Vanderbilt undergraduates to cultivate emerging talent
Chris Rathermel, Co-Founder and CTO of MEDarchon sat down with us to explain how the organization has created an environment of continuous improvement using LeanKit to support its software development processes.
What is the inspiration behind your organization?
Each year there are an estimated 200,000 fatal medical errors that happen in the U.S, 60-70% of which can be attributed to a breakdown in communication. We believe we can reduce the number of medical errors through specific communication workflows and big data analytics.
What solution are you developing to address this?
We provide a secure messaging solution that helps with issue routing, message prioritization, escalations and handoffs. The over-arching goal is to improve the way patient care is coordinated. We have a web application as well as an iOS and Android app. Most physicians and nurses will use this in a mobile capacity on the hospital floor, closer to patient interaction.
How did you get started developing the technology?
To get the concept off the ground we worked with a local business solutions consulting firm to develop version one of the product. I learned a lot from their approach to project management. My previous experience had always been with the waterfall method, where projects are handled in linear fashion over a longer timeframe. The firm was using short, two-week sprints to break the work down in to smaller chunks and deliver value to us sooner.
We were very impressed with how LeanKit facilitates transparency and visibility.
It was also our first exposure to LeanKit. As the client, we were very impressed with how the firm was using LeanKit to facilitate transparency and visibility between our organization and theirs. Based on that positive experience, we made a decision to implement a similar process as we started building our own internal team.
Why were you looking to move away from a waterfall approach?
There were three main reasons why I didn’t think waterfall was the best process to follow at MEDarchon. Firstly, the size of a waterfall project is typically large by nature. As a result it’s harder to scope out the work and estimates tend to be less accurate which results in more risk. Secondly, the business doesn’t see the value of what’s being worked on very quickly so they don’t know if their vision is being realized. Thirdly, it’s harder to adapt to change when things don’t go according to plan.
In a startup situation it’s so important for the business to have visibility into what’s being worked on as early as possible and to start delivering value. I had an opportunity to introduce the process that I thought would work best from day one.
How would you describe the approach you’re implementing at MEDarchon?
Our goal is quite simple: to deliver quality software ASAP.
We decided that Scrum was the right approach for us to follow as it enables us to deliver value faster. As a team we discussed the things we liked about it, and also some of the aspects that we didn’t feel ready to try. We agreed that by reducing the scope of what we’re working on we’d be better able to estimate and schedule our deliverables. We also wanted an approach that would enable us to work effectively as a distributed team without losing visibility.
Our goal is quite simple: to deliver quality software ASAP. Breaking the work into smaller chunks enables us to do that and adapt to change quickly as we need to.
Given that you’re still building the team, how is everyone responding to this approach?
We recognize that implementing Scrum is all about continuous improvement and learning as we go. Some of our team members have only had prior experience with waterfall and we also have undergraduate interns working with us as part of our mentoring process. So it’s a learning experience for all of us. It definitely requires a change of mindset, which takes time. Using LeanKit has been instrumental in supporting this transitional process and helping us get into our stride.
At what point did you decide to implement LeanKit?
As I mentioned earlier, we were very impressed with seeing LeanKit used to manage software development projects. I had never seen an environment with so much transparency and communication before. When I saw what LeanKit brings to the table in facilitating that, I realized we needed it too.
When we started work on version two of our application we decided to bring project management in-house and implement LeanKit. We copied the template of the board the firm had built to manage the first version, so we were able to get up and running very quickly. It was a seamless transition.
Can you please provide more detail around how you’re using LeanKit today?
Certainly. We have a number of different boards, including one for the web version of the product, the iOS app and the Android app. Initially we started out using just one board, but it was easier for our team to see what was going on when we separated them. We’re also building a sales board to qualify and manage our leads and a DevOps board to manage our client onboarding process. We’ve created an executive board too so that we can track at a high-level what we need to do and what we’re working on.
We use the backlog to capture our Epics - or the high-level business requirements - that we want to work on. Once the use cases have been prioritized and discussed in sprint planning, we break them down into smaller user stories to get the work done.
How well has the team adapted to using LeanKit?
From a usability perspective, implementing LeanKit to manage this process has been very easy; it’s a great tool. The biggest challenge has been the cultural shift, so sometimes we’ve had to learn the hard way. As an example, for a while not everyone was updating the tool and referring to it for current status. We had a situation where two people ending up working on the same thing without realizing, wasting 4 hours of their time. That helped the team understand the importance of having visibility and telling each other what we’re working on.
We’re moving to a new office space soon; I’m planning to put a large monitor on the wall to make LeanKit more visible to everyone which will help too.
What are the main benefits of using LeanKit from a team perspective?
The main benefit is the way LeanKit facilitates the way we work as a team. The team is so much more collaborative as it enables us to keep up to date with each other and focus on what we’ve committed to deliver as a team. LeanKit is a great advocate for collaboration. Simply put, it makes my team feel like a team.
LeanKit makes my team feel like a team.
I also think the team is consistently more productive too. With waterfall there used to be long periods of activity followed by idle time when people didn’t know what to do. Having a prioritized backlog ensures that there’s always something you can be doing that adds value to the organization. This is vital for a startup as we can’t afford to be throwing money out of the window.
Has LeanKit helped you as a leader?
Definitely. As our team is quite distributed, I’ve found that using LeanKit I don’t have to be a micro-manager as the boards give me all of the insights I need. I can see at a glance if someone is stuck or cards aren’t moving, making it very easy to know when to step in and keep the wheels turning. This enables me to give the business a heads up if I think things are falling behind, so it’s a great way to manage expectations too.
With people working at different times and in different time zones, I find it very easy stay up to date with what’s been accomplished each day without having to search for the information.
Are there any features that you particularly like?
I like the ‘quick glance’ visibility that LeanKit provides.
At a high-level, the overall usability of LeanKit is great. In particular, I really like LeanKit’s mobile app. I frequently access LeanKit from my iPad or iPhone when I’m out of the office. The ability to stay connected gives me the feeling that I’m not out of touch with my team. As a leader I also find the email notifications extremely useful – I never miss a beat.
I also like the ‘quick glance’ visibility that LeanKit provides. We color code our card types and tag high priority items making it easy to visualize the information. We also like the avatars- one of the very first things we ask a new employee to do is to create an avatar for LeanKit.
What impact has LeanKit had on the success of your business?
The visibility that LeanKit provides to the business is extremely valuable. It helps ensure that we’re working on the top priority initiatives and prioritize our work accordingly. It gives the business important insights into what we’re actively working on at any given time, and keeps us honest if there are things we said we’d work on and then forgot.
This level of transparency helps the business better predict what our roadmap should look like and avoids any disconnect. It’s also helping the business outside of software development. The board the executive team uses helps us track what we need to do at a high-level. We’re also looking at using to manage other business functions such as sales.
What are your future plans for LeanKit?
We really haven’t taken full advantage of a number of LeanKit’s capabilities yet. We definitely want to start using the reporting and analytics as we want to get better at predicting our velocity and what we can deliver.
We’re also starting to use the task boards to manage the cards that are related to an Epic. That will make our work easier to structure and manage. Integrations are an area we’d like to explore too. We use GitHub and I can see the value of integrating it with LeanKit to keep the two systems in sync.
What advice would you give to other startups considering LeanKit?
I credit LeanKit with helping us find and hit our stride. When we started out we weren’t particularly well organized; we were still working out the direction we wanted to go in and implementing new processes.
We have a lot of big ideas that are now starting to come to life. LeanKit has been an important part of that from day one. My advice to other startups is that it’s a great tool for helping you get going and then evolving with you as you figure out better ways to do things. It facilitates transparency, which is vital to success.
Thanks MEDarchon, for sharing your story with us!