Software Gone Wild: How Sitka Helps the Environment (and Uses Mingle)

Posted by Huimin Li

24 October 2016

Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe

Portland, Oregon-based Sitka Technology Group is perhaps an unusual software consultancy. The staff of 25 all serve one giant client: the environment. Sitka, founded in 2008, serves clients doing restoration, conservation and sustainable business work. Clients number in the hundreds and range from government agencies (US Department Interior) to non-profits (Audubon) to tribal organizations (Colville tribe) and more.

Sitka often coordinates a software project with multiple external partners, which can be challenging. When doing this, Sitka has found that Mingle has helped lend transparency to their client projects. In the words of founding partner Matt Deniston, Sitka is “a truly agile team… so we really try to keep things as simple and small as possible.” As a result, they’ve structured their Mingle projects very simply to encourage external partners to be full participants. At the same time, they’ve leveraged Mingle’s customizability to provide artifacts and real-time progress reports to teams. (Want to know how they did it? We’ll detail how Sitka structures its Mingle project templates in the next post.)

Sitka used Mingle recently while working on a complex project for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). Sitka’s goal was to create a tracker that would provide visibility and accountability into the work done by the more than 50 different agencies working together under TRPA’s umbrella. These agencies work to achieve goals (e.g. monitoring invasive species) but they also have to report progress toward goals and how they’re using their funding. To complicate things further, each agency has different data-collection methods and data types they need to track.

However, in order to get the agencies to upload their research, Sitka needed to make it easy for them to do it. So they made sure the system they created could auto-generate a one-page, double-sided fact sheet for each project. The fact sheet gives a summary of the project, expenditure info, timeline, and even before/after photos of project sites. “The fact sheets are available 24/7 and no longer require the interested party to contact the TRPA for an update.” says Damon Knight, Sitka’s marketing manager.

A site-generated fact sheet for a TRPA partner

A site-generated fact sheet for a TRPA partner

The ability for the people providing the information – the biologists, the conservationists, the non-profits – to generate their own, customized reports any time they want has had a huge effect. “A lot of the organizations doing this work, they don’t have marketing departments or PR groups but they need promotional materials to help demonstrate to the public what they’re doing in their neighborhoods,” says Deniston. “And this fact sheet is something they can get out of the system for free without hiring a third-party designer or having their staff do that kind of work. They get a lot of value out of this” says Knight. The tracking website Sitka built for TRPA continues to provide value for the agencies involved, and keeps the public informed about what they’re doing.

TRPA is just one of Sitka’s many projects. Currently, the company runs 25 to 30 projects in Mingle. “Due to the flexibility that Mingle offers, we’ve been able to adapt it to the way we deliver projects,” says Deniston. “We created our own Mingle project template that we trimmed down to just the essential stuff.” Sitka uses just two card trees (sprints and deliverables) and three card types (sprint, deliverable, and story). And that’s it. It had more complicated set-ups in the past, but this is what has kept things agile for both internal and external team members.

Sitka team members visiting a TRPA site

Sitka team members visiting a TRPA site

And at the end of the day, the simple way they use Mingle is all about making things easier and better. And not just for themselves. Although, when team members visit Lake Tahoe, it’s certainly nice for them to see the restored wildlife habitats and clean waterways their clients have helped maintain. “As a company, we’re entirely focused on restoration, conservation, and sustainable development, and building knowledge infrastructure for those things,” says Deniston. “And that sense of purpose and focus is really good for the company’s health, but it also makes our work more meaningful.”

Special thanks to Matt Deniston and Damon Knight.

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