Being Part of an Agile team

As a technologist I have worked on several different types of teams over my 20+ years of technology development career. Also, as a person I have been involved in different types of groups of people that are working together to solve a common problem or outcome. Several years ago I began a journey with Agile and started working on a Scrum team. I became a Certified Scrum Master and learned from some very intelligent and passionate people who know Agile and Scrum. I have built relationships so I can continue to learn, I believe that you must always continue to learn and never become stagnant.

Today, I wanted to share a blog series that two people that I know and learned from wrote. They have been instrumental in my Agile journey and I am grateful for the knowledge they have shared and continue to share.

Agile seems easy until people get involved.

This quote from the blog series is spot on! Agile does appear very simple, but once you start working on an Agile team with other people it gets difficult. There is confusion, tension and personalities. This must be addressed for any process and Agile has tenants that are geared towards this.

This post is about sharing the series, Agile Leaders, that Russ and Jay wrote, I encourage you to read the series to learn about Agile. I would also like to hear you experiences with Agile. I will be writing more about my thoughts on working in an Agile team and my experiences and frustrations.

I think on of the biggest benefits and struggles of Agile is the short iterations. Delivering something on a short schedule that others can provide feedback on. I say this is a benefit and struggle because first, it is better to identify misunderstandings of requirements early on. Struggles, well anytime you are trying to deliver something complex in a short time, frustration and challenges come to the forefront. Personally, I love challenges, maybe that is why I chose the field I am in.

I would like to hear from you, do you work on an Agile team? What are your thoughts on Agile? How do you apply Agile in other work that is NOT development? I am using Agile to start a non-profit that I am working on and will provide my thoughts as I progress.

Full Disclosure: I work for Russ and Jay at the same company. This post is NOT an affiliate link but just something that I believe in. I do NOT write about anything on this blog that I personally don’t agree with. 

My opinions are my own.

 

EverNote or OneNote

My subscription to Evernote Premium expired about a month ago, so I had to decide what I would do. As an Evernote Community Leader I am a big fan of Evernote and use it daily. But, with the pricing model change and the addition of device limits I had to think about how I would proceed. I have an Office 365 subscription through work so I have access to OneNote. I decided to stop before upgrading from Basic and think about how I will proceed.

I wanted to look at the features and functionality of Evernote as compared to OneNote to confirm my decision to use Evernote with the changes made in the last year. Below is a summary of my decision criteria that I consider and why I stayed with Evernote.

Searching Notes

I find the search functionality in Evernote to be very powerful and easy. I can search through all of my notebooks and find the text I am looking for. I also can search for text that is contained in images (with Plus) and documents (with Premium).

Todo Lists

I make heavy use of Todo lists in Evernote, I take notes and add todo lists for action items that I have from meetings. I also create a note to just keep tasks that I have to complete with todo lists.

Reminders

I use reminders along with todo lists, setting a reminder on a note to go back to on a specific date. This is very useful for my workflow, Flagging notes that I want to review for actions or just to review for further research. Reminders are a wonderful feature.

Sharing notes and collaboration

Collaboration is key to my workflows, I work with many different people professionally and on other projects I am involved in. Sharing a note or notebook is simple, I can send a link to the note and provide them access to contribute. Now, with iOS 10 I an send text messages to include a note. This is a cool feature, I haven’t used it yet but am excited to try it out. I click in my text message and I can have access to my notes so I can choose which note I want to share.

Access on all devices

Devices, we use so many devices and having notes available anywhere anytime is so vital to having an electronic note workflow. Evernote has been available on all devices for a long time and they update the feature set on a regular basis.

Summary

So, I kept my subscription active so I can still use the powerful feature available in Evernote. I decided at this time to go with Plus instead of Premium. I am not sure if I will stay with Plus or upgrade to Premium again. Right now I needed to have my notes all on devices and not limited to 2 devices and also use the search in images functionality often. This alone provide the value for the price of Plus.

I am curious which plan you subscribe to and why? I would love to hear about your workflows and how you get value from Evernote. Please comment below and let’s see how we can enhance our Evernote experience.

Publish to WordPress with Ulysses and Markdown

Today I decided to also try out the Ulysses app on my iPad, it is a bit expensive for an app but has some great reviews and I received some good recommendations on it.

Publish to WordPress out of box

Ulysses has publishing to WordPress out of the box, this is one of the reasons that I decided to try it out. Nothing to add to the app, I just setup the connection information for my hosted WordPress site and it is ready to go. My site is configured to accept and interpret Markdown so I will publish Markdown.

Library of sheets with iCloud

Ulysses uses iCloud as one of the cloud services for storing sheets that are written. They are also grouped together for organization. I liked this concept, I don’t have to keep the sheets locally and back them up I can just use iCloud to store everything I write. I also created a group for this site that I will store everything together. I added a goal to this group of 300 words for each sheet.

Add images to posts

Ulysses also provides built in ability to add images to posts using Markdown. I don’t have to upload separately and then get the URL to add the Markdown to my post.

This is the first post with Ulysses to my site. I wanted to write some using Ulysses and publish it to see how the experience is. I will be writing about the experience this weekend to provide a retrospective of the experience.

Markdown, Editorial And WordPress

I have been thinking about using Markdown for my writing for a while and decided to look at some of the available apps for my iPad. I found several that had very good reviews and functionality.
* Editorial
* Ulysses
* Drafts

The idea behind Markdown is to making writing so you can concentrate on text in a readable text format. Files are just text files that can be transformed into many different forms and the language is easy to learn. The reason I wanted to move to Markdown is simple, I wanted a clean interface to write that is available in a small app that loads quickly and is plain text. Markdown provides powerful transformations to can go to HTML, PDF, DOCX and many other formats.

“Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).” John Gruber

I have some research I have decided to purchase Editorial in huge part to the inclusion of a Python editor and interpreter. I can install workflows, build workflows with a easy to user interface or just code them in Python right inside of Editorial. The first Workflow, Post Markdown to WordPress, [http://jasonkratz.com/]I installed I am using right now to publish this post to my WordPress blog.

This is my first post written with Editorial and also written in Markdown. It took me some time to find the option to turn Markdown on, but it was easy once I knew where to look. So, go to Jetpack Settings and select Writing.

Once this option is activated you can then switch to text in WordPress and write Markdown. Or you can use a Markdown editor like Editorial and the Workflow I am using to publish to your blog.
I have to say it was easy to write with Editorial and the text looks clean. Workflows making processing the text very simple. Stay tuned for more information as I used Editorial and work on some custom workflows.

Using Evernote For Blogging

I have been using Evernote for a long time. I have my notes available on all of my devices. I even take pictures of hand written notes and add them to Evernote.

Today though, I want to talk about how I use Evernote for blogging. I have tried several ways but found that using Evernote for my blogging is the most efficient for me.

The workflow that I use is not difficult, it makes use of tags and saved searches in Evernote.

As I am sure many of you do, I get all kinds of ideas about blog posts, some never see the light of day and others turn into a published post. Some I have other people involved with and need to collaborate on. I tried using WordPress (my blogging platform of choice) but found it lacking. I installed a plugin called Drafts for Friends and it was useful. It let me share via a link a draft post and get feedback, but didn’t let people edit. I have created accounts for people but some just don’t want to work within WordPress, they may not be tech people who just want to contribute using an easy system for editing, proofing or providing feedback. This lead me to start using Evernote for my blogging. I do NOT publish my notes from Evernote, this is a manual workflow that provides a way of having people contribute and collaborate on a post and also for helping me brainstorm and dive deeper into ideas I for my blogs.

I have a notebook, not a shared notebook called “Web Sites”. This notebook has notes related to my sites, all sites. I have structure in this notebook and other relevant information. Like I said this is NOT a shared notebook.

I make use of Evernote tags by using the following tags:

  • Site Name (Rainaldi.org in this case)
  • Status
    • draft
    • published
    • idea

When I have an idea for a post I create a note in the Web Sites notebook and tag it with the site name and “idea”. This is usually just that, an idea that needs more thinking. It might be a phrase, a picture or event another post that I used Evernote Clipper to send to this notebook. Something I want to respond to or reference. I can do this from any of the Evernote applications that are available, Web Clipper like I said, Phone app, Web App or Windows Client.

I have a saved search that searches within the “Web Sites” notebook for notes tagged with ideas. This will present a list of only those notes. I haveSavedSearch a shortcut saved for this search so I can look at these notes very easily. You can see how I built the saved search and that I am define the search to look inside the “Web Sites” notebook for notes tagged with “draft” and NOT having the tag “ideas”.

I create a note with the idea, add “ideas” and the site name as tags. When I am ready to start writing the post I pull up the note and start writing, I don’t worry about graphics or images. I just focus on the content that I want in the post. I will add images, graphics and links to the note, but not in any order. At the very end of the note I put a collection of these assets so I can reference and use them.

I then will add the “draft” tag to the note an my saved search will make it easy to find so I can refer and edit it as time permits. I can also send a shared link to someone for them to review and contribute to this post if needed. I use Evernote Chat to talk about the post.

ShareNote

I share just the note to the people I wish. They may or may NOT have an Evernote account. I encourage them to have an Evernote account and most do.

 

CopyAsTextOnce I have the post ready I log into my site and copy the text from the note. I paste the note into WordPress as “text” and click on the “Copy as Text” icon in the toolbar. I have found issues with formatting when I just paste the text into WordPress. I like to use WordPress for my formatting as that is the destination and I can make use of the WordPress tools and preview to make sure the post looks as I wish.

I also like to have all of the meta data for the post listed in Evernote. WordPress tags are just listed as a comma separated list, Categories are listed and the feature image is just noted. I have the title in the note so I can refine that as well.

Once I published the post on my blog, I add the tag “published” and remove the tag draft. This will clear up the saved search, I can also just add the filter to the saved search to remove notes with the “published” tag.

Sample

Currently, I am looking at a few templates from fellow Evernote Community Leaders that I like and will be incorporating those templates into my workflow. I follow up with a post once I have that in place.

Proud to be an Evernote Community Leader

evernote_logo_4c-smI started using Evernote back in 2011 and have found it to be so valuable to my everyday life. I use Evernote to log notes about my professional and personal life.

I keep my notes in Evernote organized with tags and notebooks. I have found it so easy to find information that I created. The ability to have my notes with me on my phone and computer made information easily available at anytime.

I will never forgot when we first went to Disney World and had an issue on our first day. I was able to pull up the notes that I recorded and all information so fast with my phone. I just grabbed my phone, opened Evernote and searched for Disney.

The situation was very easily resolved and we enjoyed a wonderful magical vacation at Disney.

Since then I have been using Evernote even more. The Evernote Web Clipper opened even more possibilities for me. I created a notebook called Articles To Read and clip articles to this notebook to read later. I can highlight sections in the article to make the information even more valuable to me.

When I talk to people about Evernote I also show how I can snap a picture and search for the text in the picture so easily and fast. I am always so excited when I do this. I know, I am a geek! 🙂

I have seen Evernote Ambassadors, tweeted with them and read their blogs and books. I wanted to become one! I believe in Evernote so much that I just want to share how I use it and help others use Evernote and learn from how they use Evernote.

A few years ago I was asked to give a few presentations at a professional development day for a local school district. I proposed one talk on Evernote and one on Agile. Both talks went excellent. I showed how I used Evernote and talked with the administrators and teachers about how they could use it for themselves. We created accounts and installed Evernote on their devices. It was a great success and another proud moment in my Evernote history.

Recently I found out about the Evernote Community Leader program. I applied for the Evernote Community Leader program. I then took a very detailed course about using Evernote, organizing and the different levels of the Evernote Service. I had great discussions with other people in the program.

When I received an email that I was accepted to be an Evernote Community Leader I was so excited! Now, I as an Evernote Community Leader I have some goals that I would like to achieve and would love to talk to anyone about using Evernote.

  • Write blog posts about using Evernote
  • Facilitate workshops on using Evernote
  • Offer advice and consulting on Evernote
  • Create an Evernote Community Leader discussion group on use Educational Technology

ebcc=cl_lrainaldijrSign up for an Evernote account if you do not already have one. The link below will take you to a sign-up page, you can scroll to the bottom to create a Basic (free) account or enhance your experience with a paid account. I subscribe to the Premium level.

Everything you write, everywhere you go
Evernote is designed for modern writing. From project plans to meeting notes, the latest versions of everything you write are automatically available across your devices.

Staying With Apple Watch over Fitbit

I have been a Fitbit user for many years. I started with the Ultra, then moved to the One and progressed to the Surge. Fitbit has built a wonderful platform and really has mastered the social aspect of fitness. Fitbit’s use of gamification is something that other companies should look at as a model.

25247104095_c34e98de5b_zAbout two months ago my wife and I decided to purchase Apple Watches. We considered waiting for Fitbit’s Blaze, but both wanted to try the Apple Watch.

I was missing the social aspects of Fibit, the challenges that are available and other gamification available. So last week I purchased a Fitbit Blaze and was going to sell my Apple Watch. My wife said she was staying with the Apple Watch.

After a few days with the Blaze I decided to stay with Apple Watch. I have noticed some very large variances in the accuracy of the Fitbit tracker. On a treadmill I am noticing 1/2 mile difference on a 2 mile walk. I noticed this on multiple times. I have found others that experience the discrepancies also. When I walk on a treadmill I move my hands just like walking outside. I do NOT hold on the treadmill handles. I have compared this with both the Apple Watch and Microsoft Band 2. Both do not have the same inaccuracies. This is a huge failing point on Fitbit, if you put the device in your pocket as is sometimes recommended it works out. But the devices have heart beat monitors so putting them in your pocket defeats the purpose of the heart beat monitor.

Another big difference I noticed between the Fitbit (both Surge and Blaze) and Apple Watch is comfort. I feel that the Apple Watch is much more comfortable on my wrist and doesn’t get in the way. The Fitbit devices have a clasp that seems to rub and the material is not as comfortable.

26397965465_f6320c5b89_bSomething that I noticed about the Activity app on Apple Watch is how the goals are displayed. Three rings are provided: 1)Move, 2)Exercise, 3)Stand. Apple Watch does not set goals on steps, it does count your steps but concentrates on calories burned from fitness. This is actually harder to achieve than just your step counts. Also, the Exercise ring has a goal of 30 minutes daily. The 30 exercise minutes are tracked and the device learns how your exercise and pushes you to do more but giving you minutes for more difficult minutes. As an example, I do 40 minutes on the treadmill, this does NOT count as a full 40 minutes of exercise all the time. I have to have my heart rate at a certain point and it also learns my activity so it doesn’t count exercise minutes that I can do more easily. This sounds strange at first and frustrated me when I didn’t reach my goal, but it makes reaching this goal more challenging.

These are the two reasons that I am giving up on Fitbit and staying with Apple Watch. I would love to see Apple or a third party, even Fitbit add challenges and gamification to the Apple Watch. Even a paid app from Fitbit would be wonderful.

As I thought about which device to keep, I considered the above issues that I encountered as well as other features offered on each device. The app store on Apple Watch is full of many useful apps. I use Day One for journaling on a daily basis, this is only available on the Apple Watch. LoseIt has an Apple Watch app that lets me look at my calorie intake and nutrient summary from my wrist. With the price decrease on the Apple Watch it makes the it more affordable and with the additional features and accuracy of the activity tracker it increases the value.

I am curious if which device you prefer and why?

 

Journaling with Day One My Way

I have been keeping a journal for a long time. I find it very therapeutic to write my thoughts down and reflect on them. I started with pen and paper, writing entries in notebooks. The last few years I started to use Day One on my iPhone. I wanted to have a way of having my journal with me so I could record my thoughts whenever and wherever I was. I tried a few other applications on my phone, I really wanted something that I could use on my computer and iPhone. Day One currently works on Apple products but the intuitive user interface and stability of the application is well worth it. I have used it on my iPhone and also used it on an iPad and found it to be a clean interface. I am able to just write what I am thinking and move on to what I am doing. I record simple thoughts throughout the day. I have tried other apps several times but keep coming back to Day One because I find this system to be so well put together and it lets me focus on my thoughts.

I use a Windows laptop which was a limitation with Day One until very recently. I have tried using the third party apps but didn’t really like working with a Windows app. I wanted something that was web based and can be used anywhere but have a full keyboard. Most of my entries are created using an iPhone but at times I like to write more detail and prefer to type on a full computer. If you are a Mac user, Day One has a Mac app which I have used on my kid’s Mac Book Air. This works wonderful, but I use Windows most of the time (for now).

This month Day One released an update that includes a channel on IFTT which makes it possible to use other platforms to record your entries. I was very excited about this release and quickly looked into how I could use this to better record my thoughts.

If you’re not familiar with IFTTT (If This Then That), it’s a free web-based service that allows users to create chains of simple conditional statements, called “recipes”, which are triggered based on changes to other web services. IFTTT is a great way to automatically add content from many web services including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. You can even set up an SMS trigger to create a journal entry via text message!

Read more at http://dayoneapp.com/2016/03/day-one-ifttt/

IFTTT_DayOneEvernote

I am an avid Evernote user, but keep my journal separate from my notes. With the addition of IFTTT I create a “recipe” that will take a note that I tag with #DayOne and save it to my journal in Day One. This is huge for me, I can very easily type on any computer with a web browser using Evernote and tag it with #DayOne and it is saved to DayOne. I love this feature and was excited to have it available. (I know, I am a geek).

25895524062_467bbe0f75_oI also have an Apple Watch and have the Day One app installed on it as well. When I first heard that Day One released an Apple Watch app I was not thrilled but after using it I have to say it is amazing. A large amount of my entries come through my Apple Watch now. I simple dictate into the watch and the entry is saved. I also have shortcuts that I used on the Apple Watch. I have a shortcut that I used to record when I take my medicine so I don’t forget if I have taken it already. I will use it to “check in” at a place, so I can very easily without saying anything check in to the location using GPS and an entry is recorded and I can go back later to fill in details.

As you can see in the above image I have reminders set to prompt me for creating journal entries. I like to have this prompt to think of what I am grateful for each day and the reminder is set to add the tag “grateful” to the entry.

25387520583_921d29dc23_oI have a separate journal for different types of entries. I have one for just personal thoughts, one for work and now have one for ideas on blogging about. They are easily separated and can be “tagged” with more information if I wish.

Picture logging is another feature I use often, I don’t always want to share the pics, sometimes I just want to record them for myself or my family to later see. I will take a few pictures and add them to a journal entry, add some text if I wish or come back and add the text later.

If you have questions about how I use it or suggestions on other uses I would love to hear them. Reach out to me at @LJRAIN or here in the comments.

 

Apple Watch My Thoughts

My wife suggested that we pickup Apple Watches for ourselves. Originally we planned on waiting for the new Blaze by FitBit to be released. But, being the tech geek that I am, we thought let’s give it a try and if we don’t like it we can return it. It has been nearly a month now and I have to say I really like the Apple Watch a lot.

It is a very comfortable watch and doesn’t get in the way. The big Fitbit Surge and Microsoft Band 2 got in my way when I was typing. Apple Watch is much more comfortable and has a great band that adjusts to fit perfect. There are many selections of  bands that you can choose from to fit your style as well.

The battery is one of the issues that I have heard about and was worried if it would last a full day for me. I have no problem charging it every night, I did that with the other devices that I wore already. I have had no problem with the battery lasting a full day with heavy usage. I use the texting (dictation feature a lot).

I have been downloading apps and trying them out to see what I felt was useful on the Apple Watch. I have said that there is not much use for apps on my wrist but I am incorrect and now find it very useful.

25301311464_e77df0f5f7_oOne app I use constantly is Day One, Day One is a private journal application that I use on my iPhone already, I have been using it for about one year now and really love the app. I was original not happy that Day One put an Apple Watch app out thinking it would NOT be useful. But, this is an app I use constantly throughout the day to record pieces of my life. Small bits of information about my day that I can reflect on and remind me of later. I will write a more thorough post about Day One in the future. But, I recommend using it and I am VERY anxious for them to release a web app so it will work on more than just Apple platforms.

 

I have used the maps app a few times and find it very useful, I can lift my wrist and say “Hey Siri, how do I get to …” and it opens the map and prepares for navigation instructions. It doesn’t work very well with my car which is paired with my iPhone. If I have the opportunity I will switch to Waze on my phone which works wonderfully when paired with my car through Bluetooth.

25301311494_9b3ac47806_oI also use the workout app on the Apple Watch, I mainly walk. I try to walk a lot to move myself to a more healthy life style. I am a programmer by trade and sit a lot at a desk. When I walk I launch the app and select an open walk to record my walk. It records the walk (not GPs of my walk). I can earn badges as I work on my health goals. Currently there are only three goals available, 1) Calorie Burn; 2) Stand Up; 3) Activity. I would like to see this to be improved much more. My personal preference would be a tight integration with Fitbit which has a wonderful community and social challenges with other users.

I found that reminders works wonderful also, I once again lift my wrist and say “Hey Siri, remind me to ….” and it creates a reminder for me and then alerts me about that reminder. This is a nice functional for a smart watch.

Apple Watch allows you to send your heart beat to someone else with an Apple Watch. I do this on occasion with my wife. It’s a fun little feature but I have noticed that it doesn’t work as well. Many times we don’t receive the messages that are sent using the heart beat or the drawing function.

25908116646_546eeb96dd_oThe only other app I use on the Apple Watch often is LoseIt, I am a premium member and log all of my food intake. Trying to be mindful of what I eat and it has been helping with me loose weight. I am currently down 25 pounds!! The LoseIt Apple Watch app just shows you what calories you have available for the day. Easy way to check on how I have been doing.

I am glad we purchased Apple Watches and did NOT return them. We feel there is a lot more value in this device than in just a fitness tracker but having the apps that are available and I am sure there will be more coming. Not all apps will really be useful to have on your wrist though and it will be interesting to see what other innovative ideas people come up with. I am very hopeful that Apple will work more on their Workout app and introduce social challenges and add step goals to the device.

 

My Thoughts on Microsoft Band 2 (based on feedback)

I received some feedback on my last post, My Experience with Microsoft Band and wanted to address it here. First, thank you so much for the feedback and for taking the time to read my post. So, the feedback was that I wrote more about my Fitbit than I did about MS Band. So, this post is dedicated to the Microsoft Band 2.

I have worn the Microsoft Band 2 for nearly two months. The first thing about the Band is that it is a very nice looking device. Microsoft really made this device “pretty” and also comfortable. I liked the fact that it is narrow and has rounded edges. The screen is very clear and crisp as well as the navigation of the menu “tiles”.

One of the big things to keep in mind about Band 2 is that Microsoft designed it from the ground up as an activity tracker. It was not designed to be a smart watch, but fits that description very well.

I really like the device a lot, I would swipe to run and start my daily walks. I prefer to use the GPS to track my walks just to see where I have walked and show my wife. 🙂 Walking is the main exercise I do, I am a couch potato trying to get healthy. Tracking your steps with this device is very accurate and I also feel the heart rate was a good form of measurement. I would NOT use this or any activity tracker to monitor my health for safety. Use it for a metric to help you on your journey. Medical issues should be handled by medical professions.

I didn’t get a lot of use out of the UV tracker since it is winter.  One of the cool features of the Band 2 is guided workouts, it allows you to build a workout and download one and have it on your wrist. Think of it as a HIIT timer on your wrist that writes out your next activity. You choose from many workouts that are pre-built on the Microsoft Health app or site and then sync it to the Band. You can also assemble your own works and sync to the Band. Once you the workout is loaded you can then swipe to the Guided Workout Tile and start the workout. The Band will guide you through the workout. This is just a wonderful innovation and very useful. Like I said I am starting out and use small workouts which there are plenty of. There is also a Couch to 5K guided workout. These are FREE!

Initially I loaded a lot of tiles and found that the battery couldn’t handle it. I removed tiles that I really didn’t need like Facebook and Twitter. I do like the notification tile which allows you to receive any notification from your iPhone on your Band. Texting, phone calls and appointments are think are a wonderful addition and just make sense on the Band. You will feel a vibrate and glance to see who it is or what appointment and where the appointment is.

healthdashboardPersonally, I charge the device every night. I tried the sleep tracking and didn’t find it useful for myself. I also found that the Band and my wrist needed the time to charge and rest.

Final notes on the Microsoft Band 2. I feel the Band 2 (or the Microsoft Health app/site) are missing the social components of the health tracking. Gamification is a great tool if handled right and I don’t think Microsoft is there… yet… I won’t be surprised if they get there very soon though. #DoGreatThings They are handled the social components on social media just need to close some loose ends.