Welcome to Make School, the first college to launch an accredited bachelor’s program where students only pay tuition if they get a job. Make School is “college designed for the 21st century,” giving students a computer science education through hands-on projects and product development. And now they can earn their bachelor’s degrees as well—a landmark development for higher education, pioneered by the Make School team and their partner the Dominican University of California.
Alena Dagneau is Head of Engineering at Make School, and her team was responsible for creating technology to support the new student experience and curriculum. They needed to build most of the features from scratch, in close collaboration with different departments across Make School and Dominican University.
To project-manage the entire accreditation transition, they switched from JIRA to Asana, which enabled them to track engineering sprints and involve important stakeholders from across the organization.
Launching an accredited bachelor’s program through an incubation partnership has a long list of guidelines and requirements, and Alena’s engineering team needed to keep track of countless details. There were important discussions about edge cases and untold numbers of tickets assigned back and forth between developers, designers, and project managers.
There was also the challenge of distance, as Alena’s team is distributed across the US, Brazil, and Canada, and it was crucial that nothing slipped through the cracks.
To add to the complexity, they also needed the participation of cross-functional stakeholders on Make School’s growth, marketing, and legal teams, as well as a huge reach across the faculty, marketing, and admissions teams of their partner university to prepare for a co-launch.
“It had the potential to be overwhelming,” Alena says, “because there were so many moving pieces and people who needed to answer questions. One of my team’s biggest challenges was to keep track of all the details.”
Make School’s engineering team originally used JIRA, which Alena had also used in her previous roles. But she was under pressure to make a switch. “JIRA is cumbersome, and my engineers were begging me to come up with a different solution,” Alena recalls.
Make School’s Growth and Operations teams were already successfully using Asana, so Alena’s manager recommended it. Alena was skeptical because she hadn’t thought of it as a tool for engineers. But she did some research and decided to give Asana a shot for just one sprint.
“There’s an integration between JIRA and Asana, so it was fairly straightforward,” she says. “A few weeks turned into a few months, and it was a huge relief, a weight off our shoulders.”
The engineering team officially adopted Asana to run sprints and manage the entire accreditation project. It caught all the to-do’s, requirements, and discussions, and gave the team a new ability to integrate their engineering work with teams across the company.
Alena used a project in Asana’s Boards layout to hold tickets for the accreditation process, and added team members who needed to participate or keep tabs. Then, for each new two-week sprint, she created a new project and gave it a name (like “Sprint 29,” for example) and a date range.
Then she added tickets from the backlog to the sprint. Each ticket represented a feature that needed to be built, and it showed up on the Asana project as a task. Each task had subtasks that represented steps like design and implementation.
The team got to work. The whole task was assigned to a product manager who tackled the first subtask: create wireframes and specs. When they finished, they checked it off and assigned it to the next person down the line: the designer. Once design was ready for review, the designer passed the task to a PM or stakeholder. Eventually the task reached Alena for engineering review, and she assigned it to a developer for the next phase. And so on.
Alena’s team tracked Story Points and Actual Story Points in custom fields. They also added followers to the sprint project, like PMs and stakeholders who’d requested the feature, so they could be notified when engineering work began or ended.
“Now that we’re using Asana we can easily loop in different teams,” says Alena. “We appreciate the ease, as well as the unicorns and dragons that fly around when we tick off tasks.”
Asana makes it easy for Alena’s team to manage individual to-do’s, divide and conquer backlogs, and ask questions.
My Tasks and better backlogs: Engineers can use My Tasks to see only what’s assigned to them. “My engineers love it,” says Alena. “Before, the focus was on team tasks on a sprint board. Now they have a view where they can just see their to-do’s.” Similarly, Asana supports separate backlogs for different teams, as opposed to having a single sprint board for the whole project. This removes the need for teams to sift through tasks that don’t belong to them and makes it easier to reorder requests, prioritize them, and make sure there are no gaps.
Inbox: Each individual’s Asana inbox shows notifications of new events, discussions, and task assignments. Alena says, “I turned off notifications to my email because I trust that Asana’s inbox has everything I need to know. That way, I’m never overloaded with what’s happening.”
Conversations: Asynchronous communication features help the remote engineering team discuss requirements and ideas, even if they haven’t made it onto a ticket quite yet.
“Asana is beautiful and so nice to work with,” says Alena. “You can move back and forth between tasks and rearrange using drag and drop. The interface is smooth and everything loads quickly, so it has a light feel to it.”
42 sprints and thousands of tickets later, Make School’s engineering team successfully launched the technology for the new, accredited program. Having a tool to capture all the tasks, details, and conversations of a gargantuan, multi-disciplinary project helped them steadily chip away at it and meet every last requirement.
And what about Alena’s original hesitation? “I’m now the biggest proponent of Asana in the company,” she says. “I’ve adopted it for everything—PPIs, retrospectives, one-on-ones, and backlogs—and see it all in one place. I love it.”
“My engineers were begging me to come up with a different solution. I thought, why not try Asana for one sprint? A few weeks turned into a few months, and it was a huge relief, a weight off our shoulders.”- Alena Dagneau, Head of Engineering, Make School
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