Guest blog - Peter Hinds, Head of Operations at Synergy Learning

Guest blog - Peter Hinds, Head of Operations at Synergy Learning

This is a guest blog by Peter Hinds, Head of Operations at Synergy Learning, who was a guest speaker at our Atlassian in Scotland 2019 event in March.

I was delighted to speak at the New Verve Consulting event in March. Synergy Learning have been using the Atlassian stack for many years and we felt we had an interesting story to tell.

Synergy Learning are a full service provider of Learning Technology. We’ve been a Moodle Partner since 2005 and a Totara Platinum partner since 2011. We offer services similar to an Atlassian partner for these applications.

Moodle logo

  • Hosting
  • Support
  • Training & Consultancy
  • UX Design
  • Bespoke Development
  • eLearning Content

For some, the talk hopefully struck a chord from their own adoption and was a nice trip down memory lane! For those who are just venturing into the ecosystem it hopefully gave them hope and reassurance that it’s a journey that’s worth embarking upon.

To recap our journey; we started using BitBucket in 2011 replacing an in-house maintained “git” server. I wish we’d a better reason for why we chose BitBucket over competitors but it came down to a simple calculation that the per-user licensing model was substantially more advantageous for us. From that point BitBucket has become a central tool in our workflow specifically for our development teams “peer review” process & for managing “pull requests” in our theme products.

Not long after introducing BitBucket we also introduced Jira but for our development team only. We had a number of supporting applications for time tracking, project planning, communication & support services but these all sat as islands of each other with little to no integration.

Surprisingly, this loose group of applications worked rather well for us. Although in hindsight we’re not quite sure how! The company was enjoying substantial growth but as we started to scale and take on larger & more challenging pieces of work the chaotic nature of application sprawl took its toll. We agreed it was time to standardise.

We reviewed several competitors to Jira as we knew this was going to be a long term strategic partner for us. Our Dev Team were strong supporters of Jira and we’d built up a lot of useful information within the system. We were also wary of the learning curve that would be associated with a new system; but this was a minor point in comparison. We chose Jira for its strengths rather than sticking with it out of fear.

The big difference with this implementation of Jira was that we decided to stay within the Atlassian ecosystem i.e. If we needed additional functionality rather than looking to additional applications we would rely upon the apps that exist within the Atlassian Marketplace.

The biggest move during this transition was for our support system. We were quite happy with the current system but in-line with the agreed policy we would standardise within Jira using Service Desk. We were a little uneasy about this as our perception of service desk was that it was more focused on Internal IT type of support rather than external customer facing. Thankfully our preconceptions turned out to be incorrect and ServiceDesk slotted into daily use seamlessly. In fact within a short space of time we were reaping the rewards of the simplicity and power of the ServiceDesk SLA’s. Our Support Team quickly acknowledge how helpful ServiceDesk was for enabling them to be even more productive in their jobs.

One of the biggest mistakes we made with our implementation was that we went overboard on mapping business process into Jira workflows. The number of statuses and number of issue types was excessive. If you’re starting to implement Jira for yourself please don’t make the same mistake. I’d advise that you reach out to an Atlassian partner like New Verve Consulting to discuss your implementation. There are simple tips like this that a seasoned partner can help with that will save you time & money in the long run.

One of the best parts of the “Atlassian in Scotland” event was meeting with the event sponsors as we are a customer of all three. We use Tempo Timesheets for time tracking, Big Picture Enterprise for Project Planning and EazyBI for our reporting purposes.

For EazyBI we’d recently just completed a development project with New Verve Consulting so it was rewarding to be able to showcase the fruits of that project. The EazyBI reports have helped drive operational excellence within Synergy Learning.

It was useful to be able to highlight some of the smaller plugins too.

  • SLA Alerts for Jira Service Desk - A banner notification to help you not miss an issue that’s close to breaching SLA
  • Time to SLA - Similar to SLA’s within Jira Service Desk. We use this collaborate better with our Sales Team. We set SLA’s in a “Pre-Sales” project against “Estimation” issues. The SLA ensures that the Operations Team provide the required information within an agreed window.
  • Double Check - A simple pop-up “Are you sure you want to send this message”. Great for the times you almost reply to a customer with a comment that was meant for a colleague!

The final piece of our implementation was Confluence. This is where we collaborate together as a company. We purchased the “refined” theme and customised it in-house to our requirements. We run two “sites” from Confluence namely our internal “Intranet” and a site for our “Customers” where we store useful documentation relating to their configurations, meeting notes, technical documents and so forth.

The closing section of my presentation gave me the opportunity to speak in broad strokes about future plans we have. I always find this an interesting conversation topic to continue during the breaks and thankfully this was the same here.

  • What’s the future of Jira Server? Will Data Center Edition “take over” for hosted versions with more customers moving towards Cloud versions?
  • Will Confluence gain an offline mode similar to Google Docs? Feedback from our team is that they have to revert back to Google Docs, Microsoft Word or Pages when travelling then copy & paste information into Confluence afterwards.
  • Jira 8 - Batched Notifications & Performance Improvements are right at the top of our list. We’re very much looking forward to this.
  • Greater Slack integration in Jira Server version i.e. full conversation threads accessible in Jira. This functionality exists on Jira Cloud but not yet (?) on Jira Server.
  • Tempo Budgets looks to be the natural next step to build on top of our work in Tempo Timesheets & Tempo Accounts.

After the official ‘Atlassian in Scotland’ event ended there was the opportunity to attend an Atlassian User Group. The user group is usually based in Edinburgh but had made the journey to Glasgow for the evening. This was an informal gathering of Atlassian users with additional presentations from Tempo, EazyBI and Software Plant. Tempo presented a product demo, EazyBI spoke about some do’s and don’t when creating reports and Software Plant gave a sneak peek into the “Box Revolution” that’s coming in BigPicture 7.5. There’s sadly no AUG in Belfast so being able to attend this as part of the event was a bonus for me not to mention free Pizza, beer and swag from the sponsors!

Having the opportunity to speak with people working in similar and non-similar fields but all using the same software to achieve their goals made for a fantastic event. The lasting impression from the event was that of shared experiences and challenges.

Huge thanks for New Verve Consulting, Atlassian, Tempo, EazyBI & Software Plant for making the event possible. We are looking forward to next year already!


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