Kerika at the PMI Olympia Chapter

Arun Kumar, CEO of Kerika, and Beth Albertson, Solution Architect at Washington State’s Dept of Social and Health Services, gave a joint presentation at the Project Management Institute (PMI)’s Olympia chapter yesterday.

Beth talked about her experience in moving away from Microsoft Project to online task boards, and Arun talked about the general use of online task boards for distributed teams, Lean teams, and Agile teams, with a special focus on the public sector.

It was a great evening, with dinner served and some great Q&A afterwards!

Too bad we forgot to take pictures :-(

Using Kerika to help fight Ebola

James Gien Varney-Wong is putting together global brainstorming team to work on creative solutions for fighting Ebola, and Kerika is helping the team share their ideas and content.

You can learn more about this effort at OpenIDEO, where James has embedded a small part of a massive Kerika Whiteboard that people from many countries are using to share their ideas:

Ideas for fighting Ebola
Ideas for fighting Ebola

It’s an exciting, large-scale use of Kerika Whiteboards, reminiscent of the work done by Charles Fraser for the Foundation for Common Good; you can see that Whiteboard page — as a regular Web page! — by clicking here.

Foundation for Common Good
Foundation for Common Good (Click to see the Whiteboard)


Off-topic: Should you go to college at 16?

Note: this post is off-topic; it has nothing to do with Kerika, Lean, Agile or even software…

After a couple of years of lurking on Quora, I finally decided to contribute; here’s my (slightly edited) answer to the question What are the benefits of going to college at 16?

In my experience, the benefits of going to college at 16 are outweighed by the disadvantages. I finished high school in India at 16 and had to make the critical decision of what to study next, and where.

Pretty much by accident I ended up studying Physics at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi: Physics had been my favorite subject at school, and I assumed that at college I should simply study more of whatever had been my favorite subject at school, because that’s what it meant to pick a major.

(Although the IITs were already well known, I was actually completely ignorant of their existence, which says something about the unusually cloistered nature of my high school education. I happened to meet the head of the Physics Dept at IIT Delhi who encouraged me to take the entrance exam. I crammed for 3 months for the exam, got admitted, and never even applied elsewhere. Big Mistake #1.)

Looking back, almost every aspect of this decision was ill-considered:

  • College is actually a different chapter in your life, not a more focused continuation of  school. I discovered that just because Physics was my favorite subject at school, I had no real desire to make it my career, nor the talent to be in the first rank of scientists.
  • You cannot pick a school by reputation alone; you need to have a savvy understanding of your own needs and see what the overall college experience can bring you that you need most for your personal development.  After I got admitted to IIT Delhi, I was persuaded by friends that I had already won the lottery of life, and so I never even considered other colleges.
  • At 16, I had just finished eleven (!) years of boarding school life and it turned out that I really didn’t know how to work well with people from more mainstream backgrounds. By going from an “elite” boarding school to an “elite” college, I did myself no favors.

And so after 3 years at IIT Delhi I learned that

  • I really needed to explore a wider range of subjects than the very narrowly focused curriculum at the IITs would support. (It was as essential to read Bertrand Russell as to learn thermodynamics.)
  • I had no real experience or skill in dealing with “ordinary” folks from ordinary, middle-class backgrounds, and was lacking some critical skills in that respect.
  • I really liked computers far more than Physics or any other subject. (An introductory class on FORTRAN IV did the trick.)

I ended up quitting IIT Delhi to study at Washington State University and considered it one of the smartest moves I ever made, but it was a move I made at 19 when I was finally old enough to understand myself.

(And quitting IIT Delhi turned out to be a bizarre experience in itself: they had no expectation that anyone would ever want to leave, since getting in was so hard in the first place, and hence no idea how to deal with my request to exit. I think they finally struck me off the rolls for cutting classes, a couple of years I had already moved to the U.S. By then I had given up trying to explain to them that I really did want to leave.)

If you are 16 and done with school, don’t go to college. Do a bunch of different activities, read, paint, travel, meet people, explore ideas,  and, most importantly, take the time you need to understand yourself better before you go off to college a year.

Emails and notifications in Kerika

Kerika always sends emails to users in two scenarios:

  • Someone assigns a card to you. The system waits 2 minutes, to ensure that the person who made the change doesn’t change her mind, and then sends you an email that an item has been assigned to you.

    We figured that if someone expects you to do a piece of work, it would be good to know that sooner rather than later.

  • Someone chats on a card assigned to you. Any Team Member can write a message on any card, regardless of whether they are assigned that card or not.

    If someone chats on a card that you own right now, an email gets pushed to you (again, after a 2-minute wait.) We figured that if someone has something to say about a work item that you are responsible for, you would want to know that sooner or later.

Kerika optionally sends emails to users in a bunch of other scenarios, all of which are determined by your user preferences (which you can set at

  • If someone chats on the board itself (as distinct from chatting on an individual card), you can get this sent to you as email.
  • If there are cards assigned to you that have due dates, at 6AM you can get an email that lists everything that is overdue, due today, or due tomorrow.

    If you are a Project Leader on any board, this email includes all cards on those boards that are overdue, due today, or due tomorrow, regardless of whether they are assigned to you or not. (We figured that as a Project Leader you would care about overdue items even if you weren’t personally responsible for them.)

  • If new cards are added to a board where you are a Project Leader, you can get notification emails if you want to keep track of all new work items.
  • If cards are moved to Done on a board where you are a Project Leader, you can get notification emails if you want to keep track of completed work.
  • If a card is reassigned from one person to another on a board where you a Project Leader, you can get notification emails if you want to keep track of how work is being handed off from one person to another.

So that’s emailed notifications in Kerika: just two types of emails are always sent, and they relate only to cards that you are personally responsible for; all the other emails are optional and can be turned on/off as you like.

What happens if people make changes to cards while you weren’t looking? (If you were looking at the board, you would see the changes in real-time, but even then, with a very crowded board, you might not notice that a card has changed in some way.)

Kerika uses the orange color as a way to alert you of changes. You can learn more about this on our website, but the basic concept is simple: Kerika highlights, in orange, any card that has changed in any way since you last looked at it, and by “look at it” we mean that you opened up the card and looked at the specific details that changed.

For example, if someone adds new files to a card, the attachments icon (the small paper-clip) appears in orange. After you open the card and look at the list of attachments, the orange highlight disappears.

These orange highlights are very smart about making sure you know exactly what changed on a board; they even let you find changes that are outside your immediate visibility: e.g. changes on cards that are way down below the scrolled view of the board, or changes in columns that you have chosen to hide.

This is what keeps us going…

Life in a startup isn’t easy: long hours, little pay, tons of risk, way too many challenges…

But every once in a while, our day brightens, like when we got this email from a user in Germany a few minutes ago:

Hello Team,

I almost can’t believe how fast you work… Great and Fast… My congratulations and a deep bow…

best wishes and regards

Karl-Heinz Kristen

Karl-Heinz, a Photographer and Artist, expressed his thanks with a great painting as well:

Deep Bow from a Kerika User
Deep Bow from a Kerika User

Google authentication is burping, again.

If you use Kerika+Google — the version of Kerika that integrates with Google — you may be experiencing some login problems this morning. In fact, you may have experienced some problems over the past few days.

We are continuing to investigate this, and so far the problems seem to be on Google’s end, and they also seem to be mostly affecting people who have premium Google Apps, e.g. Google Apps for Business or Google Apps for Nonprofits.

Update: it’s not just premium Google Apps; it’s affecting all sorts of users.

Google authentication is burping
Google authentication is burping

Fortunately, we have not seen any problems with Kerika+Box: Box’s authentication service has been running fine so far.

Some users have written in asking if they can switch to Kerika+Box and still preserve their old data. This is possible, but requires some manual work on the user’s part, and if the problem persists we will put up a blog post explaining how users can do this.

In the meantime, please bear with us, while we bear with Google…

A great response at the Lean Transformation Conference

Our presentation on Distributed Lean & Agile Teams in the Public Sector at the Lean Transformation Conference last week was very well received: the presentation was given on both days of the conference, and attendees were polled by the conference organizers on whether they liked the talks, or not.

  • Session 1 (Tuesday): 100% of the attendees who provided feedback gave Arun‘s talk a thumbs-up.
  • Session 2 (Wednesday): 96% of attendees who provided feedback gave Arun’s talk a thumbs-up!
Arun at Lean Transformation Conference 2014
Arun at Lean Transformation Conference 2014

The Results Washington folks have produced a short video featuring attendees at the conference — we recognize a user or two :-)

Writing Status Reports: an interesting use-case for Export

Ben Vaught from the Washington State Office of the CIO has come up an interesting use-case for Kerika’s new export feature that we hadn’t considered: use it to write your weekly status reports!

Kerika lets you export cards from a Task Board or Scrum Board in CSV or HTML format: the CSV format is useful for putting data from Kerika into another software tool, like Excel, but the HTML format is designed for human consumption.

Here’s an example of a card that’s been exported as HTML:

Example of HTML export
Example of HTML export

By using the Workflow button (on the top-right menu bar), you can adjust your display to show just the Done column on a board, and then further use the Tags button to limit the number of cards that are shown in this column.

For example, you could display just the Done column, and filter the cards to show just the ones that were assigned to you.

Do an HTML export of this, and you will be able to easily cut-and-paste the output into a Word document or email, and submit your status report!

When Worlds Collide: Distributed Lean and Agile Teams in the Public Sector

We were thrilled to be part of the Lean Transformation Conference organized by Results Washington week at the Tacoma Convention Center. Over 2,700 people attended — a sellout crowd!

Attendees at Lean Transformation
Attendees at Lean Transformation

Arun Kumar, founder & CEO of Kerika, gave a presentation on both days on Distributed Lean and Agile Teams in the Public Sector, drawing upon lessons learned, case studies and best practices from multiple state agencies and private sector firms.

Here’s the presentation: