In 2017, as founders of a newly formed company, we made the strategic decision to move to Birmingham, AL. There are quite a few reasons why Sigao moved to Birmingham, but one primary reason stood out above the rest. A seed planted in the wrong soil isn’t going to grow, no matter how well you take care of it. For Sigao to grow, we needed a place where the community’s culture fit with the culture we wanted to build. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the reasons behind the move, how the city has positively affected the company, and what the future holds for Sigao in Birmingham.
We moved for the startup scene
When Sigao made the move to Birmingham we weren’t much of a company. Just four people in basement with a few minor contracts to keep us going. In fact, on paper it probably wasn’t even the right move. When we changed locations we increased our cost of living, increased our competition, and severed many of the connections we had in our previous city. However, we knew that something was happening in the Birmingham tech scene, and we knew we wanted to be a part of it.
What we found surprised us.
We quickly discovered a small yet passionate (and perhaps a bit disjointed) tech community. One that instantly opened its arms to outsiders. From the moment we arrived, we received support and encouragement from everyone we met. People we hardly knew would go out of their way to make high value introductions. It seemed their reasoning was simple: we’re a Birmingham business. That’s just what you do.
Another thing that stood out to us was the lack of harsh competition. Sigao never experienced the cutthroat, calculating environment that so many startups deal with. Instead, we saw companies passing work opportunities to other members of the community. We met business leaders promoting partnerships and collaboration over cold business strategy. Most importantly, we met a group of people stubborn enough to look at huge problems and think “I can fix that”.
We moved for the food
We have always believed that part of being successful at work is being happy outside of work. And to us, few things contribute to happiness and wellbeing like good cuisine.
Food provides a lot of things that other forms of entertainment do not. Its an opportunity to connect to people around you. A chance to expand your tastes. Its even a starting point for learning about new cultures and customs that you otherwise would not have experienced. Eating is a universal activity that brings people together and broadens their horizons.
In Birmingham, we found a vibrant food scene that still continues to surprise us years later. Fine restaurants serving dishes that rival those in major cities. Breweries with food so good they win awards. Hole in the wall shops serving the same meals for over 100 years. The city may be small, but it plays in the big leagues. Even in a post-COVID era, with our team’s rarely ending up in one place, we still make it a tradition to order the same local meals every time we’re together.
Employee wellbeing and happiness is a top priority for Sigao, and being in an area with a rich food culture has helped fulfill that mission. It may seem like a minor thing, but good food is the focal point for many things that aid wellbeing. Its allowed us to explore the city, support local businesses, meet new people, and form bonds with each other and the community.
We moved for the people
Before making the call to move, we had only a basic understanding of Birmingham’s culture. We knew about its history (both recent and distant), and knew that people were working hard to push the city’s image into the future. But, beyond that, we really didn’t didn’t have a strong understanding of the community we were about to join.
Still, we were drawn to the city’s spirit of change and forward-thinking attitude.
Having access to a community like that is not a trivial thing. Starting a business is a difficult, lonely endeavor with a high failure rate. Often the biggest challenge is simply maintaining optimism in the face of hopelessness. It makes a huge difference to know that the people around you truly believe in the future of your city.
In a way, the city its self is a startup, which is why it fits us so well.
Its a group of people using imperfect tools to achieve a common goal in the face of long odds and deep setbacks. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a tech entrepreneur, a lawyer, a bartender, etc. People here have a shared connection and sense of purpose when discussing what the city could be. Its been inspiring and energizing to be a part of that, and we attribute a lot of our success to the people fighting to make the city better.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned on this journey, its that your environment is important. No matter how talented you are, and no matter how hard you work, you’ll always need support and collaboration from the people around you.
As Sigao enters its 7th year in business, we’re transitioning to a stage where we can be on the other side of that support. I recently witnessed someone refer to Sigao as an “established” Birmingham tech company, and I’ll admit it kind of floored me. Its difficult to think of yourself as “established” when the memories of working out of a cramped living room are still fresh on your mind.
Yet, after some reflection, I realized they were right. At some point in the last few years we stopped being the newcomers searching for a place to plant our flag, and became part of the community that drew us here.
That means we now have an obligation to those that come after us. Whatever the future holds for Sigao, one thing is clear. We’ll be here, along side the rest of the community, offering support and encouragement to anyone else who decides to join us. That’s just what you do.
“I think there’s going to be companies that shut down because of coronavirus and don’t open back up,” he said. “There’s going to be companies that make it to the end. Then there’s going to be companies that figure out how to expand and grow and are not looking at just surviving, but how can we come out ahead. Scrum training that we do prepares companies for that. So we think it’s even more important given the world we’re in … to help them be faster and better.”
COVID19 has forever changed the world. We have to move forward and learn how to exist. First, we must keep people healthy. Next, we must learn where we can pivot and always push to keep ahead of the market.
While many are moving out of office space, Sigao is moving into it. We aren’t bringing everyone back (we will make fact-based decisions that put our team first). But, we cannot stay idle either. We are making choices now that will allow us to adapt to an ever-changing market. Flexible space in a beautiful community gives us the ability to grow and change as we continue to learn more about how to thrive and fulfill our mission of improving lives.
We love #Birmingham and are investing in it. This space allows us to continue our platform of investment in our community. It will serve as an anchor that offers us an ability to deepen our human-centric approach to coaching, training, and development.+
How will this help us
As part of the move, we are creating a media studio that will allow us to build our virtual learning and content creation platforms. These platforms (such as Chris is Agile (https://sigao.pub/ChrisIsAgile) and Sigao (https://sigao.pub/YouTube)) will allow us to help our community learn the skills needed to practice the lightning-fast pivot.
Additionally, we have built a world-leading virtual training platform focused on Scrum and Agile (Check it out here). This space will allow us to evolve our partnerships with programs like InnovateBirmingham. It will enable us to serve more markets and create engaging educational experiences that empower learners to develop their careers and grow their companies.
More to come…
This is the first of three huge announcements we will be making this month. The BBJ article hints of an exciting, senior leadership hire, and a deepening of our partnership to the Licensed Scrum Community. We can’t wait to make those announcements, but, for now, we are looking forward to this move and seeing what comes next for Sigao, our community, and the world!
To our team members, including those of color. To our customers and clients, and to a community that is hurting, scared, and looking for a path forward:
I want to be unequivocal. Sigao, its founders, and I, as CEO, stand in solidarity and fully support the movement for Black lives.
Systems that marginalize human beings that are in the minority are against our core values, the core values of Scrum, and are against human decency. It is incumbent on those that have a voice to speak for those that do not. It is incumbent on those that have a platform to stand up for justice for every human and clearly state that white privilege must end, and justice and freedom must be equal for all.
For those that are marginalized, that are afraid to live your life and be yourself for fear of violence and retribution, we hear you and stand up for you. There can be no priority higher than that of freedom, mercy, and justice for all.
For those that do not understand the fear of the marginalized, we challenge you to stretch yourself and find opportunities that challenge you to grow.
For those that do not understand the damage that systemic racism has caused to our country, we implore you to educate yourself and seek that understanding. It is not ok to be “not racist.”
For our company, our nation, and our world to move forward and find peace, we must be actively anti-racist. We must be willing to identify racism in ourselves and understand that if we are not better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today, then we will fail as a people.
Fred Shuttlesworth once said, “Some men may little note or soon forget what we say here: but the nation will never forget what we did here together. We were not satisfied with the few scattering cracks in the Segregation wall and decided to effect a major confrontation with evil.”
As such, words are not enough. Sigao is actively working with our team, our partners, and industry experts to find tangible ways that we can effect change. The tech industry has long been a catalyst for change. We must and will use that ability to drive positive change. We are listening to those that understand to learn how we can best guide our company in ways that multiply our impact on the world around us.
Things will never be like they were yesterday, nor will they be like they are today. Change is inevitable and unwavering. We must find peace by finding value in everyone and understanding that we are in this together.
We ask our community to join us in one voice — “We support the movement for Black lives. We support the movement for equality and justice for all.” We will stand and move forward together, and we are better off when we do that.
How we refine your software solutions’ needs, wants and expectations into a usable roadmap in just one day.
Our Feature Workshop is an interactive collaborative brainstorming session facilitated by a certified scrum master. In our world, it is the cornerstone exercise for refining the needs, wants, and expectations of our client’s vision into a usable road map.
The goal of the Feature Workshop is to form clarity from chaos, direction from misunderstanding, and identify the minimal time to business value.
4 Phases of the Feature Workshop:
The first step of our process is homework (sorry!). This is where we gather the high level information about the solution, such as:
And other factors that determine if the product is a success or failure
All of these questions will help us better understand the problem you are trying to solve and help us determine the right kind of questions to ask during the workshop.
Brainstorming is the meat of the Feature Workshop day. The goal of this section is to challenge participants preconceived ideas about the solution, while recording any and all new ideas that are generated. Its our job to collaborate with our clients and ask the questions that make them say “Huh, I hadn’t thought of that”. While the point of this section may not be to perfectly define the scope of work to come, we believe that somewhere, buried in the piles of resulting sticky notes, are the gems that will solve our client’s problem
Now, Next, Later
One of the foundations of Agile development is the concept of smallest possible feedback loops.
Gone are the days where projects are expected to stay shuttered and hidden, only being released upon 100% “completion”. Instead, the Agile community has embraced the fact that business problems change much faster than solutions can be completed.
What good is the ultimate business solution if three other competitors have launched, failed to interest customers, and pivoted to something new before it even gets in front of a user? Worse yet, not only does this place you behind the competition but now you’ve burned a large portion of your capital to get there, ouch.
This section of the process focuses on identifying the most important and least understood aspects of the solution and prioritizing them within a backlog of work items. Maybe your solution relies on unproven technology, or maybe the whole concept rides on the assumption that customers will use the solution in a specific way. We can make educated guesses about how these things will play out, but without validation it’s essentially a gamble, and one that companies lose every day.
By front-loading these types of problems, we’re able to minimize the amount of time (and money) that will take before a solution can start generating valuable feedback.
As the prioritization of work items begins to filter the riskiest assumptions to the front of the solution, another scrum concept begins to take shape. The Cone of Uncertainty is a term used to describe the decreasing variance in estimates as ideas are validated. It is almost a universal truth that early estimates are either naively low, or frustratingly high, and it’s this large gap that represents the base of the “cone”.
However, as stewards of our client’s vision, it’s our job to take this massive variation and narrow it as quickly as possible via early and frequent iteration over the aspects of the solution that cause this uncertainty. In doing so we’re able to drastically reduce the variation in estimates, provide more accurate projections, and reduce the chances of wasting resources.
Like most aspects of an Agile Methodology, the backlog produced in this section is intended to be reactive to an evolving understanding of the problem. As information is gathered, work that was previously considered critical may shift in priority or even be abandoned altogether. A well-maintained backlog will ensure that uncertainty is minimized and resources are used appropriately.
At this point in the process it’s time for homework on our end. We compile the results of your brainstorming, backlog creation, and prioritization, then gather our best and brightest minds to create our initial forecast of the solution in its entirety. Additionally, we’ll provide a separate, refined roadmap defining what we view as the minimum amount of functionality that can survive on its own, or Minimal Viable Product.
To do this, Sigao uses a proprietary relative estimation technique to produce our initial forecast of the solution. By assigning effort to new work items based on problems we’ve solved in the past, then estimating items in relation to each other, we’re able to create what we believe to be a realistic forecast for how long and how much it will take to provide a solution to your problem. While this often results in an estimate that is more uncertain than people are familiar with, we believe wholeheartedly that it’s better to be honest rather than make promises that can’t be kept.
We’re also proud to say that the vast majority of our solutions are completed near the center of our projections.
One of the most common misconceptions about an Agile process is the perceived lack of planning. For many, it seems inconceivable to begin work without piles of planning documents, generated by teams of business analysts, defining every feature and every milestone of the work to come. On the surface this seems like a logical conclusion. When time, money, and jobs are on the line, it’s a natural human response to seek comfort in knowing that there is a plan. People tend to focus on their successful predictions to trick themselves into thinking they’re capable of knowing the future, while conveniently forgetting about the number of times they were wrong.
Sigao’s response to this is simple: Name a single time you drove from one city to another where you were able to predict every turn you would make, every pothole you’d dodge, every traffic jam you’d encounter, and every animal that would run out in front of you along the way, before you even left your home. Now consider that a project will have multiple “drivers”, of multiple skill levels, all trying to do something infinitely more complex than drive a car. How comforted does an all-encompassing plan make you feel now? Ya, that’s kind of what we thought.
The answer is to visualize the solution at a higher level, acknowledge the uncertainty, and plan for it. Rather than trying to predict every fine detail, we use the prioritized work items to construct a forecasted timeline of high level feature completion (both for MVP and total solution backlog), with estimates becoming increasingly less accurate for work items farther in the future. The most valuable research will get done first because we’ve already front loaded the riskiest assumptions, which in turn will drop the uncertainty of future estimates.
This process is the reason that we reject the notion that an Agile Methodology does not involve planning. Our plans are just dynamic, and evolving, maintaining their relevance by being subjected to constant evaluation. We are always planning, from the Feature Workshop to the very last sprint. When we deliver the initial road map at the end of the workshop we’re providing an honest assessment of the information as it stands, with the expectation that it will adjust along with our clients’ needs and goals.
That was a lot of information!
The Feature Workshop is a low risk, low effort way to define your solution. You’ll interact with industry experts that will advise on implementation. After, you will have a Forecast for your solution, identifying the minimal time to business value.
As more millennials and gen Zs join the workforce, companies
are looking for new innovative ways to appeal to a changing working class. Some
companies opt to provide incentives such bonuses, gift cards, casual dress
days, and even more days off hoping to spur their employees into action. These
incentives, in isolation, act merely as a stimulus for promoting temporary change
in the workplace but fail to foster an environment that cultivates constant creativity
and productivity. Good company culture, however, acts as in invisible hand
driving employees to higher productivity and a sense of pride about their job.
Before we get into all the great details of company culture,
let’s consider how company policy and incentives differ from company culture,
and how they can be used to complement one another. Company culture refers to
the “personality of a company” and “defines the environment” a person works,
whereas policy and incentives are means of achieving this culture. For example,
here at Sigao, we are a people company – we believe in people first. Whatever
someone needs to feel at home while at work is provided: If you can’t go
anywhere without your furry little friend, bring him with you. If you eat one
too many wings at lunch and feel useless, take a quick nap. If you’re like me
and early morning traffic is your mortal enemy, show up at 10. Again, the
culture here is what is important. Allowing pets, naps, and late starts to the
day are incentives, governed by policy that reinforce the company’s culture.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably wondering how
bringing dogs, taking naps, and starting the day at 10 could possibly be
conducive to, let alone lead to higher productivity. It’s simple: people work
hard when they love what they do. What’s a better way to encourage people to
work hard than creating an environment where they love working? While some
employers fail to utilize the power of culture within their organization,
companies like Google, Apple and Sigao, of course, attract top talent from
across the world not necessarily because the pay or title, but because the
culture they offer makes them seem more special than a “typical” place of
While you may still not believe wearing jeans makes me a
better developer or playing Nintendo helps me create the most pristine
algorithms, one thing we can all agree on is good company culture gives
employees a sense of pride about their job. Hear me out; I don’t mean “this
code is the best code mankind has ever seen, and we can push it straight to
production without testing” sense of pride, I mean a feeling of ownership and
significance, the feeling of being an integral part of something much more.
When company culture is reflective of the people within the company, and that
culture represents me, it means my voice is being heard. It makes it easier to
believe in the mission of the company and feel like a part of that vision.
As we enter a new age of shifting culture, companies are looking for new ways to appeal to a younger working class while providing a fruitful environment to their current workforce. Utilizing culture within any company can be used to attract new talent while spurring employees to higher productivity and a sense of pride. Like it or not, the invisible hand of company culture is here to stay.
Welcome to AgileKit – an interconnected framework of Agile tools designed by agile coaches, scrum masters, and product owners to support Agile teams in product planning and construction.
AgileKit is an internal project we’ve been developing over the past 2 months. While developing core concepts for the applications as a whole, we started to notice the same ideas pop up:
When it came time to Brand, we took these same concepts into account.
First, we started with the color: “blue.” Yes, we understand the cliché of the color blue and tech. However, blue is the favorite color of most, if not all people.
“It’s nature’s color for water and sky but is rarely found in fruits and vegetables. Today, blue is embraced as the color of heaven and authority, denim jeans and corporate logos. [However, blue] has more complex and contradictory meanings than any other color. These can be easily explained by pinpointing by the specific shade of blue. Most blues convey a sense of trust, loyalty, cleanliness, and understanding.”
After searching through what seemed like a never-ending wasteland of blue’s, we finally found – the one. #296BFF embodies what we hope to convey about AgileKit: constant inspiration, serenity, and dependability.
Once the color was decided, next came the last and arguably most challenging aspect, construction of the mark itself.
We went through a handful of ideas before the final mark really started to take shape.
First, we started with curly brackets and an icon of sorts inside. Then, we tried various versions of combining ‘ak’ into useful shapes – that went into a steep free fall ending with the genuine realization that it just wasn’t going to work. But that’s ok – We went back to the drawing board and decided a more stylized, and fluid shape was going to fit the AgileKit brand best.
Probably couldn’t explain just how the concept came about, it was more of a vague idea, out there in the ether. However, It started with this illustration of a sprint cycle.
And so it began.
The original idea was to have swooping lines to indicate direction. After several revisions, we noticed the mark moving further and further away from the core idea and beginning to get too messily detailed. Therefore, we decided to take several steps back and add more curves, instead of sharp lines – and thus, the final mark was created.
The mark’s interpretation is up to the viewer, it could be a water drop, a planet, a blob, a blob with another blob, or our personal favorite – a very stylized version of a sprint cycle. Our hope is, regardless of what you actually see, you know it’s the simple, easy, and dependable software of AgileKit.
This past weekend was a great reminder for me about why the Birmingham business community is so special.
Kurt Cherry, an 18-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, may have been the biggest Alabama football fan who had never attended a game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. That all changed on homecoming weekend when UA partnered with Dream On 3 to give Kurt the trip of a lifetime.
Kurt’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and his smile brightens any room that he’s in. He’s an authority on just about any sport–quoting facts and figures from football, baseball, basketball, and hockey–and he also lives with autism, which creates special challenges in his life.
How Sigao and the Birmingham tech community got involved
Dream On 3–think Make-A-Wish but for children with special needs–arranged for Kurt and his caregiver to fly to Birmingham. When our team heard about his trip to see the Crimson Tide take on the Missouri Tigers, we wanted to be a part of making the event even more special for Kurt.
Even one of our clients, Easter Seals Greater Houston (Texas), wanted to help. Sigao provided Kurt with a top-of-the-line iPad, and the folks at Easter Seals provided an assessment from BridgingApps, that will help Kurt find tools and resources specific to his needs and interests.
The trip of a lifetime
Also, when I tell you that Kurt attended the UA Homecoming game, I’m kind of downplaying it. Kurt and his caregiver, Joe McLean, toured campus on Friday before the game, attended Nick Saban’s weekly radio show (and got to meet him!), and then they were included in the Saturday parade, riding with Jim Gibbs in a 1949 Ford pickup truck.
Kurt’s biggest surprise of the weekend was when Dream On 3 founder and CEO Brandon Lindsey surprised him with sideline passes to the game.
We got to meet Kurt, Joe, Brandon, and the rest of the team from Dream On 3 on Friday afternoon, and it was an amazing experience to spend time with this young man, to see and share his enthusiasm for not just football, but also life in general.
What it means to us
When we say that Sigao’s top priority is people, it’s moments like this that come to mind. We’re grateful for the opportunity to help Kurt in a small way, and also grateful for the wonderful business community we’re a part of. Yes, we all want to make money. That’s what businesses do. But, as this experience reminded us, making money is not everything that a business can or should do.
We have a responsibility to our fellow man, to be good citizens and decent people. And when we do that, we find opportunities like this one.
Watch our video below to hear from our team members about what Sigao’s experience helping Kurt’s dream come true meant to them.
We founded Sigao Studios in hopes of creating something bigger, and now that we’re growing rapidly (we’ve tripled in staff size just this year!), it’s more important than ever for us to remember the basics and think back to our purpose.
Simply put, that purpose is “to create an environment that fosters relationships that allow people to grow and feel valued, so that customers and employees can achieve their goals.”
Our top priority as a company is people — not money, tech, or even Agile. Relationships are what drives our decision-making, our growth, and our overall business. The other founders and I wanted to build the company that we wanted to work for, and we are continually striving to define what that actually looks like.
So what does that mean for our customers and our employees?
We want you to leave us better than when you started. We’re committed to empowering you so you can accomplish your personal and professional goals. We want you to succeed and grow. We promise to do our part to build growth-focused relationships that are lasting, transparent, candid and purposeful.
Of course, there are two sides to every relationship, so we can’t do this without your help. If you partner with us, whether as a customer or an employee, we want you to join in our vision and help keep our focus on these goals. If you ever see a decision that doesn’t seem consistent with that, we welcome you to hold us accountable. We make each other stronger through these relationships.
Sigao has had an exciting journey over the past two years. We’re thankful for the relationships we’ve forged and excited about the ones that are still to come.
Interested in being part of our vision? Learn more about our services here, or check out our current career opportunities.