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LearnZillion: Modernizing the classroom

Industry

Education

Company Size

100

Location(s)

Washington, DC

DC-based startup LearnZillion has a big mission: to empower districts and states to take ownership of their curricula, providing teachers with the best tools there are to help engage their students. They’re the world’s first “Curriculum-as-a-Service” offering, combining digital curricular materials, an enterprise platform for creating and sharing materials, as well as consulting and support.

In order to remain at the forefront of the edtech space, LearnZillion uses Clubhouse to set high-level goals and track the work necessary to achieve them.

The search for “just right”

“With most startups..., there’s only a handful of systems that you can use to track your team’s work,” says Ian Lotinsky, CTO at LearnZillion. They’d tried both specialized and general purpose tools, but found that they either had too much structure or not enough, forcing the team to self-police workflow states and other minutiae.

Ian maintained a running document full of the functionality his team needed in a ticketing system but hadn’t found yet. As their quest continued from days into months, they even discussed the idea of paying an outside firm to build the ticketing system for them, since they couldn’t find what they were looking for.

That’s when they found Clubhouse.

One of the software developers on Ian’s team came across Clubhouse and shared it with him. Figuring they had nothing to lose, the team decided to give it a shot. They tested it for a week with a small group of people and loved it. In fact, they went through their original app wishlist and found that Clubhouse had more of their desired features than anything else they’d tried.

After the small test group at LearnZillion quickly became enthusiastic Clubhouse users, they rolled it out to the entire team. For LearnZillion, Clubhouse hits the sweet spot where ease of use meets non-restrictive structure, and they’ve been happy users ever since.

One of the reasons we moved to Clubhouse was the customizable workflow.Manpreet Komal, LearnZillion’s Head of QA

Customizable workflows make all the difference.

Their team borrows elements of Agile Scrum and Kanban to create a project management workflow that works for them. Other elements of how they work include:

  • Cross-functional teams (they have one QA person and one product designer for every two year software engineers, with product designers and QA people usually being on multiple project teams)
  • Releasing early and often
  • Giving their employees as much autonomy as possible and allowing for/assuming that mistakes will be made along the way

One way that these company values affect their workflow is that they put much more focus on QA than many companies, in order to avoid the potential pitfalls of all that autonomy and rapid deployment. Once a bug is spotted by customer support, it goes to QA for triage, then to the engineer who originally created the bug. Bugs are only loosely connected to features with a generic, high level calculation — they don’t want their engineers to feel like they’re being micromanaged.

To help squash bugs, they used to do “bug fix Fridays,” but they’ve now transformed it into “tech debt Friday.” Every week, they can use this time to clean up everything that needs to be fixed from a technical standpoint, with bug fixing rolled into this process whenever applicable. In general, they approach bugs by priority: all priority one issues must be fixed within two days, and all other new issues have a five-day time limit. They consistently hit their goals for P1 issues and have found that the time limits keep their team focused.

Switching to Clubhouse has been amazing for LearnZillion; it works for everyone, and lets the team stay focused on their goal: empowering educators and engaging students.