The Tao of Phil

3 min read - published on April 20, 2020

As you may know by now, here at Priva’s Horticulture Innovation Lab (Phil), we try to do things a little differently. That isn’t to say we embrace distinctiveness for its own sake, but we actively look for ways to remove impediments which not only may stand in the way of rapidly developing products which solve the problems our clients may already have, but in so doing, allow us the creative space to envision new applications of technology which support their business goals in ways previously unimagined.

Got a Lifejacket?

Since the dawn of digital computing, most software solutions were created following a standard approach. Simplified, it’s: gather up all the requirements at the outset, design the solution up-front based on those requirements, and hand a precise product specification off to developers to build exactly that. Sounds reasonable, right?

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Unfortunately a number of issues may arise when implementing this strategy, which has become known as the Waterfall model. Historically, gathering all the requirements and distilling them into meticulous design documentation took a great deal of effort, eating up a significant percentage of a project’s budgeted time. Given large applications would often take years to deliver, the business requirements of the client may have substantially changed in the interim. Did you know what your current job would look like a few years ago? Are you using the same tools? Think back.

Further, understanding they needed to detail all their requirements at the outset, clients would often “kitchen sink” it — asking for every conceivable feature — leading to costly time and budget overruns… all for bells and whistles nobody really utilized.

At the end of the day your team may have delivered a product which was essentially obsolete on arrival, or perhaps broke the bank… and over the waterfall you go.

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The Advent of Agile

While many improvements on the original Waterfall model were made over the years, it was still seen as seriously lacking in an era of rapid change. To address its shortcomings, developers began to envision new ways to provide real value to their clients — not simply fulfilling wish lists and subsequently delivering disappointment. This culminated with the publication of the Agile Manifesto, which outlined the basic principles behind the various emergent methods by which software would be developed in the future.

Cool Story, Bro!

So you may be thinking to yourself, “Gee, um… thanks for the history lesson I guess? What does this have to do with my greenhouse and Phil?”

Well first of all, the Agile Manifesto defines what we value in terms of creating products for our clients. Among its tenets are an emphasis on customer collaboration, responding to change versus adhering to rigid plans, and rapidly creating functional, quality software, instead of wasting time creating a pile of product requirements documentation.


Phil’s operates as a startup within Priva, with a mandate to develop digital service prototypes and get them into the hands of our beta clients as quickly as possible. We then refine these Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) over a number of iterations until they can be truly ready for mass adoption. These refinements are based on close collaboration with our greenhouse clients and careful evaluations of how they actually use the software, versus simply implementing new features we think they’d like, and hoping for the best. This leads to the development of applications that truly address our customer needs, and helps us identify potential approaches to solving problems they didn’t even know they had!

To deliver on this mandate, Phil needed to ensure maximum flexibility in the way we work to make certain our team had the space to be creative without being bound by the formalities some models might impose. After all, Innovation is our middle name! As a result, we adopted a very lean Agile framework that had been utilized by the Xbox team within Microsoft to great success: Kanban. Our Product Designers perform double duty guiding product development as well as providing mock-ups for our user interfaces. These often take the form of simple sketches which become coded reality in a matter of days. Our developers also embrace this flexibility, with each being able to work on any aspect of the code in order to attend to the job at hand as quickly as possible.

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The result?

While Phil is a brand new team within Priva, we’ve developed three products in the same number of months, which are currently being test flown at some of the most prominent greenhouses on the planet — with remarkable results. See for yourself:

 

  • Plantonomy is our new greenhouse automation software designed to improve crop consistency, quality, and increase a single Grower’s span of control
  • Grower Intelligence takes visualization of greenhouse data and kicks it up a notch, enabling you to easily view it at the crop level, not just by compartment, and compare crops over multiple sites
  • Crop Cycle Manager allows you to create your own growing profiles to reliably duplicate past success, and tracks medicinal plant movements throughout a facility

    Want to see them in action at your site? Let us know and we’ll have the appropriate person get right back to you!
    Join our community of beta clients!
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Published April 20, 2020

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