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How ZenHub is helping Philippine Red Cross fight Covid-19

To say this has been a year filled with global unprecedented challenges would be an understatement. However, this has also provided an opportunity for exemplary individuals and organizations to step up and make a huge impact. One such organization is the Philippine Red Cross.

They’ve been building the biggest Covid-19 testing lab in the Philippines, and the results speak for themselves – as of October 2020, they have administered a million tests, despite opening their first laboratory only six months ago. Today, we’ll be showcasing how they’ve streamlined the Covid-19 testing process, and how ZenHub is helping them do it.

The challenge

Philippine Red Cross is the largest Covid-19 testing lab in the Philippines; they are responsible for 25-30% of all tests done nationwide. For a country with a population of nearly 110 million, this is no easy feat! To accomplish testing at this scale with the efficiency that they do, they’ve utilized technology to automate as much of the process as possible.

In response to the crisis, Philippine Red Cross has built the Red Cross Covid-19 Platform – an efficient, streamlined system to manage the tracking of Covid-19 tests. When a patient is swabbed, their information is coupled with the test specimen, and this is tracked throughout each step of the process, from intake to the Red Cross lab. This allows Philippine Red Cross to accurately estimate when results will be ready, as well as automate the delivery of negative results.

An operation of this scale is not without its challenges. For example, one area that needed improvement was the registration of individuals who needed to be tested. At the beginning, Philippine Red Cross relied on paper forms. However, this led to both disorganization and invalid data. Forms were filled in with erroneous or illegible information, such as misspelled names or incorrect dates. These paper forms were then sent off to be entered into the system by volunteers – another point in the process vulnerable to error, where information could be accidentally miscoded. Incorrect information compromised the ability for the testing labs to deliver results. Delays meant individuals often waited up to a week to get their results.

To combat this, Philippine Red Cross applied significant changes to the way patient information gets associated with testing swabs. Instead of relying on paper forms, that were error-prone and time-consuming, the Red Cross Covid-19 Platform digitized this process. Every person travelling into the Philippines must be swabbed and tested at the airport before they can enter the country. Patients are required to register information three days before their flight, capturing personal information before they even fly. Once they land at the airport, they get swabbed, and enter an approved hotel to begin their quarantine period until they receive negative test results. The patient’s test swab is registered to their personal information.

Digitizing patient information not only keeps things organized – it also allows for more efficient communications throughout the process. Passengers are provided a tracking code, which follows their specimen through the lab. Passengers are able to see exactly which step of the process their test results are in, which manages expectations and prevents additional stress during a difficult time. Additionally, with the Covid-19 Platform, the Red Cross has substantially sped up the delivery of results. Instead of waiting a week, patients are able to get results in under 48 hours. The impact of this is significant – less time waiting means people get to go home to their families sooner.

Philippine Red Cross handles more than just airport testing – they also manage the testing done at government-mandated testing centers as well as mobile swabbing for emergencies. For example, as Red Cross developer Martin Gomez explains, when borders for other cities were shut down, a mobile swab team was deployed to be able to test individuals before allowing them to return home.

As you might imagine, managing the testing of millions of individuals leaves various points in the process vulnerable to disorganization or inefficiency. Just like with the digitizing of intake forms, Philippine Red Cross has applied their learnings to streamline various parts of the process. One way they have done this is by introducing ZenHub as a way to manage their project.

ZenHub, as part of the solution

As a volunteer-based organization, Philippine Red Cross has unique needs. Like an open-source project, the development of the project relies on a large team, with each engineer contributing in a limited and unpredictable capacity. However, the management team requires accurate project tracking and predictable timelines. ZenHub helps them meet these specific needs, with solutions that cater to Philippine Red Cross’ various stakeholders.  

Bryan Giger, Weston Lim, and Philly Tan, three developers on the project, recommended ZenHub after having used it in the past. They were having difficulties keeping their work organized, and they felt that ZenHub might provide a solution to some of their problems. For example, meeting minutes were recorded with Google Docs. However, this sometimes meant that action items would get left behind or forgotten. To fix this, they looked to ZenHub as a unified dashboard where they’d be able to see all information pertaining to their project. Harry Paragas, another developer on the project, explained that he felt Zenhub would increase efficiency across the project, and provide oversight and visualization of the process.

The team was able to set up ZenHub for their project with relative ease. The first step was to create a GitHub repository, and the second was to create Issues representing pieces of work. Once these prerequisites were met, they were able to begin using ZenHub. Their project management repository is used in conjunction with frontend, backend, tooling, and management repositories. As Bryan explains, almost all work has both business and development elements. Other project management solutions weren’t able to work for both business and development needs, but ZenHub was able to manage both sides in one tool. They can use Dependencies to mark with Issues that are blocking other Issues, even when these Issues don’t live in the same repository.

The organization has three types of users that benefit from ZenHub in different ways – developers, management, and the chairman.

The development team’s biggest priority is to progress the project as quickly as possible. The team is largely volunteer-based, which brings about specific challenges. For example, many developers on the project work in a limited capacity. To maximize the output of this team, volunteers are given tasks with less complexity and requiring less time commitment, leaving the core team to focus on the most complicated issues. New volunteers are given non-critical tasks until they’ve demonstrated engagement and interest in the project. ZenHub’s estimation feature gives the core team a way to easily communicate the prioritization and complexity of tasks with a wide team. This allows the team to utilize developers in the most effective way.

Because of the way ZenHub is built on top of GitHub, volunteers are able to work with the project right inside of GitHub. Issues can be triaged, labeled, and assigned to volunteers, and information stays synced with the ZenHub Board, without the volunteer ever needing to install ZenHub. As Issues are closed inside of GitHub, ZenHub’s Board, Reports, and Roadmaps are automatically updated. Code commits and Issue progress all live in one place, making it easy for volunteers to communicate the status of their work.

Kanban board example with multiple columns

The management team uses ZenHub to organize and assign work. Philippine Red Cross uses ZenHub’s Epics to organize work – at the start of each month, the team identifies the most important pieces of work. Epics are created, with an Epic representing each individual product or feature. Related tasks are grouped together. Epics ensure that no task is missed, and allow the management team to assign work.

the Philippine Red Cross team using Epics to organize their work

Because the requirements of the project are constantly changing, it is critical that the team is able to react quickly and work iteratively. As Harry explains, optimization is rapid and a lot of flexibility is required. The team has optimized their process to move fast – work is reprioritized as needed, resources are reallocated when things finished early, and completed features are deployed as soon as they’re ready, with the team releasing changes every two days or so.

Additionally, the ZenHub Reporting Suite gives the management tool better insight into the progression of their work. It is clear exactly which Issues are prioritized, and the team can see what they hope to accomplish in the upcoming time period. The Burndown Chart allows the management team to keep track of sprint progress, and ensures that no work falls through the cracks.

an example of a burndown report as used by the Philippines Red Cross

The Control Chart communicates how good the team has been at closing Issues that have been created, and identifies any bottlenecks in their process.

control chart example as created by the Philippine Red Cross

The chairman relies on ZenHub to see the big picture. The ZenHub Roadmapping tool is ideal for this. It integrates with the Epics set up by the management team, which allows the chairman to see the progress of each task in one visualization. Additionally, the Roadmapping tool places the Epics into one comprehensive timeline. The chairman can tweak deadlines as needed, and the management team can see how their actual progress matches up to the pace they need to work at to meet these deadlines.

Despite the various challenges and limitations, the Phillipine Red Cross team is doing amazing work during an incredibly difficult time. The progress they have made is a true testament to the dedication of their team. That being said, this is only the beginning of their journey. They are still looking to expand their labs to be able to handle a greater volume of tests, with new labs opening up across the country.

ZenHub couldn’t be more honored to be a part of this undertaking. If you’d like to follow their story or get involved, they can be found on their website:

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