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5 Stakeholder Questions To Ask Before Starting the Software Development Process

Software development is an intricate process that requires skill, planning and team effort. There are several stakeholders involved in the project, from company executives to various departments within the company.

It isn’t possible to satisfy all of them completely, but you can take their concerns into account before working on the project by asking the right questions. Doing so can help you understand their priorities and plan the development process accordingly. Here’s a list of 5 questions to ask before starting a software development process:

  1. What is the Product?

Projects tend to get out of hand if you don’t have a clear vision in mind. Software developers need to understand what the end product should look like before they even start planning for it. For example, does the company want an app that will help users find the best online deals? Does it want a software program for its HR department?

Stakeholders can provide a list of features or ideas for the end product to make things easier for a development team. If there’s any dispute about the final product, this will be the best time to resolve it. Make sure everyone is on the same page before proceeding.

  1. What is Not a Part of the Product?

Developers can sometimes go overboard and add features or elements that aren’t necessary. That happens if they don’t know what should be excluded from the final product. For example, if a website is only delivering to the US, there’s no need to include a feature to convert prices to other currencies. In many cases, stakeholders assume their development team is going to deliver something, but the latter is unaware of it. It is essential to establish what you will and won’t deliver.

  1. What is a Successful Product?

Software programs are tools designed to achieve a specific goal or purpose. A company creates a website if they want to establish a presence online. They design an app if they want to build a robust and long-term customer base. They develop a software application to make daily processes easier. If the product fulfills these goals, it is considered successful.

The end goal isn’t to deliver a good product; it is to provide a product that succeeds in the market. There’s a clear difference between these two goals. For example, a website can be beautiful and functional but still not provide all the services the target audience needs. Stakeholders should define what a successful product means to them at the start of the project.

  1. Do We Have a Single Point of Communication?

This is one of the most challenging aspects of project management. The project starts with one team and one client, but eventually, a large number of people start becoming part of the process. The IT guy must approve one aspect of the design, the other should please the marketing expert, and so on.

If these people start offering suggestions or requesting changes, the project can quickly get out of control. It is crucial to establish a single point of communication between stakeholders, clients, and development teams. You can maintain a smooth flow of information while keeping track of numerous requests.

  1. What are the Potential Roadblocks or Problems?

No one likes to discuss problems before they work on a project, but you need to address it. Gather all stakeholders together and ask them about possible hurdles. Can the project run out of money? What happens if some temporary contractors don’t live up to expectations? What if the client changes their mind in the middle of the project? If you know about possible hurdles, you can develop systems to counteract them.

These questions will help a team start their project on a firm foundation. Don’t hesitate to ask questions to stakeholders; the answers will help improve the quality of your end product.

At Number8, our philosophy is to empower our clients to produce better software, faster. We are experts in augmenting scrum teams with senior consultants that can help increase team velocity immediately. If you’re interested in learning more about Number8 and what we do, give us a call at (502) 890-7665, or check out our information page.

 

4 Powerful Tips to Improve Communication at Work

Communication is one of key pillars for any relationship. It could be a personal relationship, a friendship or a business relationship. People sometimes think that rules for personal communication don´t apply to a work environment but this is not true.  Every human has needs, emotions, hopes, values and dreams. And each person faces situations in their personal life that may sometimes impact job performance.

Staff turnover is one of the main challenges many companies face.  While employees come and go, many are less likely to leave if they are in an environment where they feel respected, rewarded, safe and comfortable.  People tend to be happier in work environments where they are confident enough to speak to coworkers and managers about their lives – this includes work related topics and personal ones too.

This is why communication is so important in the work environment, both among employees in the office and for those that work remotely. While maintaining good communication with employees who work together in the same place each day may seem straightforward, it is sometimes less obvious how to improve communication with those working off site. As an agency that specializes in connecting nearshore technical talent with U.S. companies, we’ve got some worthwhile insights into this challenge. Follow along for helpful tips to improve work communication, including communication between onshore and offshore workers.

Four Helpful Tips To Help You Improve Communication At Work

1. Employees are human beings, not numbers or metrics.

Many companies focus on growth, revenue and developing new products/services or improving existing ones. Sometimes by doing this, employees start to feel more like numbers, or pawns in a game of chess. When dealing with human resources, emotions play an important role. Employees are much less likely to make sacrifices for companies that make them feel like a cog in a wheel. It is tough to go the extra mile for a boss that doesn’t seem to take interest or care about anything but the bottom line.

According to Dale Carnegie, author of the award-winning classic: “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the main thing people care about in life is themselves. Every person wants to feel important, valued and appreciated.

Henry Ford surely recognized this back in 1914 when he started paying his employees $5 a day. (This was a big salary increase.) He also reduced shifts from 9 hours a day to 8. By doing this Ford quickly solved a high staff turnover problem that his company was experiencing. This led to notable increases in production.

If a company can make its employees feel important, feel that their job matters and that they are important assets for the company, they are far more likely to do the extra work needed to go from good to great, and to take care of the company as if it was their own. While a motivated employee will communicate better, it is an employer’s responsibility to make sure employees know they are free to express what is on their mind.

2. Body Language Matters.

Over 50% of the things we say are non-verbal. Given this, learning body language is an important part of developing more effective communication.

If you are a manager, it is essential that you practice your body language skills so that when you speak with your employees you can transmit your ideas in the best possible way and avoid any misunderstandings of what you are trying to convey.

Things like maintaining an upright posture, making eye contact during conversation and keeping your chin up will radiate confidence and those around you will see you with respect.

Besides using body language to communicate well at work, it’s also important to understand body language signals in others. This might be especially important when dealing with offshore employees that normally communicate through apps like Skype or Zoom.  Knowing how to identify body language signals like face and eye gestures and tone of voice will enable you to read between the lines of the message that a coworker wants to transmit.

3. Make Yourself Available to your Co-Workers.

One of the easiest ways to make yourself accessible to coworkers is to simply tell them that you are available. People want to know they can count on you and the only way they will know this is if you communicate it. People want to know that their colleagues are people that can listen to them and understand what is going on.

Sometimes it may be difficult for people to communicate issues directly, especially with a manager. In these times, it can be useful to have a way for people to anonymously ask questions or even express complaints. Having a channel of communication that enables people who are too uncomfortable or shy to speak directly to leaders is a great way for a company to stay informed about situations they may otherwise not know about.

4. Share Something in Common.

Many of the best managers are comfortable sharing something about their personal lives with their coworkers. They might participate in a fun office outing or simply take an interest in the lives of their employees. Something as simple as remembering a birthday can make an enormous difference to a person’s morale at work.

This type of leader tends to be one that can talk about any topic with employees, not just work-related things. Often these more informal conversations help to build trust and work satisfaction. They also improve overall communication by making people feel more comfortable and secure.

Take the time to develop relationships with your coworkers and create a trusting environment for people to open up to you. You will likely be pleasantly surprised by the results.

10 Agile Project Management Terms You Should Know

Whether you’re planning on managing a project the agile way, or just want to stay up to date on the latest developments in the field, here are 10 agile project management terms you should know:

1. Agile Manifesto

The agile manifesto is a great starting point for anyone looking to familiarize themselves with the agile methodology. The manifesto outlines the 4 values and 12 principles of agile software development and was actually created by a group of software developers in an effort to provide a clear and alternative set of processes for developing software. The agile way of doing things prioritizes individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan. 

2. Scrum

A scrum is a daily stand up meeting with the sole focus being to review each team member’s progress on any given project. Scrums help to keep everyone accountable and on the same page, ensuring no one falls too behind or gets too far ahead in the development of a project.

3. Scrum Master

A scrum master oversees the development process and acts as a problem solver for the team; preventing roadblocks and enforcing the agile way of doing things.

4. Stakeholder

A stakeholder refers to anyone with a vested interest in the product. This can be the client, the end user, sales people, legal representatives etc. Stakeholders have an informative role in the development phase, and are critical in defining the project’s requirements.

5. Backlog

The backlog is the ever changing list of the software’s requirements. It’s not to be seen as a to do list so much as a prioritized list of desired features of the product provided by the stakeholders.

6. Story

The story tells the software system’s requirements from the consumer’s point of view. For example, as “a <type of user>, I want to <perform some task> so I can <achieve some goal.>”

7. Burndown & Burnup Charts

A burndown chart visually measures the progress of a project over time (the vertical axis is made up of the backlog while the horizontal axis represents time). A burnup chart displays completed work (the vertical axis shows the amount done over the horizontal axis, time). These charts are essential to inspiring the team as they work and help provide a realistic time frame for the project’s completion as well as a working scale of the project.

8. Feature Creep

While changes are expected, and certainly embraced in the agile way of doing things, the phrase “feature creep” refers to features that are added after development has begun. Adding too many features during the development phase can result in feature creep and software that is too complicated or difficult to use.

9. Timeboxing

Timeboxing is kind of like time blocking in that it assigns a specific time frame to accomplish a goal. The definitive feature of timeboxing however, is that the work stops at the end of the timebox, instead of when the work is complete. This is extremely helpful in terms of productivity, and controlling the scale of a project.

10. Sprint

A sprint is a short development phase usually lasting anywhere from 1 week to a month. Sprints help prevent projects from feeling overwhelming and allows feedback to be given at appropriate junctures.

At Number8, we help project managers connect with highly trained and efficient IT support to help reach company goals. If you’re interested in learning more about Number8 and what we do, give us a call at(502) 890-7665, or check out our information page!

Working Remotely? Try These 3 Things To Cultivate Work Community

Working remotely can present many challenges, everything from resisting the urge to fire up a movie and veg out, to feeling that creeping sense of isolation that comes from sitting alone behind the screen. As a company who promotes remote work opportunities, we’ve identified several ways to cultivate a thriving work community. Below are three tips that should keep your presence so embedded in the office, your coworkers will swear they hear your keyboard clicking away beside them even when you aren’t there.

3 Tips to Cultivate Work Community While Working Remotely

Tip #1: Be open to feedback.

One of the most important parts of forming any close-knit relationship is trust. The person on the other side of that monitor is most likely depending on you to complete a task. To your coworker, they’re placing a lot of trust in someone they can’t see. Put their mind at ease by telling them upfront that you’re open to feedback and willing to work through things. Making this clear initially will help them understand you share the same goal and will make them feel more comfortable as you continue to work together. Build trust by responding to feedback graciously. Every smooth interaction makes way for future smooth interactions.

Tip #2: Be humble.

If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s our tendency to overthink things. When you work remotely, it’s easy to convince yourself that it only happens to you. Fear that you’re alone with your thoughts, and pride in your ability to handle things on your own can be a deadly combination that results in isolation! Instead, be humble and reach out to your coworkers with any questions or concerns you have. This goes a long way to cultivate trust. Your coworkers will feel more connected with you when you’re open with them, and in turn, they will be more likely to reach out to you when they have questions of their own. Once you realize you have friends ‘on the inside’ you’ll find it easier to tune out that inner voice that tells you you’re on your own. Remember that you’re in it together.

Tip #3: Get social.

In this age of social media, it’s easier than ever to connect. Find a few coworkers you feel comfortable with and send them a friend request immediately. Becoming connected on social media offers you and your coworkers the chance to put a face to the name that pops up in the inbox every day. Getting to know each other better in this casual manner strengthens your bond and your understanding of one another as you continue to work together professionally.

BONUS TIP: Live that meme and emoji life. A true favorite! There is great power in a well-placed meme or emoji when communicating with a coworker. Not only do they lighten the mood, but they also offer visual cues to help people understand your tone and intention, which is a wonderful thing in the absence of body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.

At Number8, we provide high quality technical talent to businesses of all sizes and sectors. We specialize in application development, custom software, website development, mobile solutions, database design, client/server, web application development and Q/A testing. Learn more about what we do and how to get started with Number8 by calling 502-890-7665 today!

How to Develop the Digital Skills Necessary for Remote Work

Remote work can offer an employee the flexibility needed to be a caregiver, world traveler or student; making it an ideal form of work for most of the population. For an older employee however, the idea of working from home can seem overwhelming and fraught with technological difficulties.

Luckily, many of the skills needed to succeed in the office translate quite easily to working from home. Time management, self-sufficiency, communication and teamwork for example are all key remote work skills. And chances are, anyone whose had office experience, is familiar with a computer. However, there is a level of tech savviness required to operate out of the office full time.

For those looking to make the transition to remote work for the first time, but are afraid of getting left behind in this new digital age, here are some of the most popular web applications to get up to speed on before you apply for the job.

It’s worth noting that many of these applications have free tutorials, videos, and training available as well as free versions to help you get your feet wet.

File Storage & Sharing Platforms

When you’re working on the go, you can’t be tied down to your desktop. Instead it’s common for remote workers to operate exclusively from online or cloud based platforms such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Apple iCloud. These make it easy to access your work files no matter where you are or what device you’re on. As long as you have the app downloaded, you can work from anywhere.

Long gone are the days of losing your work because your computer crashed. These applications automatically save and sync everything as you go. Not to mention, you can effortlessly share files with others by giving them access via a link or email address. Google even offers a full suite of applications including word documents, slide shows and spreadsheets well suited for every field of work.

Video Conferencing

Unfortunately, even remote workers can’t escape meetings. Zoom and Skype are popular video conferencing options for meeting outside of the office.  Zoom offers free video calls with up to 50 people as long as you don’t talk for more than 40 minutes and Skype is free as long as both parties are using the app. Both of these applications (and many others) offer chat options, screen sharing and recorded calls. Just make sure you’re well equipped with the right headset for the job.

Collaborative Applications

While email is everyone’s go to in-office communication platform, remote workers often utilize project management software to stay in touch virtually. Both Trello and Slack are excellent examples and offer many collaborative features for working with a team remotely. These shared applications make it easy to generate a task list and delegate the workload. They also show each member’s progress as well as what stage any given project is in and give the option to offer feedback to one another. Additionally shared calendars ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to meetings and out of office time periods.

At Number8, we provide high quality technical talent to businesses of all sizes and sectors. We specialize in application development, custom software, website development, mobile solutions, database design, client/server, web application development and Q/A testing. Learn more about what we do and how to get started with Number8 by calling 502-890-7665 today!

How Executives Can Help Boost Teamwork Among Their Employees Through Team Building Activities

It takes a lot of things to get a job done on schedule and efficiently. It takes time, planning, patience, strategy, and revisions. A job well done takes effort from all parties involved. And in order to excel at a job, teamwork is extremely important. Teamwork allows members to work on a project and carry the burden together. Without teamwork, executives risk burning their employees out by assigning them specific tasks on tight deadlines. With teamwork, employees can work together to meet a tight deadline without overworking themselves. But how does an executive ensure that their employees are working together? How does a higher up know that their employees are capable of efficient teamwork? 

One of the most straight-forward ways that executives can boost teamwork is to create opportunities for employees to get to know each other better. By providing team building activities in which employees can relax and socialize, executives are encouraging them to bond without forcing it. Bonding makes it easier for co-workers to work together as a team further down the road. Today, on the Number8 blog, we’re discussing team building activities that boost teamwork and how executives can integrate these team building activities into their business’ workflow. 

5 Team Building Activities That Boost Teamwork

1. Volunteering as a Team

The founder and CEO of Branded Group, Michael Kurland, swapped out happy hours for volunteer events. This came about after a company-wide survey showed that more employees were not interested in events involving alcohol. In order to keep the team spirit alive at the company, Kurland cut back on events involving drinking and organize volunteer activities instead. In 2018, the company put 250 hours into volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity and the teamwork during work hours is stronger than ever.

2. Eating Together

There’s no better place to get to know someone else than at the table. Multiple CEOs of Fortune 500 companies report that hosting potlucks or taking the company out for a meal helps boost morale and teamwork. In hindsight, the meal may seem expensive at the time, but when you’re paying each employee thousands of dollars a year, a $500 pizza order or $2,000 meal to keep your employees happy and working together efficiently is well worth it.

3. Getting Outdoors

Plenty of people have been to work-related team building retreats; however, more and more CEOs are opting for less “cheesy” outdoor activities. Instead of trust falls in the woods, company executives are hosting Olympic-like games for their employees to build camaraderie. Other executives have reported taking their employees on outdoor excursions that require teamwork to succeed like rafting, ropes courses, and field days where they can be competitive in a relaxed and friendly environment.

4. Traveling Together

Business trips are not uncommon, especially for employees that are higher up in the company. Heather Bleases, founder and CEO of SaviLinx, has put a new spin on company travel though. Instead of booking a slew of hotel rooms for her employees, she often chooses to book AirBNBs. The rentals are often homier and put her employees in all sorts of environments. Her team has stayed everywhere from mansions on the Mississippi River to chic flats in Manhattan. Staying in an AirBNB requires her team to grocery shop together and spend hours outside of work together, as well, which makes for a trip that is about business and bonding. 

5. Attending a Sporting Event

This team building activity is a great one, whether you live in a city with a major league team or minor league. Putting employees in a situation where they can root for or against a team and bond over a mutual love for a sports team often creates camaraderie and allows teams to grow closer. Sporting events also give employees something to discuss after the fact which keeps them bonding even after the score is final and the game is done. 

Regardless of the team building activity an executive chooses casual outings that don’t feel forced usually turn out better. Like icebreakers, more typical team building activities can often come off as hokey. But if your team is doing something they truly enjoy then they’re more likely to genuinely bond with each other. And a closer team creates a more efficient workforce. 

At Number8, we participate in team building activities often. From white water rafting to monthly dinners out, our team of developers has a strong bond that comes from these activities. Because of this strong bond, they’re able to work through tasks efficiently and without many internal roadblocks. To learn more about what we do at Number8 or how we can help your company, contact us today by using our online form or calling us at 502-890-7665

3 TED Talks to Listen to When You Need Motivation

We’ve all been there. The point in the day, week, or month where the steam that’s been powering our engines seems to disappear. Losing motivation is never convenient. Often it comes at the most inconvenient times, such as, when a large project is due or a new endeavor is just kicking off. So, how do you overcome that lack of motivation and continue to power through the work you’re obligated to deliver?

There are many ways to regain motivation. Sometimes taking a short break of 5-10 minutes to get away from your desk is all it takes. Other times it may take a little more space from the office, perhaps in the form of a personal day, to get back into the right headspace for work. And that’s okay. Managing burnout is important in everyone’s career. We have to do what’s necessary to deliver our best performance as often as we can. For those times when you can’t get away for even five minutes, but you need a little more motivation to keep going, listen to one of these TED Talks on staying motivated.

3 TED Talks to Help You Get Motivation

1. A Powerful Way to Unleash Your Natural Creativity by Tim Harford

Harford opens this TED Talk with the quote, “to do two things at once is to do neither”, and it leads the listener to think that his entire talk is going to focus on how multitasking kills creativity. However, Harford quickly clarifies that he is not on stage to debunk the benefits of multitasking. Instead, Harford discusses a practice common among highly creative people, including Albert Einstein, and that practice is called “slow-motion multitasking”.

It may sound counterintuitive. For most people, the entire point of multitasking is to be able to get multiple things done quickly and efficiently. Slow-motion multitasking does not have the same end result. Slow-motion multitasking is not about getting things done as quickly as possible. It is about getting multiple things done at once without feeling burnt out by one project. By slow-motion multitasking, one is able to hop from project to project as their inspiration strikes or creativity sparks. Harford explains multiple studies that prove highly creative people have multiple projects going on at one time and allow themselves to move between these project at their own leisure.

He also discusses how athletes benefit from cross-training and how Michael Crichton created the world’s most commercially successful book, television series, and a movie with the help of slow-motion multitasking. Listen to the full TED Talk here and the next time you find yourself overwhelmed with a project and losing motivation because of your feelings, try shifting gears to another task. Working on, or even completing, another task will help the negative thoughts you’ve associated with your more daunting project dissipate, making room for productive and motivational thoughts to come in.

2. How to Make Work-Life Balance Work by Nigel Marsh

As we stated earlier, one of the biggest triggers for lack of motivation is burnout. Being tired, and even fed up, with your day-to-day work life can really affect your work ethic and your drive. In this TED Talk, Nigel Marsh discusses work-life balance and how incentives like “dress-down Friday” and “flexi-time” don’t make up for the fact that some career paths are fundamentally incompatible with being present at home. However, if you’re in one of those job fields, all hope is not lost.

As long as you can recognize this, and understand that your boss or higher-ups will not correct the imbalance for you, then it’s possible for you to create that balance on your own. Being aware that your employer may not have your best intentions in mind will allow you to set your own boundaries on how much time you dedicate to work and how much you dedicate to your home life.

Marsh suggests (quite hilariously) that if you’re feeling unmotivated, or burnt out, to write down your ideal day. How much do you want to get done? In order to get all those things done, how long do you need to be awake? Because, let’s not forget, sleep is just as important to motivation and productivity as work-life balance is. Is your day jam-packed? That’s Marsh’s point and, according to him, in order to balance work and life, you must “approach balance in a balanced way”. By tending to the intellectual side, emotional side, and spiritual side of one’s life, a person can create a more balanced life quite effortlessly.

You can listen to the full TED Talk here to see how Marsh’s realization that slowing down and investing the right amount of energy into the right tasks can transform a person’s day-to-day life.

3. Want to Be More Creative? Go for a Walk by Marily Oppezzo

It’s no surprise that we lose motivation. Almost any project is a long process from start to finish and takes an exorbitant amount of time and energy. So, how do you ensure your creativity does not falter and your motivation does not dry up? Marily Oppezzo recommends going for a walk. She’s not saying that you’re going to get stuck during your project, go for a walk, and come back with all the solutions. But she is saying that walking during the brainstorming process of a project can boost creativity.

During her TED Talk, she discusses a study that measured if people were more creative while sitting or walking. By asking four test groups to come up with alternate uses for a specific object (like a key) she was able to deduce that the members of the study who walked while brainstorming ideas came up with twice as many ideas as those who remained seated.

Now how can this help you stay motivated? Well, you can apply Oppezzo’s approach to brainstorming to your motivation. Ask yourself what your problem is? Why are you losing motivation? Then take yourself for a walk and brainstorm around these questions. Continue to come up with ideas and try for as many as you can. By not getting stuck on your first or second idea you’re allowing your creativity to flow. As it flows, it will help you find more motivation to continue your project. Listen to Marily’s entire TED Talk here to learn more about the study and its interesting results.

Next Time You’re Losing Motivation…

Motivation ebbs and flows, like most things in life, and sometimes the best way to regain it is to forget it. Go for a walk and try to get your focus back. Shift from one task to another to allow your mind a break. Consider how much time you’ve put into the project for the past day, week, month, and step away completely. Or listen to a TED Talk. It may give you the motivation you need to continue working or take a break.

Preparing for the Remote Work Culture

If you’re making the transition to remote work after working in an office from 9-5, 5 days a week, you’ll quickly learn a notable difference in the work culture. Whether you’re looking to work from home or are an employer wanting to outsource tasks, getting familiar with the customs of those who work remotely will help you know what to expect.

Here are 3 unwritten rules of remote work:

1. Everything starts on time.

Because you’re not sitting in traffic during your morning commute, there’s really no excuse for being late. In the remote world, meetings start on time down to the minute. One of the biggest benefits of working from home is that it allows you to better manage every minute of your day. Couple that with the fact that you could be collaborating with someone in a different time zone, and every minute really starts to count. To make sure you don’t experience a technical delay, get used to checking your equipment early each morning.

2. Communication is key.

Sure, communication is key in any work situation. But when you’re communicating with someone who isn’t sitting in the next cubicle, it becomes even more prudent. In fact, 90% of how we communicate is nonverbal, so if you’re working remotely online, it can be easy for a few things to get lost in translation. Expect to over communicate by being prompt in your responses and utilizing the many tools available to you. Remember that the tone of online communication tends to be straightforward and casual. When it applies, provide links or visual examples for full transparency. Shared calendars and collaborative applications can help to keep everyone on the same page, whether it be project deadlines, tasks or vacation days. 

3. Nurture workplace relationships.

Yes, workplace relationships are still a thing when you work from home. While they can be hard to cultivate because of language barriers and time zones, a good workplace dynamic is an invaluable asset and can help ensure a project’s success. Taking the time to build camaraderie through friendly correspondence can go a long way. When possible, opt for an in person meeting, video or phone call, and consider using a chat app for water cooler talk.

As an employer, think about implementing a remote work policy to help establish standards and keep everyone accountable. A company mission can help communicate your vision and values, and as a result keep remote employees motivated.

At Number 8, we help companies connect with qualified remote employees to help with software development. We also focus on helping companies improve their internal IT processes. If you’re interested in learning more about Number8 and what we do, give us a call at (502) 890-7665, or check out our information page here!