Kathrine and the Waves of Foreign Applications

– Welcome to this month’s public progress meeting on the latest FSA development!

Everybody in the room, about thirty people, slowly quieted down as Kathrine, the product leader, opened the meeting. Kathrine turned 38 years old on this day and had been working for the Eastern College of Business for five years now. She was generally regarded as the expert on foreign-country students and quite passionate about them too.

Faced with a horrible situation of fewer applications and employee burn-outs, management had given Kathrine free hands to “fix things”, as they had put it. And she had come through for them. She was the driving force behind the remarkable developments within the organisational processes handling applications from foreign students these past years. Although the number of foreign applications had increased 40% these last five years, the time from last day of application to the sending of the admittance decisions had gone from 3 months to 12 days. At the same time, employee satisfaction had gone from 45% to 87%.

Right next to Kathrine sat the other members of the development team. They looked calm and content. Peter, the testing specialist and Johanna, the lead programmer were chatting and giggling quietly. The audience was the usual crowd. They were mostly officers of the Student Applications department, but also a few newcomers, mostly managers looking nervously around. “Transparency rookies, better watch out”, Kathrine thought to herself.

Kathrine kicked off the meeting by laying out the purpose of the meeting and what the audience might expect. She turned to the newcomers and made it perfectly clear that they might hear stuff that would normally be hidden from them, but that there would be no cause for alarm. Being transparent was just their style. More than that, it was their way to protect themselves from the accusations of poor prioritization or effort of the old days. Now everybody knew what to expect and what they were up to in the department.

Kathrine displayed a list of all that had happened during this month. The list showed 13 new features (two of which had been marked as “priority”), two changes, one technical upgrade and, surprisingly, one defect correction. Most of these were already available to use. The defect thing was interesting. The last time they had a production problem was three months back. An investigation as to how this could happen was already under way.

The demo that followed was mainly uneventful. Most people had seen most of it, but nobody had seen all of the new stuff. Kathrine, not known for her patience, had learned to slow down to a tempo that felt almost painful to her, because it takes time for people to understand changes. For each item she related a little bit of the context, when it should be used and the thoughts behind it. In some cases, she also demonstrated some features that weren’t obvious when you first saw it. When she demonstrated one of the “exciters”, as they called them, she looked around and found the eyes of the audience glistening. At one point, she could almost swear that she had heard a Homer-like gargle from one of the attendants. Kathrine was in her element.

After the demo, a couple of developers from the team stepped up. This time it was the guy who was a good interaction designer and one of the program designers that stepped up and related some statistics from the sprint. The team measured themselves in a number of way to improve. At this meeting, however, they only related things that might be of general interest, for example, the mean lead time for different classes of requests and trends. Their process used different classes for different items and knew, from their statistics, how long it took them to be fully developed and delivered.

Kathrine rounded off the meeting by answering some questions and made an outlook to the immediate future and beyond that, the autumn release aimed at the big European Open University conference in Amsterdam. The audience left in an aura of happy murmurs. Kathrine relaxed on a chair.

– Let’s get some coffee before we start reflecting on this, ok?

The team grinned and looked mysterious.

– Come on… what’s going on?

Out of nowhere, Johanna and Peter presented Kathrine with a birthday cake. It had the number “42” written on it. Kathrine hesitated, but then she smiled.

– Aw, you guys! I think I know the question to that answer.

4 thoughts on “Kathrine and the Waves of Foreign Applications

  1. Why did I have to be the testing specialist? I don’t do testing. Testing is for developers who can’t code, right?

  2. Ha ha! Don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of calling you a tester. 😉

    On the other hand, I don’t think you should feel bad about being an agile tester. Peter, in this case, is a former test expert turned product developer. His main focus is to help the team develop with quality – the right stuff done right. He works a lot with specifications using executable examples and the like. Occasionally, he pair programs with one of the guys on the team. Finally, he probes the quality using exploratory testing. Peter functions as a quality coach for the rest of the team. All in all, he’s a great guy!

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