Feature Frag: ReadyTalk Engineers Gone Wild

First the posters appear, and t-shirt size order forms get circulated. Then calendars shift with the addition of brainstorming sessions and the removal of a plethora of standing meetings. It can only mean one thing. Feature Frag is coming!

Mokey from Fraggle Rock. Image from http://muppet.wikia.com/Feature Frag is an event held a few times a year here at ReadyTalk. Company lore tells me that the name is from video games. I just know I kept expecting a knock-off muppet with bubblegum-colored hair to pop out from under some engineer’s desk at the end of the week. But no, something even more mysterious was happening here in our office in downtown Denver, Colorado.

Feature Frag is a week where development at ReadyTalk turns on its head. Our talented Engineers have the opportunity to select their own projects and see what they can complete within the course of four work days, before presenting them to the company in a large “Demo Day” presentation on Friday. The first Feature Frag of 2014 was held May 12-16.

The brainstorming sessions in advance allow anyone to pose a customer or business problem, and then Engineers select which one(s) they plan to tackle.

This year each development team could also involve a “business partner” from elsewhere in the organization to serve as the Voice of the Customer. Then, with the arrival of the donuts Monday morning, they set to work. For the next four days the Engineers were left to do what they do best: solve problems and code.

“Feature frag is a great time that allows us developers to work closely with our product people to investigate feasibility of features. We then get to dive in and code these features with the hope of producing a gem of collaborative genius. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but everyone learns a lot in the process. The best part is some ideas are so good that we re-organize our feature release schedule to get them in”
– Jon Steege, Software Developer

Problems tackled ranged from helping participants enter meetings without remembering passcodes to improving webinar promotion, registration and reminder processes to vastly improving presenters’ in-meeting experience. Attendees at Demo Day were blown away at the innovative approaches the Engineers came up with to solve customers’ long-standing pain-points.

Feature Frag was a great way for the engineers to hear what problems our customers would like ReadyTalk to solve from our customer facing teams. I think it adds a personal aspect to what they do in development and why they do it.
Also it’s just a great way to bring the whole company together to rally behind the big picture of always evolving our platform to better serve our customers.
– Shannon Westmacott, Account Executive

When the smoke cleared on Friday, 23 Engineers had contributed to 14 different projects aimed to improve web conferencing for our customers. The energy of presenters and attendees was palatable. After only a handful of presentations, the Account Executive next to me murmured “can we do Feature Frag every month??” I dare say that the Engineers presentations rivaled the Marketing departments’ creativity with their prevalent inclusion of pop culture references and memes. They were clearly proud of what they had accomplished over the week.




Naturally, not all the projects were at the state where they could be immediately incorporated into the product. Some need more testing, some need some UI love, and we’d like to validate some of the projects with customers just to be sure they meet their needs. But much of the hard work the engineers put in over the past week will be in your hands in the not-so-distant future.

Besides the great product enhancements, Feature Frag serves another important purpose here at ReadyTalk. It helps employees gain a better understanding and appreciation of each other and our customers.

“I love the energy around Feature Frag. It’s fun to see people from our customer-facing teams collaborate with engineers on an idea that they try to make shippable in a week. Sometimes they end up fixing things that we just typically wouldn’t pick against our other product priorities, and other times they bite off something bigger and make an amazing amount of progress on it. Demo day is the best part. Everyone in the company is invited, and engineers present their work for the week. And, we drink beer and eat snacks, of course. What’s not to love?
– Kim Wachtel, Director of Technical Product Management

We look forward to sharing these new features and enhancements with you in upcoming months. And in the meantime, we continue to invite your suggestions and feedback, so we can have more challenges for our Engineers to attack in the future.

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