Posted by on September 14, 2013 in Development, Inside our Offices

I’m taking a break from writing about “Adventures in Big Data” to focus on another passion – how to inspire collaboration and innovation within your organization. At Ancestry.com, we hold a FedEx Day twice a year, and try to make a big deal out of the event. The idea to run our own FedEx Day came from a book titled, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel Pink. The name “FedEx Day” comes from the following simple idea: “What can you deliver overnight?” Think of it as a 24 hour innovation sprint. There are three simple rules:

  1. Choose your team. We require at least two people working together. No solos.
  2. Choose your project. Anything you want to do – use your imagination. However, many projects are work-related, but that is not a requirement.
  3. Provide working code at the show-and-tell the next day. You have exactly 5 minutes to show your project. There is a timer and when it goes off, the next team presents. “Working” is a low bar. It can run on one box in the universe – the one under your desk, it can crash (just restart it), it does not need a pretty UI (command line is fine), etc.

That’s it. Follow those simple rules. We usually have our executives judge the show-and-tell and hand out prizes. This is not Project Runway. The prizes are fun items that can proudly be displayed on a desk or in a team room. Bobble heads of the executive team are particularly popular (and funny). We usually run a FedEx Day for 24 hours, starting at 10a.m. on a Thursday, and then move right into the show-and-tell the next day. After that, everyone who participated can take off (especially those of us who stayed up the entire 24 hour period). We provide dinner on Thursday night, munchy runs at midnight, and breakfast sandwiches early Friday morning. There is no requirement to stay all night. Like everything on FedEx Day, that too is optional.

One recent FedEx Day project has just been introduced to our site on the search results page. To begin the project, the team asked this question: “Is there a way to filter out search results for historical records that users have already accepted and incorporated into their family tree?”  This was a great question for a FedEx Day project. Our users re-run the same searches to see what new content has been added to the site. Even if a record is highly relevant, and the user has already attached it to a person in their tree, why muddy up the results with information they already know about?

The team came up with a  simple, elegant idea as a result of their project – a “smart filtering” option on our search results page.

Blog #4 Smart Filter Pic

 

As you can see in the above image, records that are already in a user’s tree are now collapsed and moved out of the way. They still have the option to feature on or off, and can drill into the record if they really want to see it again. We’ve found that it is always better to give the user a choice.

What’s really cool about how this feature came to be is that the team had fun creating the initial prototype, were then able to get product management to put this in their backlog, eventually implemented the feature, and then rolled it out to the site. As for our customers, they seem to like it. Our initial A/B tests show users are interacting with the feature, and results from a brief survey of a small number of customers are very positive.

Smart filtering - 2

So did this team win a prize for their project? No. However, they took initiative, knew their idea was good, and were able to deliver it to our users. That’s the real plus. I’ll end with a quick shout out to the team:  Matt Curtis, Loren Whitney, Chris Whitchurch, Jeff Pratt, and Steve McGhee.  Great job, guys!

About Bill Yetman

Bill Yetman has served as VP of Engineering at Ancestry.com since January 2014. Bill has held multiple positions with Ancestry.com from August 2002, including Senior Director of Engineering, Director of Sites, Mobile and APIs, Director of Ad Operations and Ad Sales, Senior Software Manager of eCommerce and Senior Software Developer. Prior to joining Ancestry.com, he held several developer and programmer roles with Coresoft Technologies, Inc., Novell/Word Perfect, Fujitsu Systems of America and NCR. Mr. Yetman holds a B.S. in Computer Science and a B.A. in Psychology from San Diego State University.


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