A Well-Oiled Machine PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Parra   
Thursday, 30 July 2009

Every week hundreds of young men, young women, and seniors around the world gather with their families to read a letter calling them to serve as full-time missionaries. The letter includes an assignment to labor in one of 348 missions around the world.

This sacred piece of correspondence is customized to each missionary candidate with specific information and instructions for the assignment. The Missionary Call Letter System was developed in 2008, and it is currently used to generate hundreds of missionary letters every week. Some may think that creating a one-page letter programmatically would be a matter of adding a few merge fields to a document, but the system does a lot more than that.

Several technologies are used to generate correspondence that will be specific for each recipient. The system is capable of supporting any language; however, letters in only six languages have been printed to date. If you take into consideration each of the languages’ specific requirements that deal with gender and many other unique grammatical structures, the technical challenges to overcome are apparent. Additionally, the syntax and many other unique characteristics are taken into account to accurately generate a flawless translation of the missionary calls in six different languages.

The margin of error needs to be minimal, if any, when dealing with correspondence that communicates such important information. From the beginning of the project, a group of developers, quality assurance engineers, and designers have worked hard to maintain the highest standards of excellence in the project. Team members from ICS and the Missionary Department performed extensive analysis of Missionary Department processes to ensure that the end product would satisfy the needs of the users.

One remarkable thing about this project is that it has overcome a number of roadblocks during the creation phase. The creativity, talent, and good disposition of all team members made it possible for the project to release on time with no priority 1 or 2 issues outstanding. Each team member looked for improvements in our processes and stepped up and stretched a bit to cover for the changes that the team encountered. For several months, many individuals wore multiple hats, but there was not one team member who was more important than any other. The team pulled together, overcoming challenges and finding solutions to very complex technological problems that seemed to always come at the worst time.

The series of challenges that the project faced resulted in two significant benefits. First, the project was successful and the Missionary Department was satisfied with the solution delivered to them. All of the requirements identified for the system were met. The successful relationships we created with the Missionary Department advanced ICS’s initiative to become a trusted partner for the organization and maintain the highest product quality possible. Second, the challenges faced by the project encouraged everyone on the team to rely on and trust each other, pulling together for a common goal. Differences were quickly resolved, and a group of very technologically skilled people learned to work together. Every team member was essential to the success of the project, there were no individual heroics.The team is simply made up of very capable people who want to do the right thing the right way. When the team wins we celebrate together, and when things need to be done we all work together to achieve our goals and continue moving forward.

The team is now concentrating on developing more complicated pieces of correspondence for the Missionary Department. The lessons learned, along with the camaraderie that the team has developed, provide the perfect stepping-stone to continue developing high-quality software to satisfy the Missionary Department’s needs.

David Parra is a senior software engineer for the Church.

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