[TSTIL] easee TeleVisus

[ This is a part of "The Software That I Love", a series of posts about Software that I created or had a small part in ]

2020 - easee TeleVisus

Early 2020 was a strange time. I remember seeing some videos of sick people in China around January 1st, but my memory might be off. By late January it was clear we were in for trouble. In February it got closer and closer. One coworker next to me actually got covid, and I might have been infected too but did not have a lot of symptoms, I still don't know. At the end of February we went for a pubquiz with easee, and I told my coworkers "In two weeks time this won't be possible anymore". Indeed. Two weeks later to the day, all non-essential businesses had to close their doors. As a medical device company we technically were an essential business, but we decided not to play that card. Some other software companies in our sector did, just because they wanted butts in seats. Bastards.

We had just had our first audit in November 2019 and now had a TUV Rheinland certified Quality Management System. This is a whole set of procedures that you have to follow when you do your day-to-day work, to guarantee safe and effective products. Setting it up had cost me blood, sweat and tears and my hair was much more gray than before. Our product certificate for our measuring function was not finished though. During Q1 2020 we had difficult calls with a tough German auditor. Francesco and I hated those as we were nice and non-confrontational. Robert loved it. Yves was somewhere in the middle but was extremely driven to get our certificate. I'd rather give up. I took a step back during those calls. Live and let live I suppose. Early March the auditors told us that our product was good to go, it just needed some paperwork on their side. It would take another 4 weeks. Great!

On the evening of Thursday March 12th the government announced that offices could not open the next day. We closed the office and everyone had to work from home. A disorienting change for most of our employees. For me the spring of 2020 was great, I could spend more time with my kids and didn't have to commute for a change. Alas, there was no rest for the wicked. That same day, Yves had an idea to offer a limited test for hospitals as soon as possible. As care had to be offered remotely, hospitals needed to check patient's eye sight remotely too. This was a great opportunity for us and we all wanted to do our part. I asked for volunteers to work in the weekend. Everyone raised their hand. We jokingly said "What else are we going to do?" but actually we wanted to make a difference and do something meaningful. That weekend we made a plan and the team started running. We tried to do things according to our brand new QMS as much as possible, but our enthusiasm sometimes got in the way.

On Tuesday we had the management team offsite to prepare for Q2 2020. This was Dennis (Head of Business Operations), Yves (CEO) and myself (CTO). We had already booked an Airbnb and if we interpreted the government rules a bit liberally we could have the meeting in person. I felt slightly guilty about this, but it was good as we were all a bit down. The stock market was crashing, travel was suspended, people were sick and dying. We could use the company. All of a sudden the mood changed. Yves now fully realized what a giant opportunity we had in front of us. The world had to adapt itself to remote work, remote care, remote everything! And what did we just get approved as a medical device for the entire EU? A fully remote online eye exam!

This was the most chaotic management team offsite I've ever experienced. Yves' optimism always makes him a bit over-enthusiastic and hyperactive, but here he went up to 11. And rightly so, things were happening! We had one hour of useful meeting time in the twenty hours we had scheduled. The rest of the time Dennis and Yves were either calling our business partners, prospecting or preparing press releases. I was on Slack with my team constantly. Mason, Rik, Francesco and Danielle were going full-speed ahead with the new test, and I tried to bring some structure and answer a lot of questions. We had amazing people in the team and I was very proud of having hired them. Iris and some other people were updating the website left and right. We called the new test TeleVA for Tele Visual Acuity. Yves made an executive decision and renamed it to TeleVisus. I really liked that name, but we now call it the "easee online visual acuity test".

We finished everything within two weeks, including usability testing, verification and validation. The TeleVisus test was put in our product in v1.6.118 and released on March 31st 2020. In any normal development cycle, it would have taken at least 6 months. This insane inefficiency is the sad reality in most companies, most of the time. This might be a good time to quote Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now: "If they were committed, this war could be won with a fourth of our present force.". The big question for all managers is how to consistently get to this level of commitment at least some of the time. I don't have the answer. If you do, call me.

Later that year we got in trouble for the TeleVisus release. We launched it without a measuring function claim, but when we finally got our certificate for that, we also applied it to TeleVisus. The auditors were not amused, as they had not reviewed this new part of the product. We should have explained this to them, but I was actually not aware that we had to as we did not yet have a clear "significant change" procedure.  We got a couple of minor nonconformities for this, but in the end we were good. The measuring function was identical, and everyone understood we were trying to help hospitals during a huge crisis.

TeleVisus is clearly my #1 project when it comes to teamwork. Technically it was not super challenging because we had all the components already. But the way we rallied together in a crisis situation.... it was simply incredible. A special memory full of light in those dark times.


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