Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Introducing intentional vs. accidental bugs

There was an observation I made on the psychology of how people function in a previous job that has kept my mind occupied over time.

When I joined, our software was infested with bugs, but the users of the product were generally satisfied and happy. It appeared as if the existence of bugs wasn’t an issue externally. It was an issue internally - we could not make any sense of schedules for new features, because the developers got continuously interrupted with firefighting for a bug fix. 

Over time working together, we changed the narrative. The number of bugs went down. The developers could focus better on new features. But the customer experience with our product suffered. They were not as happy with us as they had been. And this was puzzling. 

Looking into the dynamic, we grew to understand that for the product, there was a product and a service component. And while the product was great, the service was awesome. And there was less of the service when there was no “natural” flow of customer contacts. If a customer called in to report a problem and we delivered a fix in 30 minutes, they were just happy. Much happier than without the need they had for our service. 

This past experience came about as we were organizing European Testing Conference 2018. Simon Peter Schrijver (@simonsaysnomore) was awesome as a local contact, focusing on a good experience for the venue in making things clear and planned in advance. As a result, things flowed more smoothly than ever before. There were “changes” as we went on setting up sessions on when we’re reorganize rooms, and those changes required the conference venue to accommodate some unscheduled work. While we felt we can do this ourselves, this venue had a superb standard of service (highly recommending the Amsterdam Arena conference center) and would not leave us without their support. 

Interestingly, some of us organizers felt less needed and necessary when there was less of firefighting, bringing back the memories of the service component from the past. Would there be a way of knowing if people were happier with our past years quick problems resolution (we were on it, so promptly) or this years feel of everything just flowing? Whose perception of quality mattered? Interestingly, in retrospect we identified one problem that we had both earlier years and this year. Earlier years we fixed it on the fly. This year we did not fix it, even we should have had equal (if not better) financial resources to act on it. I personally experienced the problem with the microphones, and failed to realize that I had the power to fix it. I can speculate on the feeling of “executing a plan” vs. “emergent excellence”, but I can’t know the real causes to the effects. 

This brings me to the interesting question of introducing intentional vs. accidental bugs. If the problems while they exist make things better as long as we can react on them quickly, would moving from accidental to intentional be a good move? Here the idea of opportunity cost comes to play: are there any other, less risky ways to focus on the pull of service, than creating the need of the service with bugs? 

With the software product, we needed to invest more in sales and customer contacts to compensate for the natural pull of the bugs for the customer to be in contact and nurture our mutual relationship. Meeting people on content can happen ore in a conference with less issues to resolve. Did we take full advantage of the new opportunity? Not this time. But we can learn for future. 

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