So, I have experienced what I feel is a failure of a project that I was recently a part of in my personal life and have been thinking about it a lot lately. Partly because as an systems architect it is my job to always be trying to understand where I can improve myself and ensure that I do not repeat mistakes, but also just because, well darn it, I hate failing.
Who the heck doesn’t hate failing?
Really, I am not counting this as a ‘failure’ per-se because I did bring it up as an issue at the onset of the project and even noted my personal objections to it in the review notes that were taken in the meetings I had. I am noting it as a time of shame in that I allowed my PERSONAL level of professional conduct to be driven by an outside group instead of recusing myself and just walking away. In short, I let go of my principals and am now paying for it.
Not a mistake I will be making again.
How did I come up with the title of this entry? What does a QA analyst have to do with the legal system? Just so you know I am a huge fan of the TV series Law an Order. Not so much the recent off shoots, but the old shows with Jerry Orbach (Lennie Briscoe), Sam Waterston (Jack McCoy), and one of my personal favorites, Chris Noth (Mike Logan), but I digress…
I have always been fascinated by the law. I almost decided to become a layer ate one point but decided that I was not hard enough (or perhaps too hard) to take the role. I looked at it for a while and decided that there were potentially too many gray areas to have to deal with ethically, so I took the IT route instead. Hehehehehe, yeah, who knew?
So, the relation here is this.
In the legal system you have several areas of a legal issue, each on represented by a specific area of expertise looking at the case in a different way. The accused is, by matter of the same legal system that is currently citing them as a ‘bad guy’ provided a way to prove their innocence before a panel of impartial people, and is offered representation to help them. There are people on both sides that defend their position, present their case and in the end the judge and jury make a decision based upon a preponderance of the evidence if the accused is guilty or innocent, and what the method/mode of punishment should be. Remember, the legal system is represented by the scales held by lady justice’s left hand with a sword in her right, and her eyes covered with a blind fold giving the indication that she is unable to be influenced by any outside party, and are driven only by the written matter of law currently established.
In the project system you have several areas of a project issue, each on represented by a specific area of expertise looking at the problem in a different way. The project is what it is, being defined by the specifications that were approved by all the parties involved upon its initiation. There are people on both sides that defend their position, present their case, and in the end someone makes a decision if the delivered system met the requirements or not, and how to correct what needs to be corrected moving forward.
In a business environment, the business owner comes to IT with a need. They understand (probably very well) what needs to be accomplished and can usually state those goals very well in what are referred to as High Level Requirements. These requirements are used to establish a baseline timeframe and budget that is then referenced by the business plan to check validity to the established mission and cash flow for the year to determine if it can be(or even should be) perused. Once they get the green light it moves on.
In the IT environment an architect is assigned the project, provided the business requirements, a basic timeline and a budget framework and told to go off and design, then come back with more specifics to move forward. Once they do the design and pass it back to the company for final approval (timeline and budget) the project then gets assigned to developers to complete according to the specification.
The developers do the work based upon the design of the architect; perform some base level tests to make sure that what they release meets the stated objectives, and then release a build for testing.
Here is where the problem ALWAYS happens.
The business will sometimes NOT want to include a QA test resource.
WHY? I am not sure. Usually the business says that they are too busy to be bothered with anything. They are, after all, the ones making the money for the company, why should they want to do anything else? But I have heard more than a few times that THEY want to be the test people on the project because THEY know the DATA better than ANYONE and can be the best judge of the system processing quality than a QA persona can ever be.
It was HERE where I was bitten.
I fought hard and lost my battle. I was made to allow this abomination into my project. I was provided with the business requirements, I created the low level design, handed that off to developers that created their individual designs and had them reviewed by other developers, then implemented them long with a series of basic test cases that they deemed were required, and then handed the ‘completed’ project over to the business for THEM to test. The business ran their TESTS (I have yet to see an established – IE: written – test plan or results document) and signed off on the completed work. The total time for QA testing ended up being about 4-6 hours.
My right eyebrow rose a bit but it was apparently not for me to say anything and the project went into production where it was run for the first time and the resulting data set was sent off to the next step of the process (not something that I have any control over at all there), and within hours THEY saw issues in the data that they were presented with as a result of this projects processing and kicked it back to us. The business took a look at the data (that they already saw by the way, remember, they ‘QA Tested’ this system just hours before and had ‘signed off’ –approval via email- on its viability and correctness).
The reaction was shocking to say the least. The business came back and questioned the systems correctness. I was shocked, but not at all that surprised, but still a bit ticked off. I am not a person that enjoys assigning blame, but when I am asked to explicitly locate a problem, that job gets done for me. I find the error and the fault is assigned by the simple act of doing that. Who did that work gets the ‘blame’. In my opinion though the blame should be shared by the developer and the person that did the review of the code, and ALSO the QA Analyst that either missed a test case or did not execute one correctly. In this case we had NO QA Analyst, or in reality, I was getting asked BY THE QA Analyst (the business unit in this case) what the problem was. Again, I was a little miffed, but took it. The problem ended up being something that I knew was going to be a potential issue, and that we had even discussed in meetings as part of the implementation and design. A direction was decided upon between me and the PM that the business (err… QA) would manually process through this data list and perform some further cleanup that would take a significant effort in dollars, time and specialized software to accomplish in an automated manner, and that we would look at other more automated solutions in the next round prior to this process needing to be used again next year. Being the diligent architect that I am kept this all documented in the projects documentation, partially because I am just a thorough person, but also as a way to provide some CYA to both myself and the next unlucky architect that got any revisions the next time this project needed to have changes made to it.
The manual processing was done, requiring the business to manually look through every record and try to remediate possible duplicates. I figured this would FORCE them to look at each and every record and if there were any OTHER errors they would see them. They were after all ‘the best people to judge the correctness of the data’ hence the reason that they mandated themselves as the QA team in the first place. I again, shook my head, scratched a bit, and let it go. They completed their manual processing, removed about 1000 or so records that they felt were dupes and handed the file back to me to get converted over and sent back to the vendor for processing. That being done, the project was run, my involvement was closed out, and I was assigned on to other work.
Ding dong, the alarm bell rings again as a new problem is found, and then another.
Once again I am asked to look at the data. Amazingly enough, I am asked by the same team that certified this exact same data, and even had to read through it all manually record by record in their last cleanup effort, to find the ‘problem’. I found the problem, a common mistake in this type of processing (the order that records are placed in when a lookup is performed) that was not caught by the developer, the reviewer of their code, nor the QA team that certified the data TWICE now before it was allowed out the door.
So, what’s the result here? I am going to spend my weekend looking over the data between what we HAD then and what we HAVE now as the result of a change made to address the issue and try to determine what to do next.
Being a process oriented guy and always one to try to learn from my mistakes I have taken a hard look at this and made a determination that I was right at the start and I am not going to ever accept a project that does not have QA resources assigned. Could I be potentially signing my own walking papers? Perhaps, but at this point it is a case based upon principles and not just me being a whiney architect not willing to take blame. In fact all I have been asking all along is that someone who is impartial to the business process, design of the solution, and the development of the solution look at the data going in, the processing, and the data coming out, and TELL ME if there are problems.
I welcome being told there is a problem so it can be addressed BEFORE we ship. That’s the idea of testing, to catch problems before they make it to production. I just fail to see how people cannot understand that. Just as Lady Justice stands outside of every courthouse to ensure fair and impartial judgment on the application of the rules of law, so should QA be allowed to stand and judge the usability of a system before it is relied upon to perform its tasks.
Now I ask you, how many people ASK to be judged like this?
Am I wrong?
I have to say that I am NOT surprised in the least.
Avast, the (IMHO) WORLDS BEST anti-virus package available (aside from their lack of support for the Windows Mobile 6 platform apparently :) ), has come through and delivered.
I was contacted by Adam Riley (a member of Avast support whom I had been previously working with) and at this very point, my refund through the processing center @ Element5 is in action. I have been assured that the refund will be processed in the next week or so and have already seen the paperwork notifications come through.
Again, I would like to say that I am not surprised. Avast has always done their best in the past to take care of me, has provided service when needed, and to top it all off, unlike a majority of the other Anti-virus packages and companies out there, provided a VERY consistent and high quality product. I will continue to use them myself, but more importantly, I will continue to recommend them to others.
Although it did take some rather drastic steps, what matters MOST is that the company came through in the end, admitted there was a design problem and that it was taking longer than first anticipated to address (something that as a developer I can both understand and feel frustrated about), and promptly followed it up with processing a refund.
So, to all those that I dealt with @ Avast, as well as all those working behind the scenes on a product that has consistently blown my socks off with effectiveness and performance, all I can say is 'keep it up!' don't stop, and teach those other AV vendors how it's done.
Honestly I would never have thought that I would be here using my technical blog to be venting about a vendor, but I really feel the time has come. This effort has gone far too long to go 'un-published' any longer.
The offender is Avast Antivirus. http://www.avast.com/index
I have been using their free home version for years and have been promoting it all over the place to every one. It works flawlessly and has caught so many things that other AV vendors have missed that I had decided to NEVER use anything but Avast on any system that I set up for any person. Business of course have to pay for the product because that the rules at Avast. I am FINE with that. in fact I think it is GREAT that they have thought enough to understand that home users are in need of a great AV app (the Avast provides) and that business are in a better position to pay for the support and all that. I have NO problem with them charge business and not home users at all.
So... the McAfee install that came as part of my Motorola Q phone had run out and I figured that I would go to my friends at Avast and purchase the mobile version of the app and install it on my phone and get rid of the junk that came on it for free. On 11\19\2009 I ordered and received my copy of Avast 4 PDA version and installed it. Email confirmation assured me that I would get my license code via email latter, and I did. The instructions told me how to enter the Avast license code. The PROBLEM was that the UI on the phone display did not include the 'About' button that they referenced so I could enter any code. Hmmmm
I opened a support case on 11\28\2009 explaining the issue I was having, and was responded to by Tomas the very next day that my phones 320x200 screen resolution was not yet supported and they would try to implement this feature in a future release. I asked him when they anticipate having this since I love using Avast and wanted to keep it going. I was told that they should have support for that resolution by sometime in January 2010. I felt OK with that date and told them that I would wait for the next release and figured that I would work out the license cost issues latter with them since I was going to be a few months off between having the license and being able to actually use it. I figured they would be good for it and we would work it out.
So, January comes and goes... Other things in my life had happened... I decided to follow up on April 4th 2010. Noticed that I could no longer find any listing of my original support case (AFO-665966) so I opened a new one (RSB-517949) asking for a status on my old case and if no help was going to be forthcoming then I would be expecting a refund of my $20. on 4\9\2010 I got an email back from Petr telling me that I can download Avast 5, get my license file resume to me if I forgot it, yadda, yadda, yadda.... I replied to him, and explained that I thought he was a bit confused, I was referring to Windows Mobile, etc... provided with again with the original support case # and asked for followup. As of 6\6\2010 I have yet to hear back from Petr at all and that case is still open.
In the mean time I posted about this on the public Avast message area, thinking that maybe if I started asking for any other people who maybe had the same issue I would get a response form at least the public. So far, no response from anyone (public or Avast) there. OK, what ever...
So, I decide enough is enough, I contact Avast sales and am at this point simply now asking for my $20 back. Shown below is the opening interaction I posted to get this started:
"I would like to request a refund of my purchase of Avast 4 PDA edition. REF#305093845. I have been trying to get support now since my purchase on 11/19/2009 under 2 ticket numbers (AFO-665966 and RSB-517949) and have gotten no where. I hate to move away from using Avast on my mobile phone (I use it at home on all my PCs there and love it and just recently just purchased a package of license for there) but I am not getting any help with the version I am running on my mobile phone at all. If someone can help me get a version that works on my phone I will keep running it (I love Avast) but I do not want to go longer without a functioning AV on the device and I am not getting any responses or help."
Thusly opens another ticket (XAP-831717) with a person named Adam. He asks me for details again and promises to 'look into it' for me. I give him the same technical details i Had given originally:
Motorola Q 9h global running Windows Mobile 6.1 - 2.4 Inch display 320x240 - 120 MB RAM - Avast 4.1.19 PDA
That post was on 6\23\2010. Here we are on 7\5\2010, no response. No refund, and no functional AV on my phone.
I don't get it.
When did support stop being important to people that pay?
I have worked in support most of my technical life. I worked as a phone jockey for Sony desktop and laptop support (I was agent C02E way back in the day if you remember me :) ) and was held to EXTREMELY high standards (phone monitoring, customer surveys, technical information and documentation audits, etc...). I Left there to do engineering level support and technical training for a local company called Voice Technologies Group (VTG) that built interface hardware to allow systems like IVRs, Voice Mail, and latter on Unified messaging systems interface between servers and PBX systems. They were bought by Dialogic so I ended up working for them, they got bought by Intel, and then Intel sold them off to a company called Icon Networks from Europe that ended up putting the name back to Dialogic again. Every step of the way I was involved in the servicing processes in some way, weather through support (phone or on-site) acting as a technical evangelist at all the various trade shows, writing and presenting training classes, or even stepping in and helping customers design solutions, and then test them using our hardware\software. At every step of the way I was held to the highest standards of customer interaction. If I just let a support case lie dead for a week my butt would be in a sling and I would be getting emails from customers, CEOs, you name it.
Now, I will admit that that perhaps the support expectations for a $20 bit of software is slightly lower than a hardware card or IP gateway that runs between $2000 and $10,000, but the idea is the same. You have a paying customer that plopped down some cold hard cash for and has some expectations. with respect to how they are treated and how they are interacted with. I am at this point not even expecting to get it working. I KNOW that they are simply NOT going to address my issue only because of the fact that my phone (as I have been told so many times now) is outdated and has too small a screen. The software is built for an actual 'smart phone' with a larger screen and that is that.
Simply have the personal where-with-all to just email me back and TELL me that fact and then GIVE ME A REFUND.
At this point I am not sure if I would ever buy Avast again even if I did upgrade my phone to something newer. Why? Because the level of support I have received until this point has been abysmal. Why would I expect that to change?
Avast support: Suggestion - Give me a version of SW that works or give me back my $20. I am not going away and I can have a tendency to become very persistent. I have tons of experience knowing what gets attention from the customer side of a support case.
Touch touch touch…
To be honest I don’t get it.
I touch my computer every day already. I use a mouse and a keyboard to do it, but to be honest I see very little sense in using my finger to manipulate objects on my computer. My finger tip is large, and my monitors (all 4 of them) are at a 90 degree angle to my desk. Why would I want to use my hand to reach out (and up) to manipulate objects on my computer screen when I can use the mouse to do it?
Now other devices like game tables, interactive kiosks, digital book readers, Maybe PDAs and stuff, that’s fine, but I have yet to see value in a touch screen PC that is not at very least stylus oriented. And on that subject, what is the hot thing about handwriting recognition. I specifically use a computer (and previously a typewriter) because my handwriting sucks :) Why on earth would I want to write on my PC screen? Sign a digital document? Sure, but now get someone to trust that ‘I’ signed it and we will be all set. That technology is still not proven yet and most people don’t really trust it. Using a finger print is a better option, and far more trusted, but still not entirely mainstream yet.
Yes, the touch demos that I have seen show fancy things like dragging and throwing photos around a table top, or playing games, or ordering off of a virtual menu, and those are all good examples of the use of touch technology, but at a very narrow focus and scope. The demos about interactive touch counters in the stores that allow you to compare multiple products side by side are cool too but also relay not JUST on touch but also on RFID technology that is not really related to touch. You could do one without the other. Games like chess, checkers, solitaire (every computer HAS to come with a copy of that right?) are fine for touch, but would you really want to play WOW or DOOM using touch?
I have YET to see one ultra compelling demonstration of using touch in an office environment that wows me more than a mouse does. Can you imagine trying to do photo-retouching using your finger? Editing code or creating an application form in Visual Studio using your hands? How about highlighting text and dragging it around or changing fonts using your hands? Now picture doing all that on a 17 or even a 21 inch screen.
I am not saying that touch does not have it use, it does, but on a somewhat narrow scope I think. I think you will see (my prediction) that touch WILL finally take hold at some point, but more along the lines of interface technology that we are already familiar with today. Give me a keyboard that I can reconfigure on the fly based upon the application that is active on my screen, and do it that way. Give my a touch pad to replace my mouse, or maybe two touch pads (one on each side of my virtual keyboard) so I can do multi-touch stuff. Maybe I will reach out to my screen a bit and do larger granularity things like flip pages on a large document, or open an application by tapping on an icon, but touch is not the generic answer to one problem.
It looks cool in movies, and sounds cool in high level technical talk, but in reality, where I live, I need what works, and I just don’t see touch being a PC related thing with a ton of impact like most do.
FORCE me into a touch only interface and loose me as a customer. I WOULD use a stylus more instead of a mouse on a laptop, but don’t make me write what I can type MUCH faster or you loose me as a customer.
My prediction is that the next big wave will be multi-modal interfaces. Provide me the ability to use touch where it makes sense, and then at the same time allow me to use a mouse or stylus or keyboard where it makes sense, at the same time and at MY whim. I want to scroll down in an online book a few pages by using my hand to grab and flip a PDF down a few pages then as they scroll by use my right hand with my mouse to grab the page as I see it, stop it, and then select a few words on the screen so I can reach up and press the bold button with my left hand on the screen? That’s great.
And before all you naysayer out there bring up all the cool ‘things’ from movies like Minority Report, keep in mind that was a ‘gesture based interface’ NOT touch based, and I think that is closer to being far more useful than pure touch, but a subject for another blog entry.
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Life, as in business, is all about having perspective.
I have recently myself just been given a very large dose of personal perspective that, after a lengthy period of internal debate have decided to share with a larger community of people here because I think it is highly relevant to the everyone’s life, both personal and business related.
I just recently found out that I have a Brain Tumor. In the grand scheme of the ones that you could ever have, this one is a bad one, and is almost garmented to shorten my life by some unknown factor of time. The word ‘inoperable’ was used, and for a time I have to admit that I fixated on that word alone, and it drove me to many cascaded thoughts after that that, that if left unchecked, could have put me in a very bad place. But at one point I made the conscious decision to examine that word for what it really meant.
It DID NOT mean ‘untreatable’.
It simply meant that ‘surgery’ was not a viable option.
Why am I announcing this on a business, even more so an IT, related blog?
Because it really relates to exact conditions that we run into in IT and in business in general.
Like most business and IT leaders, we plod through life knowing that there are unknowns that we will have to handle, but for the most part we simply plan for what we know is going to happen, and then handle the issues that arise by adjusting the plan as we go. And in reality that is fine, because it is life. There are always going to be possibilities that we don’t see something coming, or that something outside our sphere of influence of vision will come crashing into our timeline and effect us. For those things we TRY to be prepared by having contingency plans, disaster recovery plans, etc, but in reality we are really still flying by the seat of our pants and simply reacting.
We pat ourselves on the back as managers because we have plans in place to handle the unknowns that can come flying at us (as if we CAN REALLY plan for the unknown) but in reality, just as with me not knowing until recently that I had brain cancer, we simply move from our point of origin to tomorrow and beyond just taking things day by day, following a plan that we all know could completely fall apart tomorrow. And for some reason we are happy, maybe even proud, to be doing that.
Wake up like I did.
In life, any time you are given a piece of information that you did not have before, no matter how bad it is, you need to be happy about it.
Because it now changes your perspective, that’s why. It GIVES you a piece of solid foundational information on which you can review, analyze, and make solid adjustments to your actual plan, then and take steps to alter your direction without guessing anymore.
I found out that I had brain cancer. Maybe you will find out tomorrow that one of your largest customers has been secretly interviewing other service providers that could potentially replace YOU as a vendor, or maybe you suddenly start to see alarms on a sever that indicate an impending massive failure.
Are you going to be shocked? Yes.
Are you going to be worried? Sure
Are you going to be upset? Probably
Get over it.
You have been given a gift, the gift of information. Everyone needs to understand that INFORMATION is critical in life and in business. Those that have it rule the world because it gives them a perspective, and thus the ability to plan for alternatives and make judgments, that those without it can’t do accurately at all.
Get over the bad news.
Bad news is really only bad when it comes after the condition has occurred. In my case REALLY BAD news would have been along the lines of having brain cancer that was so advanced that it was not only inoperable but ALSO untreatable. Mine was NOT both. It IS in a VERY bad location (making it inoperable) but because of that location the effects were noticed very early while it was SMALLER and thus TREATABLE. Compare this to getting a an alarm on a server console that says you have a DEAD hard disk that needs to be replaced vs. one that is starting to fail and you now have time to act on it before the really bad stuff starts to happen, or getting that call that your major customer has already signed a contract with a new vendor and will not be renewing with YOU, and that negotiation is not an option because they already inked a deal with the other vendor and you are now out of the running completely.
Again, it is all a matter of perspective.
There is a set of lines in the latest Star Trek film between Kirk and Spock that I find highly pertinent in this case:
= = = = =
Kirk: You say he’s from the future, knows what’s going to happen, the then logical thing is to be unpredictable.
Spock: You are assuming that Nero knows how events are predicted to unfold. The contrary, Nero’s very presence has altered the flow of history beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin and culminating in the events of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party.
= = = = =
The gist of this exchange is that once you know something, your perspective changes.
You are given an opportunity to plan for a once unknown condition, and that your ability to plan is now balanced out with either side because both of you (in my case me and my cancer, but this could be the conditions of you finding out about your biggest customer in negotiations with other vendors also) are now on a more equal playing field. You know something that you did not before, and can therefore start to plan in advance to change the conditions of tomorrow’s results, and the other side now has to also re-plan.
In actuality, one major shift in perceptive when you get bad news in both life and business can also be this.
YOU have just been given a gift that has turned the tables and given YOU the advantage.
YOU now know something that the other side does not know. YOU know their plans and they may not know that you do. This actually switches the advantage over to your side simply because it now allows you to start planning alternative strategies to account for the variance in the relationship. You can now go on the offensive before the other side has a chance to develop their own strategies to react to what is now going to be your plan of attack, be that a very well established, focused, and thought out plan of Chemotherapy, targeted Radiation, and advanced imaging to monitor progress, or your sales departments ability to prepare a revised contract to adjust the terms to meet the current needs of your largest customer, or your IT departments ability to purchase, stage and implement a new NAS server to replace the one that is currently starting to fail.
Once again, it is all a matter of perspective, and in business, perspective is KEY because it means that you understand the conditions of the world and have the ability to thoughtfully react instead of just reacting to events that pop up.
Remember, I don’t think that there is really ever bad news. There is news that can deliver a bad message, but the fact that you get the bad message can be an opportunity.
Keeping that opportunity in perspective is the key.