Blog posts in English

"A demain!" – story about dealing with a sales-focused vendor

Have you worked with a service vendor which consistently did not meet dealines, yet you still kept buying services from them?
This is a story about a car manufacturers’ service organisation being geared towards sales – not service. I’m sharing it here because it has analogies to what’s happening in the software industry. So I hope you’ll stay with me:
My Renault Espace broke down on a vacation in France. It’s a great car, usually very reliable, but like anything else, it has its weak points. The gearbox is one of them: I’ve seen numerous reports on failing gearboxes. Mine did 277,000 km before failing. Not bad, considering…
I delivered the car to a large Renault operation in the city of Frejus on the Côte d’Azur. I was well received, there was even a girl speaking English. I felt comfortable, and got a chance to look at the new cars.
Repairing an automatic gearbox is a specialist task, but replacement gearboxes are available. I started looking at the various options for repair – and for getting the family home to Denmark before our vacation ended.
So I asked the manager at the garage two questions:

  • How much will a repair be?
  • When will the car be ready?

Now, I’ve done a bit of work on my cars over the years, and I know that unplanned things can happen, so I was happy that he gave me a conservative time estimate that would allow for delays in the process. I was most worried whether a new gearbox was in store somewhere in the Renault network, but there was one in Paris, so I accepted.
And with the replacement gearbox arriving from Paris just a few days later, I was happey. When I checked with the garage, they told me they’d start working the same day, and I could have the car two days later. That would be one day earlier than promised.
”Sounds good, we’re ahead of plan,” I thought, and since buffers are always good to have, and I felt I could accept the optimistic estimate. I still trusted them.
But I was in for a surprise when I called two days later to ask about pick up. The answer was ”a demain!” – tomorrow. Any problems?, I asked. No, no problems, they said, ”a demain”.
I went to see the car later the same day, and the picture here shows what found: Note that the old gearbox is still in the car. The mechanic had obviously not started working on my car the day they said he would do it.
”C’est possible,” they claimed next day when the mechanic was still busy reassembling the car. I didn’t trust that, as the car obviously needed more work than was available on that day only. A sound test drive, for example!
As I’m writing this, I’m waiting for my car, sitting next to the service counter, where cars are registered for repairs. There’s a large poster showing the people working in the garage – and then there are all the new cars here. I like the electric vehicles Renault is offering, and everyone here is smiling and polite, even the service people. I feel comfortable here.
Renault’s business model is 100% sales oriented: They want me to buy services, buy a new or newer car instead. They smile and tell me all sorts of apparantly good reasons why the repair was delayed – they have even apologized to my family.
But there’s one thing they haven’t told me yet: They prioritized someone else’s car over mine, and they didn’t start working on it until there was no slack in the plan anymore.
This could be an example of french ”laissez faire” attitude, but I don’t think so. I’m not at all worried about the quality of the repair itself, as I saw the mechanic several times while he was working on the car. I know how Renault train their mechanics, and it was obvious that he was doing a really proper job.
No, It’s the planning that sucks. they didn’t know when they’d be done, so they didn’t call me to let me know the plan was in jeopardy. They just hoped. Even today they said: ”Dix heures”, and it’s now 09:59.
The interesting thig is that this is supporting their sales! It’s obvious that Renault has tuned even their flawed, but kind service organisation towards new sales.
How is YOUR vendor tuned?
PS: I’ve got the car now, and it’s as great as ever. Ready for at least another 150,000 km!

Blog posts in English

Communicating models: A psychological perspective

Simon Morley posted a very interesting post about Challenges with communicating models about two weeks ago. Mental models are what we unconscously use to understand a situation, and communicating models to others is an interesting challenge: “[…] models do not transmit themselves – they are not necessarily understood on their own – they need the necessary “synch’ing” to align both parties to achieve comprehension, communication and dialogue”, as Simon summed it up in a comment on the blog post.
Simons post and the very good discussion he and I had about it started me thinking on the psychological perspective and how important empathy is: The “synch’ing” relies on empathy.
I really liked Simons blog post because above all it highlights the subjectivity of mental models. Models are not something you can implement in an organisaton just by e.g. e-mailing them to all employees. If you want someone to ‘get’ your model, you need to actively communicate it. Which is not possible without empathy.
Empathy is something that we associate with friendship and love, but it plays part in all communication processes between human beings, including those we as testers engage with at work.
From time to time we come across people who seems to have a total lack of understanding of what we’re doing: Colleagues, managers, customers. Most of the time, people who don’t understand need only a good explanation of the situation and our point of view. But sometimes, an explanation isn’t enough: Some people just don’t seem to want to understand.
People under pressure or in stress can be like that, and we often associate this with aggressive behaviour, rudeness. Or maybe we just see the rudeness, and only later realise that maybe there was a problem with understanding.
Empathy seems to exclude this behaviour. Empathy relies on a cognitive ‘feature’ of our brain which attempts to copy thoughts and feelings of other people: It tries to decode what those who you interact with are thinking based on verbal as well as unconscious ques, e.g. body language. It’s quite obvious that having ‘a notion’ of what someone else thinks and feels can make communication much more successful – if you feel sympathy for the other persons feelings and thoughts.
This can work both ways: Loss of empathy in a situation can mean that you think everybody else thinks and feels the same as you, and it can cause quite a lot of confusion and frustration when you realise that other’s are’nt thinking the same as you.
It can happens to all of us: The brain is not a perfect and consistently operating machine, but rather a very adaptable and flexible organ. For example in situations of crisis, empathy is one of the first things to go. A person in a crisis shift from being a social creature to goal oriented and focused, typically on survival – at any cost.
There are people who don’t want to understand, e.g. due to politics. But there are some people who involuntarily just aren’t able to get to ”the other side” of the argument, for example because they’re having ”a bad day”.
(Some people with autism and ADHD can be characterised by having problems with empathy. This is a quite severe handicap for them, since not only do they have problems decoding what other people think og feel, they can also have problems seperating their own thoughts and feelings from what other people are thinking and feeling. The sad situation for empathy impaired people is that they often don’t have a choice: Even when everything is good is it extremely difficult for them to decode other peoples thoughts, feelings and intentions – and therefore extremely difficult for them to communicate and interact successfully. Noticing how successfully others interact often just makes them feel plain stupid. This can lead to severe depression.)

Blog posts in English

Gooooood morning, Rrrrrrunö!

My head feels a little dizzy, but outside my hotel window, the sun is again shining from a clear blue sky, little birds are singing, and it’s looking to be a wonderful day today. Runö, the conference venue, is a really nice place- and so is Let’s Test! If you’re here, you will know what I mean, if not you just have to believe me: Never have I been with such a friendly and bright bunch of people! I love it!
After the opening keynote yesterday, I went to on my presentation for today. I was almost done, but then the team (that’s me!) decided to refactor everything! Oh dear! But it had too many slides, and they just didn’t work well together, and that’s a showstopper, right?
The good news is that the I got the presentation fixed: The refactoring succeeded! Thanks to friends and colleagues for allowing me to reflect with you on the subject (there’s the friendly thing again!).
The bad news is that I had to skip the tutorial I planned to go to.
I didn’t skip tutorials completely, though, as Iwas very kindly allowed to jump in on Henrik Andersson and Leo Hepis’ tutorial “Now, what’s your plan?”, which started at 3 pm.

I’m sure all the workshops were excellent, but this was really, really cool: During the 3 hours, we got to develop test strategies for our testing team, incorporate really challenging context changes, learn about what context is, and discuss buth our own and other team’s approaches and solutions to the challenges we were put through.

Normally, context is something which is “just there”. As a team member, I’m often not given all the needed knowledge about context, but still I have to relate to it anyway and develop my own test strategies, or when I’m given management responsibilities, the strategy of the whole team. Still, the context is shaping my strategy and it does so in so many ways. And then we have context change: Things aren’t static, right? Although we all prefer working in stable environments, things do often change: Sometimes to the better, sometimes to the worse, sometimes just to something different, but the point is that we cannot disregard context changes, since they affect us whether we want it or not.
How do teams react to context changes? I observed at least four different “reaction modes” within the teams during the workshop:

  • “Ok, what’s this?”: It’s a completely new situation and there are no prejudices or previous context to take into account. This is fun and generally feels good.
  • Resistance, chaos, integration, new status quo – i.e. all of the phases of the Satir Change Model. This can be a difficult process, especially it the team resides in the “chaos” phase for long.
  • Relief: A context change clears everything up, and the project can go from “problem fixing” to “solution mode”. This feels very good too.
  • Panic: The context change is sudden and feels like a bomb had been dropped in the middle of the project and is now threatening to blow everything up: The team panics. Hopefully, the bomb can be defused and the panic can be cleared.

So what is context? A couple of definitions surfaced – I didn’t get them all, but here’s a couple:

  • The variables which significantly influence the task
  • Those aspects of the total environment that seem important/relevant
  • Context is anything that changes my model

What’s your definition?