Software QA FYI - SQAFYI

A Few Good Bugse

By: Patrick Bailey

Ants and firecrackers

Charles "Chomp" Lewis' metaphor expressed his frustration. As AutoPlus Parts' new vice president of operations, he needed to know immediately why the bug-shield factory's production line was as dead as an insect hitting a bug-shield at seventy miles per hour.

"Did any of you ever shove a firecracker down an ant hole as a kid?" he asked the assembled division managers, and a few nodded. "After it blew up, they'd run all over the place. They would be completely confused and not get their work done. Right now, I feel like someone just shoved a firecracker in our hole. How do we suddenly stop ordering parts we always need?"

Chomp's bottom-line style had been honed by his twenty-five years as a logistics officer in the U.S. Army. (The "Chomp" appellation was rooted in his tendency to chomp on his cigar when working through a problem.) He joined AutoPlus Parts soon after his military retirement.

Chomp worked his question around the table. He shot an inquisitive look to Jim Kiszup, the purchasing manager.

"It wasn't my folks," Jim said. "Don and Carol know they're accountable for anything that goes wrong. They checked everything they did last week. They did exactly what the purchasing software told them to do."

"Didn't you walk out to the warehouse and see we were running out of supplies?" Chomp replied.

"That would be a bit difficult. There's a lot of inventory out there. Besides, Don and Carol normally don't do that because they depend on the data's accuracy," Jim said.

Chomp redirected his sights to Pat Dodge, whose team supported accounting and purchasing software. "So, Pat, did what's-her-name commit another act of incompetence?"

"You mean Sue?" Pat asked, and Chomp acknowledged the name of the "one remaining software engineer on Pat's team. "No way! She hasn't touched that purchasing software in months. Besides, I told her she was on thin ice after that last incident."

Chomp continued shifting his stern countenance, accentuated by his large jaw and heavy brow. His unlit Havana cigar was held dead center to his lips by the clasp of his index finger and supporting fist. That—and his broad shoulders and his head topped with the dark circle of a crew cut—made him look like a tank with its turret aimed at you. As he looked at the managers, they instinctively took cover by reporting to Chomp that no staff member in their areas had done anything wrong.

"So nobody did anything wrong?" Chomp challenged.

"We found the problem," a voice announced.

"Who's 'we'?" Chomp glanced left and right repeatedly, searching for a target.

"It was my team," said Mike Holt, who had stepped in late to the meeting. His team provided software support for manufacturing and inventory. Chomp knew him to be a quiet sort of person and was somewhat surprised to hear him speak up.

"So what happened?"

"To make a long story short," Mike said, "we misused a third-party library call. When getting data from the database, the code didn't check for what's called a null value flag. Unfortunately, the thirdparty software doesn't change the value member of the object from a previous read when the new row’s value is null, and..."

Chomp looked confused.

"Let me rephrase that," Mike said. "We screwed up."

Chomp nodded. "Is it fixable?"

"Yes. We just did the fix and are testing it right now. We should have it in place by this afternoon. We'll also have someone here through the night to monitor everything."

"So, who did this?"

"Well," Mike said, looking a little nervous, "as I said, it was my team. How it happened was because of good intentions in trying to speed something through without going through our normal process. I know it's costing us a lot of money right now, and I'm really sorry about this."

Pat Dodge thought he would help. "Mike, I think Chomp wants to know who. Was it that new guy?"

Mike froze, looked at Pat, and simply said, "Like I said, it was my team. If you need a name, use mine."

"Do what you have to do," Chomp said to Mike. "Let's just get those people back on the assembly line."

The meeting broke up. Chomp returned to the factory floor, and Mike went back to follow through. Dodge and Kiszup exchanged glances that said if Chomp was anything like his predecessor, then Mike just committed career suicide.

After the fix was in place, Mike sat down at his desk, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes to reflect for a moment.

"Mike?" a soft voice interrupted. "I just double checked. The fix is working."

It was Aaron, the new member on Mike's team. "I wish I could explain why I did something so stupid. I can't..."

"Forget about it," Mike said. "Aaron, I have the fullest confidence in you. You made a mistake anyone could make."

"I know," Aaron continued. "I was in a hurry, but I really thought I was helping by trying to turn around that marketing request. much did my mistake cost?"

"Well, between the lost labor hours and product we could have made but didn't and now can't sell, the overtime the factory will put in to catch up, the time for the fix, the was probably to the tune of $50,000—at least that's the way the accountants see it. But the thing is..."

Aaron’s jaw dropped. "Are you going to fire me?"

"No," Mike assured Aaron, "and I was about to say that the mistake was not entirely yours. Our release management team should have been a little more diligent, our testing plans could have been better, and when you first started I really should have talked to you about the hit this company takes when things go wrong on the line. Yup, you made a mistake, but so did everyone else."

A week later, the managers settled into their regularly scheduled staff meeting. Chomp was upbeat.

"Well, looks like we're back on track," Chomp said.

Each manager gave a brief status update with explanations of who was responsible for any mishaps that had taken place in their area. Kiszup and Dodge commented on the disappointment of résumés they reviewed for new hires. Chomp gave each report a perfunctory nod and soon realized there was one voice he didn't hear.

"Where's Mike Holt?" Chomp asked.

"He's at our Chicago factory this week," one manager reminded him.

With somewhat of a half smile, Chomp said, "Good grief! We put the entire Chicago operation in Mike's hands. I hope they don't forget to order any parts!" The other managers started chuckling.

"It's incredible," Chomp continued. "Seems when things go wrong, it's his fault." The other managers were subtly nodding in half agreement. "Anytime something goes right, it's someone on his team who did it." There was more nodding.

Chomp's jaw became more pronounced as he leaned back and laced his fingers together over his chest. "He hasn't had to hire anyone in a long time—people seem to stay for him." The chuckles began to fade into silence. "You know, I need to promote that hot dog!" Chomp looked back at the others. Each gave a slow,reflective nod of agreement. {end}

As much as we try to prevent them, mistakes will happen. What is the best example you have experienced or observed on how to handle them?

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A Few Good Bugse