Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mission Impossible in Paris

I just came back from a holiday trip in Paris where we met good old friends from Scotland.
While I could relax from the stressful tester's life, I had a nice déjà-vu on my last day at Paris in the Centre Pompidou.

My kids were playing with a conveyor machine in the playing area where you could pick up colorful everyday items out of a big repository and put it on the conveyor band. Someone could then turn the wheel and all those items got transferred back to the repository. 

What first looked like a boring task to me, appealed so much to my kids and other children that it was hard for me to get them away of the play zone and enjoy the beautiful exhibition. However, the wheel of the conveyor regularly blocked so the kids were no longer able to turn the wheel. As a consequence, no items could get transferred back to the repository. The reason was the stack of items in the repository gaining so much height that it reached the thin vertical slot of the conveyor after only a short while of running. Due to the kids continuously pulling the wheel, some items were involved into the slot and blocked the machine completely.

I spent most of the time making sure, the stack was kept at a safe height so nothing could disappear into the slots, hereby making it easier for the kids to play with the conveyor on a continuous basis. While doing this, I realized another small item got stuck in the slot but did not cause the conveyor to block completely. Instead it slowed it down. The kids had to put a lot of forces on pulling the wheel, so their items got transferred back in the repository. I was trying to get the "bug" out so the kids had a lot easier job.

I failed miserably, because none of kids could stand still for a moment. I had risked my fingers each time I tried to get the "bug" out of the slot. Whenever I almost had it, another kid took control over the wheel and caused me pray for my fingers. Surprisingly, I was the only one parent trying to help those kids and keep the machine running smoothly. When I finally decided to step back and watch the scene from a distance, I saw kids trying to pull the wheel even harder when it no longer worked. None really took the initiative and scaled down the size of the stack.

Thinking about that issue, it could have been easy for the local management to fix the problem. First there were way too many items in the repository. Fewer items had solved the issue because the stack never had a chance to grow up fast and so high up. In other words, less items in the repository and the conveyor never had such a continuous maintenance problem. Second, none really seemed to care about a badly moving conveyor. Instead of someone stopping the kids from using the wheel for just one minute and trying to solve the root cause that slowed down the conveyor band, local management just accepted (or wasn't aware of) the fact, that those poor kids had to "work hard" and spend too much effort.

At this moment I realized the marked similarities to my job as a software tester and test automation engineer where we experience such situations almost every day...

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