My youngest daughter and I were in the Sea/Tac airport, getting ready for our Southwest Airlines flight home to Milwaukee. We had a great vacation, and I an adventurous time racing the Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens. We were at the ticket counter to check my bike, an oversized item.
While our Southwest ticket agent worked on our documents, and another customer at the same time, I put my Scicon bike case on the scale. No worries. It’s super light, and so is the Argon 18 bike inside it. I love the case because it fits in most cars and is easy to roll around the airport, even with only one free hand and a 10 year old companion.
The ticket agent next to us looked at me, and then the case.
“Is that a bike case?” she asked.
“Yes.” Our ticket agent was still busy with the other customer. Why was this agent so interested in us?
“It’s a soft case?” her eyebrows were up. Had she never seen one before? Maybe she was a cyclist.
“Ooo, I don’t know about that.” She was full of doubt. Let’s call her Doubting Dana.
“What don’t you know? That I can check it?” I flew it out here; surely I can fly it back…
“No, I mean that it’s a soft case.” Doubting Dana stretched out the word soft.
Now our ticket agent worked on our documents, and listened in.
“Well, I trust that Southwest will fly it with love back home.” Now I was worried. And, irritated.
Doubting Dana shook her head slowly. “I wouldn’t count on that. Not with that soft case.”
“You’re not making me feel very good about this at all.”
“Sorry, it’s just that soft case…” Did she know something about Southwest Airline’s bag checking service that I didn’t? Did she know someone who had a bad experience? Or, was she undertrained or under-informed?
I had to challenge the service. “I’m starting to think Southwest is going to demolish my bike.”
Doubting Dana smiled and shrugged, as if this situation was not her monkey, not her circus. Actually, there was no circus until she introduced her doubt into our service moment. So much for the feedback loop.
Our ticket agent gave us a knowing look, as if to say, she is ruining it for you and I am sorry. No reassurances or affirmations about how the $150 round trip I was spending to fly my bike had any value.
Once our documents were processed, we got a pleasant thank you, and then, “You can the bike over there, and put it on that cart.”
We walked away far less confident than we arrived. In fact, Doubting Dana’s comments cranked up my author imagination several levels. What if the case fails, or more likely, the airline fails, and my bike is broken? What if… I thought about it all the way home. Upon our arrival in Milwaukee, all was well. Not until I pulled my fully intact bike out of the case that evening, did I let go of Doubting Dana’s words.
As a software development team or a problem solving team, quality and risk are indeed your monkeys, your circus. Most of us won’t have jobs if customers are chronically worried about product failure.
When you have doubts about product or service quality, or perhaps the technical debt it is going to create, you need to speak up in your feedback loop, early and often. Defects are going to happen, but many are preventable. The sweet spot of a fast fail may only reveal itself for a short while. A focused, supported team won’t miss it.
Leaders and product owners, are you making it safe for teams to make the best product they can, or solve the problem in the best known way? Are you walking the gemba to see what is being made, and hear what risks are found? Do you honestly know that your teams are confident about their product or service?
- Freedom Friday!
- Freedom Friday!