Quality Quest: Friendly Fixes: Page 2


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"Friendly code fixes can completely confuse a customer support team, which has neither seen nor heard of this new code before. "

The next step is a careful diagnosis. Make sure you are treating the right condition. This means not taking the customer's request or complaint at face value, as he or she may have misunderstood the causes or implications of what is being asked. I have seen customers confidently announce a complex explanation of weird software behavior in their system and demand a specific code modification, only to discover much later, and after much grief, that we were basically dealing with an outdated .DLL file version that was installed by another application.

Finally, make sure you are prescribing the right solution. For software, this means nailing down exactly which release, version, and build the customer has installed. Applying a fix to the wrong version is like giving a patient the wrong drug. It can kick off a chain reaction in the software that turns deadly. Just because it's an emergency doesn't mean you should panic. In fact, it's the very criticality of the situation that should prompt you to proceed with care. After all, you are going to be skipping over the usual checks and balances.

Now, assuming you provided the right emergency response and saved the day, don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet. The most important part still remains.

Don't Undo What's Done

At this point, you must deal with the fact that you now have some renegade software in production. Unless you take immediate action, the software will either give your support people fits or be lost when the next release is installed. To prevent either situation, you have to go back to the beginning and subject the new code to all the usual processes that apply to nonemergency changes. This includes the basics, like making sure the code is checked into configuration management so that it can become legitimate source code. That way it will pass through the QA and release process, so that when the next version is distributed the code will still be there.

You must also educate the support team about what you did and why, so that if they see the same problem in another customer or context they will know what to do. In fact, if the problem is likely to occur at other sites, the support group might want to proactively notify customers of the availability of a fix.

And last, but not least, see if you can figure out how you got into this situation in the first place. Why did this emergency arise? Could it have been prevented? Can anything be done to address the root cause? By understanding what happened, you can learn from your mistakes. Because, you see, the only thing more important than winning the software quality war is learning how to keep the peace in the first place. //

Linda Hayes is CEO of WorkSoft Inc. She was one of the founders of AutoTester. She can be reached at linda@worksoft.com.

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