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Detlev Beutner

Why to Call a Fail: A Fail

Posted by Detlev Beutner in About SCN on Mar 18, 2012 6:57:11 PM

One week of the new SCN and so many things happened. Time to summarize.

First, I would like to express that none of that what follows is or should be received as an accusation. As a mathematician, I prefer an unemotional view on the facts, and when I conclude: "The transition was - a fail" - and that will be a part of my conclusions - it does not mean in the background: "And there are guilty people who we can hang for this!" Especially if you, the reader, are a member of the SCN team, and are bugged by "just another negative comment", please ask around for somebody who knows me in person, I hope that this person is able to defend me and will declare: "Sometimes he's a bit harsh, but for him, it's about the matter, the facts, and of being honest and truthful. And that people accept and learn from their failures." At least, this is what I think about me... ;-)

OK, I will start with my very personal experience. My first three tries to access the new SCN have failed totally, each ending up in login issues, from which I could not proceed. I was locked out. This ended up in different mails to the support team. As I could not access the platform (I never access it anonymously, as normally I contribute in some way), I wasn't able to know that this "little" "please let me in"-issue would only be the start of some serious frustration, from which many others already suffered a lot... So I could not know that my mails only have been three small "clicks" in a loud and steady noise the support team already was exposed to.

The rest is well-known: Logout-issues, error messages (ajax & full page) and a performance... Of course I know that these are "only" technical issues which have to be analyzed and then will be stopped (maybe together with some loss of functionality, but at least the platform would be usable some day). But I also know that under the circumstances SCN runs this would be all but easy, and around three days of very serious issues paint a picture of this.

I can't say how much I appreciate the peek into the details Oliver Kohl gave us in his blog Anatomy of a Go-Live. And not only this - this was the best reaction which could have come from the team. Of course it was "too late", and not only this, the days before we heard other signals. And that is one point where people can learn from, even if I think that this is something people might have learned within the last two or three years: The times are gone where the big player could "declare the truth" to the little players. Even if I'm so sure that the people in the SCN team have been proud of what they have created, even if of course they have put so many hours and blood & sweat into this and wanted the best for the community, even if I understand that with a go-live the burden should lift from the shoulders and people would like to get something back now, having rolled out the new exciting stuff - even if I know all this, if I respect and appreciate the feeling behind this (I had them often enough myself) -- with the issues everything started very fast, this (said to say) was not the hour (or day, or days) to praise the new platform.

Learn this - and I don't want to address Mark Yolton in person, on the contrary, I hope that Mark had his lesson and learned something (even if I have to admit that his last update does not make this undoubtedly clear for me). But there are so many people out there which now have the chance to realize this before they run into the same trap and frustrate people and get hurt:

Learn this: If you have created something, it does not, I repeat: (not "less", "few", but) NOT count what you know how great this new thing is if the people you made this for are unhappy, absolutely irrelevant if you think that any criticism is justified or not. The user experience is the alpha and omega (*) when it comes to the evaluation of the new system. Nothing else.

And if you (and now I'm pointing to all current or future marketing managers or similar) ignore this rule, the users will come back to you. Especially if you ignore this rule when rolling out a "web 2.0" platform, where the system to be evaluated is the same the users can use to provide their feedback ;-)

Mark's Blog earned a little **** storm, and all I can say about this: This was just logical in 2012. And even if I was the first commenter and sowed the seeds for further negative comments, I hope Mark can agree that at least 10 or 20 comments later my words had no influence any more (not saying that they had any). Also on Monday, nothing was more wrong than publishing "promising invitations" (like on Twitter). Not only that you knowingly lead people to a system where they get frustrated very fast, it's also not very nice for the technical team, getting at the same time more traffic on the system and increasingly bad feedback.

And here we can learn something more: Don't rest on positive feedback. To the contrary: If feedback is 50:50, chances are high that the positive feedback is much less profound than the negative. But the negative feedback, if immediately constructive or just the expression of "being pissed", is the feedback which leads to changes. So this is also maybe something some users on SCN might learn: It's great to be a nice person, but it does not always help. If somebody is always nice, a compliment from such a person simply means - nothing. The greatest and most valuable compliments are the ones you receive from people who are known sceptics.

OK, all this technical hardcore problems are almost history. But there is one interesting thing I think I have observed: It seems as if there was no "role back scenario" planned. Seriously, not only that I think one should have one (absolutely knowing what extra trouble this might mean), I also think that the start of SCN was one of the seldom situations where such a scenario might have made sense. The trouble was too bad, it was too obvious that fixing this would rather take days than hours, and the technical data to recreate the issues in the lab should have been sufficient.

One might ask if everything what such a step would imply (primarily the frustration factor) would have been justified by "some technical issues". I tend to say yes without being sure about it. But in the end, I definitely say yes, because all these technical issues only have been the top of it. If I would be a conspiracy theorist, I would go so far to create the theory that all these issues have been produced willingly to distract the users from the underlying "real" problems. And no, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and I don't want to create the impression that I believe one millimeter in this theory. I'm just using it to stress - there is more.

"You have to keep in mind that thousands of consultants, partners and employees rely each day on the information made available on SCN and the tremendous feedback of their regular contributors." [Oliver Kohl]

How true!

So, who can explain it to me that not "some" forum content is missing (this "some" was used again and again, recently in the Day 5 Status Update by Mark Yolton: "some members discovered that some content was missing from the migration"), but much. Just an example: I had two serious problems as a consultant this week on which I asked google for help. Both problems each led to exactly one known issue entry within the whole world (of course, no SAP notes existed for these). Both on the beloved SCN. Both leading to "The item does not exist. It may have been deleted."

How could SAP? How could SAP migrate "some" content, or, don't let us argue about the percentage - how could SAP not migrate some of the content? And if, what I doubt a bit, this was done by accident, if there is a surprising big open issue which you had not planned - how to dare (anyhow) to explain that this would be some kind of a minor issue? That really makes me wonder if the team really knows what great platform SCN is and how unbelievable valuable it is, for the customers, for the consultants - and for SAP itself!

Maybe this story has it's value in the end: Print all the frustrated reactions on paper and throw this into the mail box of the manager who hinders the progress of SCN the most. Maybe he'll learn, too ;-)

Altogether I have to admit that I wonder about testing in the last year. One could discuss why the load testing was incomplete, but there I would tend to say: "**** happens." It was a failure, but this is a very human failure. But to overlook some technical issue is something different from disregarding obvious issues. Some of them:

  • Line breaks / paragraphs have not been migrated in the forums. Therefore all threads are very lengthy, just for using too much vertical space. (At least, something which still could be attacked with an after-migration-run on the new system.) I don't want to believe that no one saw this. Also blogs have some trouble, but at least with the forums, technically it would have been so easy to care about it (not that sure about blogs).
  • The width the new forums have is too small and breaks the simplest and most basic UI rules. Needs more scrolling etc pp.
  • There is no hierarchical navigation / overview, which makes it hard to find content; especially for newcomers who don't know for what expression they should search. But then someone gets the great idea to create helping documents like the forums finder document -- hey, hello, cooee! If someone realizes that something central is missing, why creating workarounds instead of attacking the root cause?! (It was created on 6th of January!!!)
  • The existence and the need of all the help documents very much shows: The software is all but completely intuitive and self-explanatory (I could name hard technical reasons for this, but don't want to get into the details for different reasons). Maybe a general lesson learned: "Social collaboration platform" is a buzz word with very few substance, sometimes not holding what it is promising, but to the contrary. Many problems could have been attacked simply by using different default values (instead of now bringing the information to users where they can switch things to see content as they are used to).
  • I just can say this for the portal section, as I know it like the back of my hand: The new space structure violates some core needs, content has been moved (EP-KM, following the forum finder, is now ECM, which simply is a lie), the parent space does not show child content, etc pp. It's a small catastrophe.
  • Features which have been valuable have been removed ("Who made the last comment on a thread?", points applications (company leader and more), etc pp) - this happens often at migrations, but should be avoided in general; a general lesson the world has not learned yet, SCN is no exception, but it's bitter that almost everyone runs into the same mistake again and again.


This sounds quite negative, and I have to admit: Yes, I think it is. And once again: I do not doubt the spirit of the SCN team and therefore the least I want is to get on the wrong side of such committed SCN team members. I hope that these team members are able to share my criticism, because I simply think it is profound.

But there is one thing, which really bothers me: I have been part of many many projects, and especially within the long-term-many-people-projects, there are always voices "from below", which realize such things. Now, normally, this leads to two possibilities: On the one hand, the project structure might be so hierarchical and unfriendly, that people don't have the courage to speak out loud and clear. From all I know, I cannot really imagine that this is the case with SCN. The other possibility is that people warn, but get ignored at the end. (The third - that warnings are heard and get respected - to my knowledge is a pure theory.)

So, I would like to dedicate this blog entry to the people within the SCN team who realized that the migration had come too early. I'm often the admonisher myself, and I know how hard it is really to see something but to live with it that the people in charge don't want to see it or don't believe you or don't care for whatever reasons. I'm with you, people, with all my heart and soul.

Now, it is one week later, and now there are technical reasons why not to switch back. We will live with it, SAP will optimize the system. But I hope so very much, that people learn something from it. If not, I would call it a double fail, really fatal. But I don't want to give up hope that bad things have their "raison d'être" - and if it's just to be better next time.

Detlev

(*) Sorry for this christian expression in a world wide read blog; I have absolutely no intention using it, it's just my language.

PS: I definitely have to add some self criticism. One of the very good moves during the project had been the idea of beta testers; as such all mentors had been invited. I have to admit: I did not take the invitation (for pure lack of time). I should have. Anyhow, I thought that realizing issues not everyone else realizes would have taken hours to days, which I did not have. And - I got the feedback from someone else, that the reported issues have not really been addressed until the go live. So, yes, I should have taken the opportunity, and sorry that I did not. But who knows how my manner of speaking would have turned out in this blog entry if I would have warned about the issues before... ;-)

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