Recently, I was at a Testing Services company, participating in the pre-lims for the paper selection for a conference scheduled in Bangalore in November, this year. Being an over-punctual person, I was there at the venue much earlier than the event started.
While waiting alone in a conference room where the papers were meant to be presented for my batch, I saw something like this:
I saw this at around 9:00 AM on 22/10/10. So, it immediately got my attention. The part shown in cursive font is the one that is entered manually by the person responsible for re-filling the water. At the first look, it might seem that he/she forgot to change the AM/PM part of the date, but there could be other scenarios as well.
I spent the next 10 minutes analyzing this, took high level notes. Here are my notes (mostly questions) after a little bit of rearranging and refinement:
- What’s the purpose of this sticker? Is it to tell the one who plans to consume water that the water is fresh? Or just that it has been refilled? Does the consumer care for this sticker? Would I have consumed water even if the sticker wasn’t there? Does the wrong time at the sticker work against the process and builds mistrust in my mind about the refilling? Do I always expect a jug in a conference room to be freshly refilled even if it hasn’t been? what about others? How do others think about this? What did the implementors of this process think about consumers? Did they want to show that they care? Did they make this care dependent on a weak process? what’s the impact of this weak process on the trust which they want to build?
- Which part of the sticker date has not been updated? Is it just the AM/PM part? Or the complete time entry is referring to the previous refill at 7:30 PM, the previous day? OR is it that the jug is refilled only at 7:30PM, which is highly unlikely if the conference room is used frequently and even the date has been changed to reflect the current date.
- Was the water refilled or only the sticker details were changed? How can one know for sure?
- Was the water refilled from a source that follows similar guidelines? How does it matter to have a fresh refill of old stagnant water?
- Did the person wait to check the Jug was empty? If not, did he/she discard the remaining water or added more water to it?
- How do we know who refilled it? Is there a secondary tracking system for this? Are there similar flaws in that system as well?
- Can the water tell the story? Probably not. Can the jug tell the story? Yes, but that would need a jug with a provision to test quality of water and a timer synced to a central time server. Can such a jug be afforded? What if this conference room and the jug were there at some place else where cost didn’t matter?
- Can someone manipulate this system? Can someone have a not-so-busy conference room allocated where the water usage is less and just keep changing dates and time at ease?
- To avoid the above can the timer be electronic? – With a push of button the refill date/time gets updated? What if someone pushes this button without refilling the jug? It means the refill date entry should be automated and linked to the refilling operation.
- What is fresh water in this context? What percentage of consumers of this water are sensitive to drinking water that is not fresh in this context? Who defines fresh in the current context? Is the context changed when people like me come from outside with a different version of fresh? Is the system flexible to accommodate this? Where are these needs tracked to increase the frequency of refill in a chosen sub-set of conference rooms in such contexts?
- Should the jug be removed? Who asked for the provision of drinking water inside the conference room? Can there be a common place where the people can go out and have water? Are the conference meeting long/important to avoid this? Should a sticker be placed – “Bring your own water bottles.”?
- Should the sticker be removed? Why is this process being followed? Is it due to some standards the company complies to? Is it because they care? Is it because they want to demonstrate that they care? Is it because they want to show that the company has good processes for even water refilling and we can expect similar quality elsewhere?
- Should the sticker be replaced with “Drink at your own risk”, “Consumers are responsible for their own health”. Doesn’t no sticker at all represent this anyway?
- Can a water purifier in each room be afforded? How easy/difficult/feasible it is get water supply to all conference rooms?
- What is the probability of someone drinking water from this jug? Is this conference room often used? Is it used for long meetings? What is the water availability at the desk of an employee? Is it in the company culture to carry a water bottle of one’s own?
- Where is the sticker placed? Is it viewable? Is the handwriting understandable?
- What is the language of the sticker? Is it assumed that the audience would always be English speaking /reading people? What if an initiative in the company invites people who do not know the language and make them sit in the room? Would they be guided or left on their own instinct that they would just see the water, if not sure they would ask or they can interpret the date format/time and somehow relate it to water.
- What is the date format used? In a conference room, not used for a while, there is a water jug and I see refill date as 10/09/10 on 10 October, 2010. How do I interpret it? Is it just a day old water and I can consume it if very thirsty or that it is 1 month old water and I should better stay away from it.
- Are multiple jugs provided if the number of participants are more? How does the sticker format scale up? Do you have a sticker per jug? Do we place it exactly above the jug? What if due to any reason the jug locations get jumbled and one of them has old water? How do I know for sure by looking at the sticker, which jug has old water? Or do you use a single sticker with entries for multiple jugs? How do you associate which entry is for which jug? Do you have jug id’s? Are these jug id’s standardised so that they can be utilised across multiple conference rooms as needed? What if the glass jug breaks? Do you retain it’s jug id and associate a new one for the replaced one?
- In case of multiple-jug situation, most likely multiple jugs are filled in at the same date and time, so do you make these entries once to avoid redundnancy? How does the format still ensure that multiple jugs can have different refill dates and times?
- What if what’s filled is not water? Is it visually distinguishable? If it’s not water and someone by mistake takes a sip or two, what is the impact? Was it meant for human consumption at all? Can someone play such a prank and there’s no way to track him/her/them? Can someone add a thing to the water without being tracked? How do you track who’s authorized to refill water? Can someone by-pass this authorization? Does the jug have a facility to swipe a card/ biometrics?
- How easy is it for someone to get a similar jug in the market? How easy is it to smuggle the jug, fill it with something not meant for consumption and place it instead of the original jug? How easy is it to discard the replaced jug?
- What can be the impact of consumption of bad water? Can the consumers have health issues? Does the company policies covers the medical expenses in such situations for employees? What about “outsiders”? How does company account for their time spent on bed in addition to medical expenses? Can the consumer, esp, an outsider sue the company for getting sick due to consumption of bad water? Does the company promise fresh water to “Whosoever is in their premises”? Or it’s an add-on?
- Is there any form of testing done on the overall quality of water consumed by the company? Who does it? whats the source of water? Does the company send an audit team to check the source of water?
This simple exercise made me think that even simple stuff can be a very complex one in certain contexts:
- It can not only suffer from failures in its basic purpose but as well from issues in scalability, accountability, integrity of contents and usability.
- Humans are prone to error. So, review it. Reviewers are humans. Read this point from the beginning.
- The definition of “fresh” water rather “good enough water” is very important.
- Metrics generate outside of a system or entered external to the operation to which they refer, are error prone. Till water can tell its story, everything is fallible.
- Tracking is a tricky thing, because you must track periodically that the tracking is being done properly and you must as well track that the tracking evaluation of tracking is being done properly and….. There must be a single source of meta-data about the subject of tracking. Multiple sources of meta-data which needs to be correlated by a logic totally external to the subject might lead to errors. In our case for a wrong time entry, how do you know who made the wrong time entry by referring to a timesheet of refillers based on time entry?
That’s all for now. Let me digest what I wrote
Note: This is the first time I saw such a process for water jugs in a conference room. The above is a result of what I am, a tester, who got curious about it when I was getting bored of waiting for presentations to start. It’s not a review on the company which provided such a great hosting space for paper pre-lims, while ensuring availability of tea/coffee/water right there in the conference rooms. Understood? No?! Please read this paragraph from beginning.