January 21, 2007 - Lessons From The Long Road Home?

Yesterday I rashly predicted it would take me about 28-ish hours to get home from Bangalore, but now I find myself writing this from a hotel in London. It seems the relatively good luck I've had in my traveling all came to an end on this trip and over the week I've had to deal with (1) my luggage not arriving with me in Bangalore, (2) my Chennai-Bengalore flight being delayed by four hours, (3) a two-hour sit on the tarmac in Bangalore waiting for the fog to lift, leading to (4) missing my connecting flight in London. Reflecting on these minor setbacks over my bland English breakfast (I miss those idli with sambar already!) I decided there was a lesson in here on one of my favorite development/process topics, which is feedback.

When I give my standard talk on Continuous Integration I stress the point that the cost of failure is directly tied to the length of the feedback cycle. How many people worry about making a typo in their IDE these days? Nobody, because if you mispell something like a field name you immediately get this little red squiggly line, instant feedback that you've screwed up. Now I never programmed with punchcards and batch systems, but I imagine that if you dropped of a stack of cards with the computer opperator, came back the next day for the result only to find that you didn't have your results because of a typo on one of the cards... well that would be another story, wouldn't it?

In my talk the moral of the story is that you should be running tests on every check-in, giving quick feedback to developers for any problems that might be caught by the tests, but I also make the point in the talk that you can think broader and seek to get quick feedback on anything else that's important to your team. It was this broader type of feedback I've been thinking about this morning when I contrast the treatment I received from British Airways -- both when they left my luggage behind and when they put me up in a hotel after the fog delay caused me to miss my connecting flight -- and from Kingfisher Airlines when my Chennai-Bangalore flight was delayed.

My flight into Bangalore from London arrived at the very early hour of 4:45 am. In addition to being very early it was my first time in Bangalore, first time in India, and I still getting my ground-legs after so much time in the air. I followed the mass of people over to the luggage conveyer and waited a very long time, watching bag after bag go by until finally... they were all done. I was told that was it, no more, so I wandered over the BA luggage clerk to find out what was up. I wasn't the only person who was missing a bag so I had a bit of time to wait in the scrum around the clerk, but then while waiting my eyes wandered down to a report he had on the counter in front of him. Hey, there's my name! Hmm, it says my bag "Wasn't seen" being loaded on the plane.

Then it dawned on me -- they KNEW my bag wasn't on the plane but rather than let me know they let me cool my heels for an hour around the baggage carousel. They could have given me the feedback sooner, they could have made an announcement or even told me while I was on the plane, but instead they let me wait and come to them. I want my hour back...

Now in their favor they were nice enough about it, gave me a card I could use for some emergency shopping, and my baggage did arrive the next day, but even then I feel they didn't give me all the feedback they could have. They had my email address and they knew I would be worried about my bag showing up, so why didn't they clue me in as to its progress? Why not an email to let me know it was located in LHR? Why not an email letting me know it was this time "seen" boarding the flight to BLR?

I have similar questions after getting put up for the night at the Premier Travel Inn. The BA ground staff were all ready for us SFO and LA bound passengers as we got off the plane. They didn't have any flights to get us home so they had vouchers at the ready and a bus to take us to the airport. But why didn't they have this information for us while we were on the plane? In both cases if they had shared the available information earlier I would have quite literally slept better.

In contrast when I was in Chennai with our India country manager Vishnu, he got a call on his mobile that our 7:30 pm flight was delayed to 11:30. He was able to call his travel guy and look into alternative flights. In the end none were available, but at least Kingfisher had given us the information they had rather than allowing us to be surprised when reached the airport. And because we knew we weren't going to get an earlier flight we kept our driver and were able to have dinner at The Great Kebab Factory rather than cooling our heels at the Chennai airport.

So for my readers who want to apply these lessons I'd recommend asking these questions at your next retrospective: what information did we have captured earlier but not in an accessible form? What information could we capture and make visible that we currently aren't?

As for me, I have a flight to catch...

Posted by Jeffrey Fredrick at January 21, 2007 11:02 PM

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> over my bland English breakfast

"To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day." - W. Somerset Maugham

By any chance, was the breakfast over which you passed such scathing comment one of those bland _continental_ breakfasts that they serve in _American_ hotels at Heathrow Airport?

Or was it an English Breakfast?

Posted by: Kevin Lawrence [TypeKey Profile Page] on January 22, 2007 08:43 AM

It was described as "Full English Breakfast" and a self-serve buffet of eggs (fried or scrambled), bacon, back bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, and baked beans, as well as the usual continental options like toast, yogurt, cereal, etc all available.

What was missing you think that would have made it comparable to idli and sambar? (mmm, sambar...)

Posted by: Jeffrey Fredrick [TypeKey Profile Page] on January 22, 2007 03:41 PM

Kippers. It's not a full English breakfast without kippers.

Oh. And the phrases "self-serve buffet" and "full English breakfast" should not be used in the same sentence. "Buffet" is not even an English word. It's continental.

Was I right that this was an American hotel chain? It certainly sounds like it.

Posted by: Kevin Lawrence [TypeKey Profile Page] on January 23, 2007 10:47 AM

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