When your processes or business rules aren’t up to the job, don’t blame the customer #BusinessRules

Defining and implementing processes and business rules can be a complicated task, as I know from years of experience of data and process modelling.  I’ve been on the receiving end of some incompletely-defined processes and business rules recently, and was made to feel as if it was my fault, and that’s not a good feeling.

This isn’t intended to be a rant against the supplier, though it’s very tempting to go on at length about what went wrong, the promises that were broken, and the amount of time we had to spend on the phone to get it sorted (at a cost of 5 pence per minute).

The topic is the unwritten assumptions that lie behind some process and business rules, and what happens when those assumptions prove to be false.

Here’s the scenario – a family have an integrated dishwasher, built-in to a line of cupboards in the kitchen. The dishwasher has a major fault, so the family decide to replace it, and order a new machine from the web site of one of the biggest electrical retailers in the country. The unusual step they take is to order a free-standing dishwasher to replace the existing integrated machine; they pay extra for the new machine to be installed, and for the old one to be removed.

Here’s the supplier’s description of the service that they paid for.

Insstalling free standing dishwashers

That’s a straightforward process – it says quite simply that they will install the new dishwasher and remove the old one. No conditions specified.

The following morning, the delivery / installation team turned up with the new dishwasher, took one look at the existing one, and refused to touch it. Apparently, removing and installing integrated dishwashers is the job of a specialist team, and it costs the customer a lot more money – 4.5 times as much for installation. The fact that they weren’t being asked to install an integrated dishwasher, just to disconnect it and take it away, was irrelevant.

The family were not impressed – the installation team promised to call the office when they had a mobile signal to arrange a visit by a suitably-qualified team, but the family left nothing to chance, and called Customer Support themselves straight away. They were promised a call back which never came, so they called again in the evening. During that call they were told about the additional cost for installing an integrated appliance, and accused of not reading the terms and conditions when they ordered the installation service. These are the terms and conditions shown above, the ones which don’t mention the assumption that the installers would be replacing like with like.

By the time the family made the evening call to Customer Support, they had discovered how to detach the integrated dishwasher – there were three screws attaching the dishwasher to the worktop, which took about a minute to remove. Now it’s no longer integrated, it’s free-standing; why didn’t the professional installers know how to do that?

If the family had ordered a new integrated appliance, here’s what the installation service would consist of.

Insstalling integrated dishwashers

Again, a straightforward process, and you can see the additional tasks necessary to remove and replace the plinth and the panel door. In the family’s case, none of these tasks were necessary, as they had already removed the plinth and didn’t want to keep the old panel door.

Anyway, as the dishwasher had been converted from ‘integrated’ to ‘free-standing’ by the family, the supplier agreed to honour the original installation agreement and send a new team of installers.

At the time of writing, the family are waiting for the installation team to arrive, with all fingers crossed.

What lessons are there in this unfortunate story, apart from making sure you become an expert in somebody else’s job before they turn up?

  • When defining business processes, document your assumptions, and work on the exceptions (use cases are a great technique for doing this)
  • Make sure that the affected parties (in this case, the customers paying for the service) are aware of the assumptions and exceptions – include them in the definition of the service, perhaps asking the customer to call Customer Support before placing an order if the assumptions aren’t true.
  • Make sure that Customer Support staff don’t blame the customer for the supplier’s own lack of information
  • Let installers use judgement –the original team could have worked out how to remove the existing machine if they’d looked at it instead of just saying “Not my job, mate”
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How much can you rely on tool comparisons from tool vendors? #EDW15

The quality and reliability of comparative evaluations issued by vendors of modelling tools varies significantly, from the completely unprofessional to the merely incomplete. I include the comparisons I wrote for Sybase (now SAP) PowerDesigner in 2011 in the latter category.

The worst I’ve seen (very recently) was ‘unofficial’, presumably produced by a sales rep for a particular customer. It was completely unprofessional, the sole intention was to rubbish a competitor. For example,

  • claiming that the other tool doesn’t support feature Y, just because it doesn’t have a feature called Y – in this case, it does support that feature, just happens to give it a different name
  • missing information – “my tool supports both relational and dimensional modelling” – doesn’t mention the fact that the other tool also supports both of them
  • apparent hearsay – throwaway comments such as “they say that my tool can leverage colour better than the other tool” with no supporting information
  • our model comparison feature can compare more objects and properties than the other tool – hmm, really?
  • unanswered questions, such as “Does the other tool support inheritance?”, presumably intended to sow doubt

I think it’s safe to say that the author of this comparison is not actually a user of the tools in question.

It’s very difficult for one person to produce an unbiased and detailed comparison of tools, as very few people know the target tools in sufficient detail. To create unbiased and detailed comparisons you need access to experts in all the tools involved, and you have to ask all the right questions.

Take everything with a huge pinch of salt – take time to come to your own conclusions when you’re choosing a modelling tool.

I’m speaking with my friend Chris Bradley on the topic of Evaluating Data Modelling Tools at EDW in Washington next week, come along and find out more – http://edw2015.dataversity.net/sessionPop.cfm?confid=87&proposalid=7183.

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