Gonzo QA: Fear and loathing in the morning

Dateline: London, December 2006

I arrive at work somewhat frazzled. I had set off an hour early in order to storm up a mountain of work before the mist had lifted but events have conspired to make me arrive at my desk 30 minutes later than usual. I log on to my PC knowing there will be a 15 minute delay between entering my username and password and seeing the desktop, due to network policies, virus scans and Windows patches. Every day this happens. Note to self: raise this to IT Support once more. Two hundred people at an average of £50 per billable hour waiting 15 minutes is, ooh, £2,500 per day lost income, around £625,000 per year. I’d commit to fixing that for half the price, cash in hand, no questions asked. Fortunately my diary is paper-based and the café around the corner is staffed by Croatians with a vigorous approach to coffee-making. As I wait, I plan my day with a vengeance, knowing that whoever booked me yesterday for work due today will get priority over anyone trying to book me today for work due yesterday. I kill the next 14 minutes by taking a walk round the building. There’s no one in. Reasons will vary from “my goldfish was poorly in the night” through “my social worker wouldn’t bail me” to “I forgot”. “I was working till midnight” there’s no argument with. Commitment to the work, each other, the client is all.

I’m in. Start Outlook, MSN Messenger (isn’t the new Windows Live Messenger limp?), Yahoo! and Gmail. Much Spam has arrived overnight, so I take a quick look at what’s getting through; is there anything new or clever of which we should take note? No. There never is, but you never know; inspiration comes from the strangest places. Much of the bulk-mail we sent out last night has come through as well, so I take a quick look at that while I’m on. It’s far too late to correct anything that has gone out, but it’s never too late to spot mistakes and learn. Here’s an unusually long newsletter from one of our clients that, yes! It has the body copy repeated twice. Fortunately it’s not one of ours. Ha! It’s tempting to dump on the other agency that sent it but discretion is the better part of valour. Unless you’re pitching for new business, of course.

My schedule has changed overnight. There’s a bunch of unlikely looking assignments which would be better handled by others in my team. Click, click and the reassignments are complete. I like this new scheduling system. It was an internal and thus non-billable project, so we didn’t have time to test it. The Technical Director says this means it has no bugs. I like the Technical Director. There’s some new business, so obviously that’s top priority. Then there’s a task due yesterday which wasn’t ready to test but now is, so that’s obviously top priority. Then there’s an email about a project I have never heard of which was due last week, so that’s obviously top priority. And here’s an escalation to bring a task due tomorrow forward to today. It’s marked top priority. By virtue of the power vested in me, I reject the whole lot. This clears my schedule to allow me to concentrate on the future. Now that’s top priority. Anything I can do now to reduce the risk of projects going pear-shaped in the future is worth the effort, assuming of course that the projects are real, the risks are high, mitigation factors are available, the costs billable and the clients are up for it. Assuming quite a lot of things, actually. Maybe I should talk to the project managers before I go on.

I have half an hour before a project status meeting, so I will just check these banners. What can go wrong with Flash banners? The concept is story-boarded, the copy written, checked and signed-off. The height and width are specified, along with the number of rotations, the maximum file size and the version of Flash required. The requirement for GIF back-ups is stated and so is the type of click-through code. Into the banner test harness we go (another internal and thus bug-free application). Hmmm. The brief I am reading did not reach the person who did this work, at least not all of it, or possibly this release. Not only that, but not all of the banner is clickable and the background is transparent and not solid. I’ve not seen that before. Note to self: add to list of cruel and unusual bugs. An hour later I have missed the project status meeting discussing banner production with the person responsible. It turns out she means well but is new and hasn’t been inducted. It is difficult to get medieval on someone who should have been trained to know better but hasn’t. I’ll reserve that for the Creative Director. Talking of whom, here he is now, dazed smile on face, award in hand, last night’s formal dress jacket draped over shoulder. We like awards. Especially big shiny heavy ones we can use to prop open doors when the air-conditioning is jammed on hot all summer (e.g. this summer). We spend 27 minutes congratulating each other on another outstanding agency success and I almost forget what I came here to do. We spend three minutes discussing Flash banner production. It turns out that all we had to do was to localise some banners developed in the USA to suit the UK market. The issues I described were present in the supplied originals and are therefore not ours to fix. We succumb to ‘Not Invented Here Syndrome’ for a few moments and then decide to fix the banners regardless. Note to self: We must define and agree minimum specifications for assets we will accept from third-parties. This will make it easier to identify faulty asset deliveries and have them sent back for rework at their cost, not ours.

I walk back to my desk and check my watch. Is it lunch-time yet? I need to speak to HR about developing an induction programme for new hires. We traditionally drop people in at the deep end. Sink or swim! Only the fittest survive! It’s the agency way! But the turnover of new staff this year is unsustainable. It’s time to stop filling these peoples’ pockets with lead. It’s time to start offering them brightly-coloured buoyancy devices like rubber rings, arm bands and swim noodles. On brand, of course.

To be continued? Let me know if you want to read part II of this article. Let me know if you do *not* want to read part II of this article. Vote early, vote often!

First posted in: The Tester, December 2006, page 13.

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