Random Stew It seemed like a good idea at the time.

25Feb/081

Flagellating a Deceased Equine

I recently blogged about a small software project with which I'm involved that is saddled with using a waterfall project methodology; I have never been a fan of the waterfall method but, on this project, I am being engaged through another consulting company that is providing the project management, so I have no choice.  I've estimated that the software development portion of the project will entail 120 man hours of effort -- a very small project. Yet, for this small 120 hour project, I've seen 3 major revisions of project scope documents and four weeks slip by while the project manager attempted to "nail down the requirements" with the client.

Flagellating a deceased equine.Now it appears the client has signed off on the "final" project scope document and is ready to begin the project. So the project manager met with us on Friday to kick off the project and discuss the project plan.

A 105 step project plan!

For a software project that is estimated for 120 man hours.

"Never in the face of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."To paraphrase Churchill, never in the face of human endeavor has so little been tracked by so many to so few.

At this point, the client has many pages of requirements documents and an exhaustive project plan, but not a single line of working software code. The management structure of the project has already consumed more time and effort than the actual development of the project's ultimate deliverable -- working software.

Somebody please explain to me how anyone can still place any value on this style of project management.

20Nov/070

Customer Service….NOT! Part VIII

And  the saga continues...

Again, I received a phone call from Todd, my local telco field service technician, asking me to check my DSL download speed. Again, it was less than 2 Mbps, far below the promised 6 Mbps download speed -- and far below the current speeds I enjoy with my cable-based broadband connection.

This has been going on for 3 weeks now. And the saddest part is that the technical personnel for the company responsible for delivering the service, can't figure out the problem. I suspect they're trying to diagnose a kludgey system that was crufted together as a stop-gap, "me too", answer to the cable company's broadband service.

 

16Nov/071

Customer Service….NOT! Part VII

I'm still playing games with my telephone company trying to get satisfactory performance from my new DSL Internet connection.

My local telephone company field technician called today and left a message requesting that I check my DSL download speed again, saying that the problem should be fixed now. I did. It isn't.

The saga continues.

13Nov/070

Customer Service….NOT! Part VI

So my local telco field technician, Todd, came out to my house this morning. He hooked up his equipment to the box outside my house and reported a good strong signal there. He then came inside the house and and plugged his equipment into the jack I'm using for the DSL modem and reported a good strong signal there also. He said I should be receiving 6Mbps download speed. He then hooked up his laptop to the DSL modem and ran a speedtest; he got about 1.2Mbps. Now, he's feeling really stumped and I'm feeling joyously vindicated.

BTW, the DSL modem does have a built-in, primitive firewall but it was not enabled. Todd was surprised at that and said they should always be enabled as no unprotected PC should be put on the Internet. Again, I am intoxicated with a surge of vindication.

Todd tries another DSL modem with the same results. He says there must be a problem up the line with "the programming" in the switch. He also tells me that I'm the first 6Mbps customer on this switch. He sends the problem back to the guys responsible for the programming and says he will give me a call later when they have resolved the problem. Todd then leaves about 10:45 AM.

About 4:00 PM, I receive a call from Todd. He reports that they have now set up my programming exactly like another customer that is using (and receiving) 6Mbsp download speed. He asks me to try another speed test and call him back. I do so with the same results.

So, here I am exactly 2 weeks into my attempted use of the telco's high-speed DSL service and they still have not delivered their product. In fact, they can't figure out why they can't deliver their product. Even if they find and fix the problem, this fiasco does not bode well for when I experience service problems in the future.

Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for. A product is not quality because it is hard to make and costs a lot of money, as manufacturers typically believe. This is incompetence. Customers pay only for what is of use to them and gives them value. Nothing else constitutes quality. --Peter F. Drucker

12Nov/070

Customer Service….NOT! Part V

This post is part of a continuing saga of my travails with the local telco, trying to establish reliable and speedy DSL service. And, yes, I gave up on the counting in French.

Why does bailing wire and duct tape come to mind?My local service technician, Jeff, just reported that he had reprogrammed my DSL modem and asked that I check my connection speed now. I did so and am getting a download speed of 1.8 Mbps, nowhere near the 6Mbps I've been promised. During our conversation, Jeff mentioned that the DSL modem actually has a firewall built into it; something none of the other "technicians" ever mentioned. Even so, he admitted that I would not need to hook up a computer directly to the modem.

After the test, he said he would refer the ticket to a "field service technician" who should pick up the ticket by tomorrow afternoon and begin work on it. Supposedly he will trace the connection from the telco's central office to the connection box on my house. I asked if he would be informing me of what he found. Jeff said probably not, that if the field tech found a problem he would just fix it; and if he didn't find a problem, he would refer the ticket back to Jeff who would then call me again.

Is anyone out there taking bets on the outcome?

9Nov/070

Customer Service….NOT! Part Quatre

The way to a customer’s heart and wallet lies in how well we initially serve our customers and recover from poor service. Unknown

As I've blogged before here, here, and here, I've been enjoying wonderful customer service from my local telephone company regarding my slow DSL speeds .......................... (long Borat-esque wait here) ............................................... NOT! In my last post on the subject, the service technician had left a voice mail saying that my download speed should now be 6Mbps. That was Monday, November 5. Of course, the speed was not 6Mbps, it was only about 1Mbps. The technician didn't leave a callback number, nor did I have a trouble ticket number. I sure didn't want to endure the telco's outsourced technical support call center again. So I went online to the telco's site and found a form to Submit a question or trouble ticket. At 9:39AM on Monday, November 5, I submitted a request for them to reopen my trouble ticket and send a service technician to my house to diagnose the problem. The telco's site promises a response within 24 hours. I received a response at 11/08/2007 02:02 PM -- 77 hours later. And what was their belated response?

Response (Avel P.) - 11/08/2007 02:02 PM   
Thank you for using Windstream's Support E-mail System.  We would like to thank you for being an Windstream customer, your service is very valuable to us.  The problem you report is not easy to fix over email.  We suggest you contact our helpdesk at one of the numbers provided and we will be happy to troubleshoot with you.

Windstream strives to provide the highest level of service and answers to every question.  Please contact us at 1-800-990-4449 (dial-up) or 1-888-292-3827 (broadband) if you have any other questions or further assistance.

Sigh.

The pleasures of call centers.

Resignedly, I call the broadband technical assistance number, a.k.a. the outsourcing of Hell. This time I talk to "Jim". Jim begins taking me through the exact same customer management and technical diagnosis scripts that I endured for hours last week. Damn, but these support people are trained to the point of becoming automatons. However, Jim surprisingly readily agrees to reopen my previous trouble ticket, but as he's doing so, we are disconnected. Recall that I was disconnected last week when talking to this same support center -- a support center for a telephone company.

Sigh.

I call back. This time I'm apparently connected to a different call center. "Andrea" answers the phone and she has an American accent. And, in sharp contrast to the over-the-top politeness of the other support personnel, Andrea has a very brusque attitude. She begins to insist that I disable all firewalls and plug my computer directly to the DSL modem. I still can't believe that this is the technical support of an ISP suggesting I plug an unprotected Windows-based PC directly to the Internet. A quick Google search reveals all sorts of articles about the inadvisability of doing just what Andrea is advising me to do. When I refuse to do so and instead ask that she reopen my previous trouble ticket, she flatly states that she cannot help me unless I cooperate with her request. I ask to speak to her supervisor. Andrea says she doesn't have a supervisor (how convenient) but that she'll connect me with a "senior technician".

Now Vestil (sp?) gets on the line. Vestil is very polite but he also insists that I plug a computer directly to the DSL modem. Again, I refuse. Vestil then tries to tell me that he will not be able to help if I don't comply with his request. I tell him I will not be able to continue as a customer with his company if he doesn't comply with my request and send a service technician to my house! I told Vestil that his company is unable to deliver on the level of service they promised and now that I'm informing them of the problem and asking that they fulfill their obligation, I'm essentially being told "tough shit". I also asked him to provide a solid technical reason for why I should risk an unprotected computer on the Internet; of course, he could not provide a reason.

How I'm feeling at this point.After much wrangling, I finally told Vestil to forget it; I wanted to cancel the service and receive a complete refund. Now he starts backpedaling, saying he really wanted to help me, they valued me as a customer, yadda yadda yadda. I told him it was too late that he had just lost my business. Finally, I'm connected to the billing department which, I'm told, will cancel my service and provide me with a refund.

Instead of billing, I'm connected to what I'm calling the "customer retention desperation department". What I feel like now.Joyce comes on the line, and she's good. Joyce is obviously well-trained and skilled in sales. She immediately tries to connect with me by telling me she lives in a nearby city and has visited my area many times. She asks why I wish to cancel my service and listens with an attentive and empathetic ear. And despite my knowledge that this is a technique for me to spend my frustration and make me more manageable, damned if it doesn't work. Yes, Joyce weaves her magic and talks me into giving them another chance.

Even so, Joyce did provide a few concessions. First, my service will be free for two months while I try it out. Second, a technician will be here Tuesday morning (my first available time slot), between 9AM and noon, to fix whatever the problem may be at no charge. Finally, Joyce provides me with her direct telephone number as a point of contact for any problems; I guess my file has been marked as a customer in need of special handling -- at least, I hope so.

So, in spite of myself, I'm giving the telco one last chance. At this point, I have spent 6 hours dealing with this stupid issue. At my billing rate of $150/hour, that equates to $900 or, as my business partner pointed out, 60 months of the $15 savings the telco is supposed to provide me over cable broadband service. And I swear, if they don't fix it this time, I'm submitting a bill for my time. I know they won't pay it, but it's the money of the thing, not the principle.

5Nov/071

Customer Service….NOT! Part Trois

The local telco technician called and left voice mail this morning. He said they had fixed my download speed problem and that I now had 6Mbps download speed. So, I checked it about 10 AM. At that time I was enjoying 4.8Mbps download speed via my cable broadband connection. I switched over to my new DSL connection.....and was immediately disappointed. Not only was the connection not 6Mbps, it was actually slower than last week. In fact, it's now only 0.8Mbps - 1.1Mbps. Of course, now I'm stuck with closed trouble ticket and no number to call except for an Indian call center. At my billing rate, the time I have spent on this problem is worth more money than I will save in the next year by switching to DSL. That is, if I decide to finalize the switch to DSL.

2Nov/070

Customer Service….NOT! Part Deux

As I wrote the other day, I'm having problems enjoying opportunities with my telephone company, trying to establish a high-speed DSL connection. I just received a call from a local technician who informs me that 6Mbps download speed is not even available in my neighborhood yet! He went on to say it should be available next week sometime. One can only hope.

31Oct/070

Customer Service….NOT!

Warning: This is a rant.

If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends. JEFF BEZOS

As a self-employed programmer, I work from home a great deal and rely on a solid and fast Internet connection. For years, I've used Time-Warner's RoadRunner service because it seemed to be the best value for speed and reliability. That's not to say I haven't had issues with them over the years. I recently decided to switch my broadband service from RR to DSL. RR costs $45/month and the local telco offered a deal of $29/month for a DSL connection with 6Mbps download speed. My cable connection is normally about 3.5Mbps but degrades severely in the afternoons and evenings when all of the neighborhood kids get out of school and online. DSL does not share bandwidth with the neighborhood, so I figured I would take advantage of a two-fold increase in speed with a savings of $16/month. So, I accept my telco's offer and sign up for DSL. I give them a username and password for my account and am told I will receive a package with my modem and software within the next couple of days. Cool. They call back the next day with apologies and say they have "lost" my information. After having them verify they are indeed from the telco, I again provide them with a username and password. Again, I'm told the modem package is on the way. Today, I received my goodie package. I'm excited to try the new service. The first thing I notice is that the username/password combination is not what I provided and is instead a obviously system-generated username with a password of "changeme". Yes, that is the real password. It's incredible that an ISP would not provide a strong, random password. Oh well. I hook everything up and am immediately online. I quickly change my password to something much more secure. The next thing I do is perform a quick broadband speed test. WTF?!? I only have 1.8 Mbps download speed -- less than 1/3 the promised speed! I unplug my router from the DSL modem and plug it into the cable modem. Hmmmm...the cable connection is running at 3.5Mbps.

19Oct/070

Parents Behaving Badly

Warning: this is a rant.

I have a vice of absolutely loving good coffee so I'm familar with Starbucks' The Way I See It campaign, which is, in their words

a collection of thoughts, opinions and expressions provided by notable figures that now appear on our widely shared cups.

And I admit, I've seen more than my fair share of Starbucks' cups. The cup I received yesterday had the following thought on it.

The Way I See It #252
Give me world politics, gender politics, party politics or small-town politics ... I'll take them all over the politics of youth sports.

Brenda Stonecipher
City council member and Starbucks customer in Everett, Washington.

This cup's communiqué conveyed a colossal conjunction of coincidence (I couldn't resist the alliteration). My son's football team has been the stage for truly ugly politics this season.

Before I begin truly ranting, let me say that all of the coaches in his league are purely volunteers and --having been a youth sport coach myself-- I applaud them for their huge commitments of time and energy to what is largely a thankless job.

OK, now let the rant begin.

My son plays football in a league for 11-13 year olds; his team is a brand new, expansion team in the league. Before the season, all new players participated in workouts so that the coaches could grade them. The coaches then held a draft, allotting new players to each team. Normally, this would be a fair system.

But it's not.