Every one should be made to suffer the chaos of their organization.

How difficult is to provide information which is
• clear
• provided at the right time
• accurate
• useful
From my recent experience this seems to be very difficult. Perhaps your organization is better – give it a try and see.

I went on holiday, involving two flights, and one of these was cancelled. I was amazed at how badly the airline handled this. It looked as if  this was the first time that they ever had a cancellation, and had no processes in place to handle this.   Talking to other people affected by this cancellation, the lack of clear process when there is a problem, seems very common.

We flew from Aberdeen to Manchester, and had a connecting flight from Manchester to Southampton. While we were in the air, the airline cancelled the second hop. We landed at Manchester and tried to get into the departures via the transit corridor to be told the flight was cancelled. I then got a text saying “your flight has been cancelled. Click on this link”.
The link took me to a page saying “re-book your flight”. There were no more flights that day, so it looked like we would have to stay over night at the airport.
Was the message clear ? No – it should have given us more information, told us that there was a coach being organised, where to collect your bags from, etc.
Was the message useful – no.

We went back through to arrivals and heard an announcement that people on the cancelled Southampton flight should go to the information desk.
We got to the desk and was told that a coach was provided, and our bags would be put on the coach.
We were taken to the coach, and before we got on, we checked to see if our bags were on the coach,  to be told we should have collected them first (and asked in an aggressive way,  why we had not collected them).
We had to go back to the terminal and we missed the coach. This is where the troubles really started.
We went to the airline’s service desk to be told that we had to go to the baggage handling agent’s office, next to the information desk.
• This was not accurate – there is no agent’s office.
• The information desk gave use the agents phone number. We rang it to be told that they handled missing bags, they could not help us because the plane had been cancelled, and so the bags were not lost. The bags were in the baggage transit area – and we should talk to the agent. The information the service desk told us was not useful nor correct.

When we mentioned that we had not heard any message about collecting bags, it turned out the message had been announced while we were in the air. So this message was not timely.
Eventually someone from the information desk took pity on us, went and found our bags – two hours later.

They airline had booked a hotel for us, and booked a taxi to take us there (“Out of the terminal, cross the road and use XYZ cabs”). The instructions for the taxi were totally wrong, we had to go to the taxi office close to the information office, to arrange a cab, and so it went on. I felt that the airline staff should have known this.

As the the airline frequently cancels planes, I would have expected to go to the service desk, or the information desk and to be given a piece of paper saying.

  • The service desk will try to book you on a later flight. If this is unsuccessful then…
  • If you were on a previous flight,  collect your bags from the following process….
  •  The service desk will arrange a hotel and a taxi to take you to and from the hotel.
    •   Once you have you bags, go to the xxxx office close to the information office on the ground floor. They will organise a car for you.
  • You can claim compensation, see this web site…

Maybe because I have been in a support role, I have high expectations.

How should an enterprise handle communications?

Make sure people have the right information.

When you have a major incident you need a well tested process. Once the incident has occurred, people will be dialing in to the incident hot line. You do not want to repeat the problem (One on’t cross beams gone owt askew on treddle)  twenty times – one for each new attendee. Having a blog post which people update with status is a good way of doing managing it.

You need evidence – not opinions.

It is easy to say “it must be an MQ problem because there are a lot of messages on the queue”. This usually indicates an application problem (the applications are not getting the messages fast enough), not an MQ problem. State the evidence “There are many messages on queue XYZ on queue manager ABC”. Then you can say “This can be caused by…”.   If you have no evidence, then you only have guesswork. You need to collect evidence.  I remember going out to work on a critsit on Message Broker, the problem description was “the proble is somewhere in there….”.   We turned on monitors and this showed that an SQL statement took over 10 seconds.  The table held temporary data for the duration of a transaction, and the data was never deleted.  Instead of an expected maximum of 100 rows, it had about 1 million rows.  Once we had the evidence – the root problem was obvious.

Solve the first problem first.

If there are messages accumulating on a queue at the front of the process, and also on a queue at the end of the process. They may be connected. Fix the first problem, and the second one may go away.

Be clear, and practice any actions.

With the problem with our bags, the airlines agent should have contacted the baggage handling agent, rather than us trying to talk to both ends. Decisions like switching workload, or going to a backup site need to be made by the right people. The MQ team cannot make this decision on their own.
At one site, the whole team practiced walked through problem scenarios in great detail. “We need to reconfigure the LPAR configuration; who has the userid and password for the hardware console?”. When a problem occurred, the person with this information was on a toilet and coffee break, and had left her phone on her desk. I was told that a man rushed out of the control room, burst into the ladies toilet calling out the ladies name! As a result they changed their process (you must always carry the duty phone – even in the toilets).

Make sure the messages for the end users are clear, and tell them what to do.
I had a message “you cannot do that operation at this time”. Did this mean – wait for 5 minutes because the server was down, or you cannot do the operation once you had checked in?

If you think the system will be available in 15 minutes, do not say “please retry”, but be more helpful “please try again in 30 minutes, we will update our twitter entry here… with status”.

I heard that the new CEO of a hire car company review their web site and looked at every page they expected the customer to use ( including the complaints and claiming compensation).  This resulted in major simplification of the pages, and providing much more useful information to their customers.
To test out your “error process as seen by an end user”, have a senior manager’s aged parents try out your processes and give you feedback on the chaos or smoothness of the experience!

Note.  One on’t cross beams gone owt askew on treddle is from Monty Python sketch, The Spanish Inquisition.

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