Monday, April 19, 2010

Nor-Cal Scout Jamboree and Stress Testing in Real Life

This past weekend, I and about 20,000 other participants in the Boy Scouts of America descended upon the Alameda County Fairgrounds for what was to be the Northern California Jamboree celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Scouting in the United States. This promised to be a fun event with a lot of booths, activities, food and participation. My Troop and Lodge participated in the Pow Wow event to showcase Native American dancing and crafts.

From the time my group arrived on Saturday (which was going to be “the big day” of the event), we saw that there was a definite mis-match of service to need. Certain things that were meant to help the situation ended up doing the opposite. Below are some cases in point.

Pre-Registration vs. Paying at the Gate: In most cases, one would think that there would be a benefit to registering in advance and having payment made early. Likewise, paying the day of the event would be a much longer process, or so one would think. Interestingly enough, one of the boys that made the decision to come the day of the event walked up to the ticket booth and purchased his ticket within 5 minutes, at a rate of $5 more than the early registrants. Those who registered in advance had to check in at will call, where there was only two tables and a handful of volunteers processing the 18,000+ attendees who were claiming their pre-paid packages. The net result was that people had to wait upwards of an hour to get their pre-registered and paid for items. Needless to say, there were quite a few people who would have gladly paid for the on site tickets at that point, even if it meant to pay $5.00 per person.

Activities for 20,000 People: The lines for events were long, and in many cases, those looking to participate had a tight time limit on the things they could do. Most of the participants had to make choices as to what they could do with the limited time and forego other options. This is normal, but it wasn’t as though some things had long lines and others had very little; most areas were overloaded with participants and not enough volunteers or staff to man them.

An Hour Plus to Get Food: I was tied into an area for much of the day, so I didn’t get an opportunity to go and get lunch, so one of my assistant leaders offered to go and get some food for me, of which I graciously accepted. Over an hour later, my assistant arrived with the food. I asked if he had been waiting that whole time, and the answer was “yes”. There wasn’t enough food stalls at the site to cover the demand, and the vendors were the ones that were under contract to the fair grounds. Each of us received a $5 voucher for lunch, but almost nothing could be had for $5; everyone had to pony up extra cash even to get a small meal item. I later found out that the hour plus wait was on the low end of the spectrum. Another one of the adult leaders for my Troop waited over two hours in line to get food.

I highlight these things not to poke at the people who put this event together, nor am I saying we had a lousy time. For most of us, we had a great time and enjoyed the day immensely. What I wanted to point out was that, even with everything in place, and all plans made, many of the best laid plans can suffer when the system gets overloaded.

There has to be a tie-in to testing here, right? You bet there is. Often, we have a situation where those of us who are testers are given clear ideas and objectives as to what we need to do, and we are enthusiastic to meet them. Then when the day comes to test, we discover that we have to cover twice the load that was anticipated with no additional resources. What happens? Things bog down. Tasks take longer, coverage gets spottier, and the chances for dis-satisfaction grow larger. At the Jamboree, many people complained that the service and availability was poor, when really what happened was that there was disconnect between the perceived number of attendees vs. how many actually showed up. No question about it, those who were there performed herculean feats to do what they needed to do, yet it still wasn’t enough. We also face the same situations in our everyday testing lives. To this end, we owe it to our stakeholders to be as up front and honest about our capabilities as we can be. Even if we do think that we can cover what we’ve been presented, overestimating and having to scale back is better than underestimating and then having to deal with a situation where we cannot possibly meet the demand.

The Nor-Cal Jamboree was a fun time, and I was glad that I went, but I saw many areas where the process could have been improved, and in some cases dramatically, had there been more communication about the potential capacity. While I don’t expect our area to have an event of this size again anytime soon, I certainly hope that we all can learn from this and plan for more capacity next time around… and if they need a gadfly to test the scenarios and ask the annoying questions, hey, I’m happy to assist :).
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