Feb 19, 2012

Issue Resolution: The power of Visual Observation

Pre-Script: A patient calls up the doctor and says, "Doctor, I have a peculiar problem."
"What is the problem?" asks the doctor
"Whichever part of my body that I touch, I feel pain. If I touch my shoulder, I feel pain, if I touch my legs I feel pain, if I touch my face I feel pain. I don't know what is happening to me. I am very worried" She responded
The Doctor responds by asking her to take a battery of tests - Blood test, urine test, pressure... the works.
The lady mails the the test reports to the doc. He checks everything and informs the lady that he can find no problems with her.
However, she continued to complain of pain in all parts of the body.
After repeated complaints from the lady, and a series of inconclusive tests, the doctor asks the lady to meet him personally.
Doctor checks her thoroughly and tells her, "I have identified your problem".
"What is it?" asks the eager lady.
"Your fingers are broken. You got to get them fixed first" replied the doctor.

Script: When I heard this joke, I thought about the online support systems provided by various application vendors. With multitude of customers, all the ERP application vendors have designed their Online support systems. Over the years the support system has become a very process oriented exercise. First you have to raise the issue in the support portal. The support analyst will ask for documents to replicate / demonstrate the issue. Once they analyse issue, they will either provide patches to resolve the issue or ask for more detailed technical information. 
All these telecons, issue updates, analytical scripts will take their time and toll and the customer will get fed up and more often than not, learn to live with the issue. 
Most of the time the missing link in this set of fruitless activities is the visual inspection. The support analyst do not visually see and understand the issue while trying to solve the issue.
I was involved in one such resolution.
This was my first ever ERP implementation for a discrete manufacturing customer in Hosur. I was the single consultant who implemented financials, procurement, inventory, manufacturing and Order management modules for this customer. The implementation was quite successful. We cleanly went live, completed the first period close and were in the support phase. 
I had moved on to another project.
One day I got a call from the support analyst who was supporting this customer. 
"Customer has informed that the inventory value was inflated significantly." the analyst told me.
"What is your analysis?" I asked the analyst.
"I have identified this to a specific production order and a specific FG item. Instead of 190 Units, the user has received 190000 Units through a Production Order Receipt. This single transaction has inflated the inventory valuation." The analyst responded.
"What is the customer saying? Are there other items / production orders / transactions with similar issues?" I queried
This was an isolated issue, the analyst clarified.
"Why don't they reverse the transaction?" I asked.
"There was an audit recently. Auditor identified this issue. He is refusing to allow reversal of the issue without identifying the root cause. This has been escalated to the highest level" the support analyst told me.
I asked for, received and analysed various reports . I couldn't find any issues. This was an isolated transaction which has somehow inflated the inventory valuation significantly. Since any inflation of inventory valuation will lead to corresponding increase in profits, this was a very serious issue which had external reporting implications. 
Since my analysis of reports did not throw any light on the issue, I decided to make a visit to the customer site to talk to the user. The user was of medium height and was bit obese. 
During implementation, he had impressed me with his dedication, intelligence and diligence. He had worked closely with me during the project.
He was under a lot of stress since the valuation difference was quite huge. 
While talking to him, I found that this user do not normally enter production orders and receipts. The concerned user (who normally enter these transactions) was on leave on that day and hence he had covered for that actual user since there was an urgent pending shipment.
I sat with him and asked him to replicate the complete process, by entering the production order exactly as the one with the error.
Since this user had put in a lot of work during the implementation, he was very familiar with the application and he entered the production order quite rapidly. While entering the production receipt, he entered 190.00 as the production receipt.While entering the number, he was looking at the keyboard and not on the screen.
I saw the problem immediately.
In the keyboard the number key of dot(.) is next to the number key of Zero (0). Since this user was obese, his fingers were fat and when he was rapidly entering 190.00, he had entered 190000 by mistake. 
The user accepted his error and the problem was very quickly closed. The auditor cleared the numbers after the excessive receipts were reversed.
If I had not gone to the customer site to visually see and replicate the issue, this issue would not have been identified. 
Despite the fact that most of the support portals allow for Web Conference feature, many support analysts are reluctant to come on the WC and do a visual inspection of the issue. As my experience point out, the issues can be very quickly closed by visual inspection.

Post Script: I went to a nearby restaurant. While I was eating idly, some Sambar (A liquid accompaniment to 'Idly', an Indian Dimsum made of rice) fell on my dress. On another day, when I was again eating idly (in another joint), some Sambar fell on my dress, again. I wondered if I was developing some kind of nervous tick which was causing me to spill Sambar on my dress.
Visual inspection showed that I was wrong. I had put on a lot of weight and my belly was now protruding out thereby extending my dress, and the Sambar,  which would normally have fallen on the floor was now falling on my protruding dress.
I would not have identified this issue if someone had reported on the phone. I would have sent him to a doctor who would have suggested multiple tests to identify the root cause. 
I identified it because I saw it.
That is the power of visual inspection.
So the question is, are you a support analyst who depend on customer's words and reports to analyse the issue or do you foll in that rare category of analysts who has to 'see to believe'.

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