Why we check the process ALL the way through


Flashback to the 1980s, when this pilot fish is doing on-site IT support at a warehouse that's very high-tech: The daily "pick sheet" is on a floppy disk.

"The warehouse had an office in the middle of the building for managing the inventory," says fish. "The warehouse manager copied the pick sheet, listing what items were shipped out that day, to a 5-1/4-inch floppy diskette. He then sent this diskette to the corporate office."

And that system works fine -- until it doesn't. One day fish gets a report from corporate that for the past two weeks the data on the floppy has been corrupt and they can't read the file.

That means the warehouse manager has to print out and then fax the multiple-page listing to the corporate office, where it has to be manually keyed into the system -- which is exactly what the automation is designed to prevent.

Fish knows there are multiple potential points of failure in the process -- maybe the floppy drive has gone bad, or the drive's head is dirty, or some of the floppies are getting worn or have even been damaged in transit.

But when he gets to the warehouse and observes each step as the warehouse manager prepares the pick-sheet disk, it all looks fine. The floppy disk doesn't have dents or other visible damage. The file writes without errors. Fish confirms the disk and file are both readable, and even makes sure there's no dust in the diskette sleeve.

The problem has to be somewhere else, fish decides. But as he's leaving the office, he catches a glimpse of the warehouse manager putting the disk in its sleeve -- and then hears a loud thunk.

And back at the warehouse manager's desk, he finds the disk stuck to the side of a filing cabinet -- with a large magnet.

"He said he kept losing the diskette, so he brought in a magnet from home," fish sighs. "He could then see it when he left the office and would put it in the corporate mail out folder.

"After trying to explain magnetic media to him, I taped an envelope to his filing cabinet and told him to put the diskette in it each day. The diskette stuck out the top to remind him to mail it out."

Haven't you got something to mail to Sharky? Sure you do -- your true tale of IT life. Send it to me at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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