Factory Tour a Testers Story
I work as a software tester for the android app of a product personalisation company. We produce; prints, canvas, t-shirts and teddy bears to name a few, and today I had a rare opportunity. I got to visit the factory that makes our physical products!
The basics of the app are that we allow customers to select photos from their phone or social media. Then using the app, we send the data to our factory where it is transformed into a real products. Intro out of the way, on with the tour.
The day started, grey and overcast. After managing to not get lost I found the factory, almost hidden away at the back of a North London industrial park. When walking in, business as usual, security passes etc. We were then lead up a small flight of stairs, this was when I got my first look of the factory. From 2 stories up, out of a glass window, I was stunned to see a room the size of small football stadium. Every inch of the floor was covered with huge machines, but only a dozen or so people working the floor. This is because the workforce is scaled up during ‘peak’ season.
It was hard to believe our tiny app, that you hold in your hand, is supported by such a gigantic invisible team. Nobody was shouting so I guess they weren’t dealing with production bugs from the app!
We were the lead across the suspended gangway to a large meeting room, big enough for about 30 people and full of sweets and merch….sweet! After the initial introductions and history, we finally got to tour the factory. The first thing that struck me was… wow, if these guys make any mistakes, the feedback is instant and so is the cost. One misaligned print, that’s one sheet and one sheets worth of ink, plus the time required to reset the machine, assuming nothing jammed. Comparing this to when peoples occur in it, when bugs are introduced into software, in worst case, we may not know for days and the cost may never be truly known.
The tour lead then showed us around how they use kaisen in their approach to the production line, something they lifted straight from the IT side of the industry. Interesting as agile originated from a factory production line, not the other way around. After the production line overview, the tour manager took us up to the t shirt printing station, but not before I was able to sneak in a sneaky question.
Me: so we recently had an issue on the app, that caused mugs to print incorrectly.
Her: oh that’s the website side nothing to do with us
Me: I mean to say, we’ve fixed the issue, have you had any more incorrect mugs come through?
Her: Nope, but there will always be something that we need to investigate, we found another issue after that which has already been fixed.
This told me something very important. Despite all the production errors, or crashes in the app, it’s not always the customer that suffers. The factory have to investigate whether there is an issue with the printer, whether a technician loaded the wrong type of ink etc. So releasing bugs doesn’t just cost sprint time to fix and the loss of a potential customer, but also the costs the time of people in between.
So what did I learn? Just like in IT, in manufacturing has its own bugs to fix, so the less the IT side of he business give them to worry about, the more time they can spend making sure that special 40th birthday card, arrives exactly where, and when, it should.