May 2011 Archives

Waterfall strikes again? -> Singaporeair site s*cks


Singapore Airlines is one of the worlds most respected airlines. They keep winning airline awards. I happened to live in Singapore and therefore it is most easy for me to fly Singaporeair. And, I have to admit, it is one of the better airlines and I especially notice this when I fly other airlines.

A well respected company. Known for its good service. A national company many Singaporeans are proud of. Yet, last week, they made an unbelievable F*** U*. So bad, that I'm seriously considering of starting to fly other airlines. Even though it doesn't relate to their flights but... their website.

Last week, Singaporeair did a sudden deployment of a totally new site. Absolutely no incremental deployments, but what seems to be perhaps years of work, suddenly deployed all at ones. I have heard that the company doing this for Singaporeair is... Accenture! (couldn't find anything on the web). And it is an absolute disaster. At first, I just thought the UI was bad, but no... the whole site is bad... but that's not all. The last days I have not been able to buy tickets anymore, which I assume is the main purpose of the site. Every time I try to buy a ticket, I get "system error". Everything in this deployment smells like a waterfall project gone very bad. But let me dive a bit deeper.

First, this was an all-at-once deployment, whereas it seems it would have been "easy" to do it incrementally. But lets assume that it is done "all-at-once" because of difficult technology changes. Even then, the old-site of Singaporeair was gone! Why would they run that risk and not, instead, have the old and the new site running together at the same time. Even the ISP I used for years (, they never swapped out their webmail at once, but kept the new site as a beta next to the old site. With a site where, I guess, a large part of your purchases come from, why would a company like Singapore Air run the risk of loosing that income (which they have now)?

All-at-once deployment aside, I'm not a UI expert, but the new UI sucks enormously. Not only make the choice of colors and fonts it hard to read, also it takes me a longer to buy a ticket (the one time I succeeded) because there are en enormous amount of clicks. Also a lot of technology seems off or used wrongly, which is visible by e.g. 1Password not working anymore for payments. Not only did they change their site, but also their booking confirmation emails (WHY!?). They didn't bother to inform about that so that all the frequent travelers using both these services are not able to combine them. UI-wise, these things ought to have been discovered with earlier review cycles (sprint reviews) as they seem so obvious. If they would have bothered to take one frequent user of the site and let them use it, it would have been obvious. Why am I so sure? Well, just google Singaporeair and new site and you'll find complains for example on BusinessTraveler such as "Awful is an understatement" or Australian Frequent Flyer Community such as "Gotta say that I hate the new website." I mean, that is obvious and should have been found way earlier in the development. Not sure how this site was developed, but it smells like a pure waterfall.

All that aside, if I could use it, I would be somewhat happy. But if I try booking a (try it!) from "Singapore" to "Salt Lake City" date of departure "August 5", date of return "August 12", I'll get:

System Error

A system error has occurred. Please try again.


I tried it again and again the whole week. I reported a bug even. But no luck, it seems to not be possible anymore to book a ticket with the new site. This is truly unbelievable, how could a respected company such as Singapore Air allow to deploy a website which is SO BUGGY that even the basic functionality which is the main revenue stream for the company... does not work!

This was reported in the local newspaper: Straights Times in their article "Bumpy start foe SIA's new website". Didn't read the whole article (don't want to subscribe to straights times) but the most amazing part of the preview is the responds from Singaporeair Spokesman Nicholas Ionides:

'As with any major IT project, we do expect teething problems but we expect to be able to iron out these issues in due course. We will closely monitor the website's performance, and make adjustments where necessary.'

So, deploying an all-at-once, unusable, buggy and slow website in 2011 is *still* expected? I do not know where Nicholas has been the last 10 years, but I wouldn't expect it and find it truly shameful.

Satir/Weinberg Change Curve or "That model is wrong?"


This post relates to a post written by a friend George Dinwiddie related to the Satir Change Model. In the post he refers to a tweet I made related to the Satir Change Model. I'd like to add some clarification and argue that it is not "just a model" :)

Over the last year, I've started to get a little annoyed with the Satir Change Curve. You can find this in nearly every Agile development book. An example of the curve can be found here. I've used the change curve myself in the past, so why my annoyance?

The diagram expresses an assumption that all change will improve the performance, which we all know, is untrue. If we all know this assumption is untrue, then why would it matter? It matters in the way the change curve is used.

Imagine I'm a consultant promoting reverse-typing-driven-development. It's a wonderful idea where we switch out editor to type from right to left and we start each line of code with the end. As a consultant, I collected all this evidence in brain research showing that right-to-left typing and reverse thinking enables more brain connections and thus making developers more creative, smarter and better. It will improve the performance! So, I go to a team and train them in RTDD. They start off, but it feels a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. I grab out the Satir Change Curve and tell them that that's normal. The earlier way of typing was their status-quo and this change is a foreign element, so their performance will decrease and you will be in chaos! The team accepts my wisdom on change, after all, Satir was a family therapist. Eventually they get used to it, they stop complaining and keep typing in reverse. I declare victory and use them as an example of a successful adoption of RTDD.

The above is exaggerated, but there are a couple of interesting lessons in it. First, the actual measure of performance was missing. This is common and probably a reality of the industry we work in. In product development, especially in software development, there are so much variables that nearly every measure of performance fails. The change in the example was made for productivity and especially productivity in software development is not measurable.

But, I think the most important lesson of the story is that the change model caused the team and the consultant to stop challenging and thinking about the idea. Especially the consultant, he assumed the RTDD working style will improve performance (independently from context) and with that assumption he closed his mind for learning further. This is a very common problem which happens to me also a lot--I know the solution, so no need to think about that anymore, I just need to figure out how to get through the resistance of the people. Very dangerous.

Is the Satir change curve useless? No, probably not, there is definitively some truth in it. This is where the discussion a couple weeks ago became very interesting. I grabbed my Virginia Satir book to look for the curve and... it wasn't there! Now, I'm not a Satir expert, but I couldn't find a direct reference on the Internet either. (If I'm wrong, please, anyone, correct me!). The main reference on the Satir Change Curve seems to come from Gerald Weinberg. So, the curve actually should be called the Weinberg Change Curve and should be separated from the Satir Change Model. Most of this post relates to the Weinberg Change Curve and not the Satir Change Model. Is the Weinberg Change Curve useless? No, neither, but it can be easily misused. (Note: I don't have all of Satir's work and if anyone discovers that this paragraph is nonsense, then please let me know! I'd love to learn more about how the curve and the model relate)

One last thing. George's post was called "It's just a model" and we need to keep that in mind. I agree and yet also disagree with that. I agree it is "just a model" and a simplification. However, models contain assumptions and when models promote wrong/dangerous assumptions, then the model itself becomes dangerous. If that is the case (I'm not saying it is related to the Weinberg Change Curve), then instead of saying "Oh, it's just a model," we ought to say "that model is wrong!"

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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