hand-waving and subject matter expertise

From this recent project I’ve been discussing, I have one more point. Our customers can make transfers into other accounts. The vendor told us that it would “hard fail” if the customer tried to go over their balance. “Hard fail” sounded fancy, and we were assured that it would prevent penalties.

However, I was able to show that customers could go over their balance once the fees were included, and it wouldn’t fail. There were actually a number of ways a person could transfer more than they had to give. Turns out “hard fail” wasn’t anything fancy, and it only happened at one point in the process, rather than it being a continuing thing. Business got involved, said the internal people had control over whether to assess the penalties and that they “probably” wouldn’t assess those penalties. Finally, a person who had done that kind of work spoke up to assure us that he had never seen a penalty not assessed.

It’s another battle I lost. (I lost a lot of battles on this project, but there were also just lots of battles.) The financial institution assumes that people won’t be that foolish, or perhaps the institution just likes those penalties.

I learned a lesson about thoroughly understanding processes. Before the true meaning of “hard fail” came to light, and before a subject matter expert spoke up, it was just hand-waving. We tested it with our assumptions that there were fail-safes involved, when there weren’t really. It took pushing the issue and not giving into the hand-waving that we were able to make an informed decision about the process.

The project also taught me not to trust anyone, particularly vendors, when they talk about behaviors. When they say something is “as designed”, they often mean “no design” or “designed without thought”. The product was exhilarating to test, because it was so very broken, but it was also immensely frustrating to be stonewalled by the vendor at most steps.

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