Beta testing (and breaking) new systems

It’s really fun to be the person sent in to stress test new systems. I get to do this a lot in the software / tech space, but rarely am I sent in as the guinea pig for “IRL” (in real life) stress tests.

That’s why these next two weeks are so exciting. I’m spending the holidays at a beach resort hotel that’s essentially still in its soft opening stages. (I’m talking — still fresh paint on the walls and a full-on construction crew sanding down the tabletop of the outdoor pool bar.) While I’ve only been here for four hours so far, I’ve already stress tested about five different processes. They have work to do in all of them.

I first figured out something was up when I’d be waiting in my room for luggage to arrive and 25 minutes had passed. Naturally, the only thing I wanted to do was change my clothes, brush my teeth, and then venture out for the afternoon. But the bags never came. I reached over for the phone to call the front desk and check in…only to learn that our phone line hadn’t been properly configured.

I waited a few more minutes, willing myself to be patient, when there was a knock at the door. I smiled and open it, only to be greeted by…a guy carrying a phone.

“Hola,” he said. “Sorry to bug you, but I’m here to fix your phone. You may have noticed it’s not working.”

“Great!” I replied cheerfully. “Once you plug in this phone, we can test it by calling down to the front desk.”

Five minutes of trouble-shooting later, and I finally just excused myself to go retrieve my bags myself. I ended up finding them — sitting alone in a baggage claim check room without any names or room number assigned to them. When I returned upstairs, the new phone was gone (as was the employee who had been tasked to fix it).

Under different circumstances (say, my honeymoon), beta testing new systems might really stress me out. Why am I paying a hotel, I might ask, in order to retrieve my own luggage and have a broken phone? But in this case, this isn’t my trip. It’s a work trip of my husband’s that I’m crashing. While he works, I’m spending time alone to read, write, relax, and prep for 2019. I have no time-table, no schedule, and no urgent sights I want to see. And since I enjoy watching systems develop, it’s actually kind of fun for me to poke at what’s working and what isn’t.

After unpacking a little, I walked past several men on ladders putting the final touches of black paint on the ceiling and headed outside to the pool, where I was told you need to reserve a cabana. The bar team told me to visit the towel hut team, who then told me to return to the bar team to make my reservation. Fifteen minutes later, after nobody was able to locate the bar supervisor on call today, I was told to simply write my request down on a scrap of paper and leave my phone number.

“We’ll call you,” they said.

“Uh huh…” I mused, knowing full well that I’d need to make the same request at least twice more before confirming anything.

On my way back to the room, I visited the fitness facility to book a “Beach Body Workout” class for the next morning. The gym was empty. I returned to the front desk to make the same request but was told that the 9 a.m. class on Thursday had since been canceled and would now only take place at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. Another five minutes passed before I was on the phone with someone (presumably the fitness facility supervisor) who confirmed my reservation and reminded me to wear a hat.

Before I left the front desk, I asked for more clothes hangers to be sent to my room.

“Is that possible?” I inquired.

“Oh, yes!” the front desk associate responded. I waited a beat, but nothing happened.

“Okay,” I coaxed. “Well, my room number is…” I articulated the number slowly, waiting for her to catch on.

“Oh, wait. I need to write this down. Here, let me find something.” She returned with a notebook, opened to the first page, and jotted down a note to herself that I could barely read. We’ll see what happens.

If you’ve ever stayed at a top-notch resort or dined at a high-end restaurant, you’ve probably seen impeccable service first-hand. Not just “fold your napkin when you’re in the bathroom” stuff, but the kind of operation that can anticipate your needs, pace the meal with you (not at you), always remember your name, and somehow manage to never be in the way.

Don’t get me wrong — sometimes this high level of customization and service can go a tad too far. (At a hotel we stayed at in Manila, the guest services team had scoured the internet prior to our arrival and found a photo on our wedding website of me and my husband, which they framed and put on our bedside table.) But for the most part, there’s something comforting about knowing there’s a system specifically designed around you. And when you get to watch how that system works so seamlessly, it’s incredibly elegant to see.

It’s much less often that we have a chance to watch these systems iron out all of the kinks. The thing I’m most curious about is what the daily hotel stand-up meeting will be tomorrow. What guest issues come up? What new processes are established to better train the staff? What’s new tomorrow that doesn’t exist today? And how will my experience change as a result?

I’m staying here for a solid two weeks, and I get the sense that each day will introduce a bit more incremental progress. I look forward to observing these changes and new systems develop around me in real time. And maybe by the time I return in mid-January, I won’t have to track down my own bags in the back room and bring them upstairs myself.

Written by

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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