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What Would You Do? Management Scenario #1

I’m in the early stages of a book on managing and I’m starting to look for situations that might trigger ideas on areas I want to cover, and for situations that serve as good what would you do (WWYD) scenarios for potential managers. Scenarios give you a chance to practice without pain, and a chance to start to see the world through the eyes of manager. I’d also say that a scenario is a story with the answer withheld!

The Intro

Joe SQL has been in the hospital for some performance tuning. A couple days into his stay he is moved to a different room on a different floor. Upon arrival at the new room he notes that the door has a sticker across it (ala a crime scene) indicating the room has been cleaned for the next patient – kinda cool! Upon entering the room is  noticeably warm and the air conditioner doesn’t seem to be working, so his significant other (Mrs. SQL) asks the assigned nurse to see if can be fixed, as Joe is used to server room temperatures.. Mrs. SQL leaves to backup the databases.

Phase Two

Several hours later Mrs. SQL returns and the room is still warm, no news from the nurse. Calls and asks again for someone to fix it, or to see if another room is available. Hard to tell if the nurse is interested.

Almost There

An hour passes and no action and no update, so on the way out the Mrs SQL visits the executive office of the hospital and is told that the problem will be corrected quickly. Within 10 minutes:

  • Very senior nurse visits Joe to let him know that they are working on another room ready and on getting the AC in his current room fixed. Seems motivated to get it fixed, mildly irritated about the call from the big office downstairs
  • Building maintenance dude arrives, spends 5 minutes investigating and announces it is fixed, turns out the cold water supply to it had been turned off
  • Senior nurse returns to say an alternate room is available. Joe can move now, or wait half an hour to see if the current room cools down enough. Joes figures one cube is as good as the next, elects to delay the move and hope the AC works.

The Conclusion

Senior nurse returns in about 45 minutes and the room is cool enough, seems mildly happy to have it resolved and to get back to business.

Most us look at this and call it bad customer service. Sure! But that’s the view from the customer. What do we see as a manager? If we looked at it from the perspective of each of the people on the hospital staff, who did well and who did not? As managers we often look at these in terms of blame – whose fault was it? I’m not advocating that approach, but it’s important to identify the failure point and reason to see if it’s possible to prevent a repeat of the problem, or of bad handling of a problem.

I know you don’t have all the details, it’s often that way in real life. But there’s enough there to see what you think about the role of a manager and how you think it should be executed. Tell me who did well and who didn’t, and why. Who’s the villain here?


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Dan.Humphries on 23 February 2010

Assuming that Mrs. Sql talked to the same nurse each time then the nurse and or nurses are guilty of breaking the rule of follow through at the very least.  Certainly the ideal situation would be for the initial nurse and or potential separate nurse on the second contact to take real ownership of the problem and not only show interest in the concern but see it through to a resolution.  In this example however it seems that both nurses seem to have dropped the ball.  This may not be because they are per say a villain but may be that they are simply held up by an inefficient process.  For example hospital policy may prevent them from contacting maintenance dude directly but instead they have to contact the very important nurse who has failed to respond to her pager while on her lunch break. This may very well be the case since the very important nurse seems to do very little to ensure Mr. and Mrs SQL that they are taking their concern seriously and making it a priority. The executive seems to have handled the situation better however a much better response would have been to immediately authorize and request the move to a properly cooled room.  The customer should not be bothered with the details of why or how the problem occurred but rather given the satisfaction of knowing the problem is resolved.  The Maintenance Dude could then have the time to repair the broken ac and perhaps in the name of efficiency perform a preventative maintenance to prevent further small problems as this was. The executive still could become a villain if he also fails to follow up. A review of the procedures should be conducted. Often the assumption would be that the initial nurse had neglected her duty but she may simply believe she was following the procedure she was given.  Obviously if this is the case then the initial nurse would not be able to express to Mrs. Sql that a poor policy prevented her from correcting the issue. I may have over thought the process a bit but this is my opinion all the same.

Posted by Andy Warren on 23 February 2010

Dan, I think that's a decent eval. The part we don't know and might wish to hear is what really did happen behind the scenes. They reacted to the problem well (eventually), but did they figure out the root problem and fix it? In experience most of the time they bandaid and move on, leaving a pothole waiting for another customer.

Posted by Samson Loo on 23 February 2010

Seems to be a lack of protocol and/or follow through. I agree that the initial provider should have generated a support ticket for maintenance to investigate. However based on well documented and defined priorities, does a faulty AC unit take precedence over a failing mission critical system? Shall I drop what I am doing to issue a ticket for what appears to be a comfort issue or address the highly important, pending or overdue issues I already have? Priorities are priorities and must be juggled accordingly. Perhaps returning to the original location until the AC is addressed may be the best case.

Posted by kramaswamy on 1 March 2010

seems to me like the root of the problem is follow-through. each individual person did their job, but the only person in the whole set that actually followed through with what they said, was the senior nurse at the end.

the first nurse, or nurses if there were multiple, most likely took the report of the heating conditions and informed their superior, or reported it themselves on some form of notification service. they then assumed someone else would deal with it.

the problem is that what often will happen, and i can speak from experience here, is that someone who reports a problem to another team, such as in my case the customer service team reporting a bug to the development team, will almost invariably expect that their issue should take precedence. what they won't realise, or recognize, is that the development team most likely has a great deal of issues to deal with, and the issue that was just reported most likely would take a spot somewhere in the queue.

it's the responsibility of the people reporting the issue to make sure that the issue is followed through with correctly, because the team responsibile for fixing it will of course eventually fix it, but they may not necessarily be taking quite the degree of urgency to it as may be warranted, especially if the problem reported was not done so in a manner indicating its urgency.

going back to the original statement, only the senior nurse actually checked back to make sure that the problem was addressed. in fact, not only once, but twice. so, only the senior nurse was doing their job correctly, all the rest were at fault.

Posted by Marky Mark on 8 March 2010

Firstly I am not disagreeing with the other posters, in fact I like those comments and think they cover the issues with how the situation was dealt with very well.

Also I am possibly over simplifying this, but looking at the scenario, for me what really needs some attention is how "the cold water supply to [the AC] had been turned off" in the first place.

Improving how problems are dealt with is important especially where customers are involved, however if problems can be prevented in the first place staff can concentrate on doing a great job.

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