Level up #5
Sandeep is in crisis mode. Would he be able to save his job?
Last week, we saw how Sandeep faced an identity struggle - he wanted to be closer to the team, but there were some artificial boundaries that prevented him to do so.
Today, he’ll face his biggest crisis as a manager. Let’s see how he handles it.
“Was this avoidable?” Surabhi asked Sandeep who looked like he would break a sweat any time. The air conditioner was trying to cool down the conference room, but it failed to cool Sandeep. Surabhi was visibly tense while Sri was expressionless. A few others in the room continued to let Surabhi do the talking. One of them was taking notes, while the others continued to observe.
A user had reported hours earlier that the bank had made an error, because of which the user had lost 8.1 lakh rupees. Instead of seeing ₹9 lakh rupees in their bank account, they were seeing only ₹90,000. This user had opted into the beta program for project Neo. This meant that they were exposed to the new features that Sandeep's team was developing. The bank had taken consent from all the users enrolled in this program that if something goes wrong with the app, they are not responsible, but had never said that someone’s money would go missing!
How could this happen overnight? Was it a hack? Was someone trying to lock their bank account?
“I am not sure, actually,” Sandeep responded to Surabhi, looking down towards the table, “but my guess is that this was a slip from our testing team. They missed out on testing one of the latest feature releases, which resulted in this issue...”
Surabhi stayed silent.
“I’ll send the final report later today. We’re fixing the issue first.”
His heart was thudding as if it was about to burst his chest and pump blood out in the open. This one error could cost him his job. The user had already threatened legal action against the bank. He had gone and spoken to the media, and a couple of news channels had aired the news as well. Surabhi expected others to follow suit.
Even the loyal customers were already starting to pull out their money from their bank accounts. Within hours of the news spreading, people were waiting in queues outside the bank accounts to ask questions, and the helpdesk phones were constantly ringing.
Surabhi had to juggle through all the messages, phone calls, and emails she was getting.
The bank didn’t want any negative PR on project Neo at such an early stage of the project. If the project came to have a bad reputation in the public, it would never see widespread adoption. This was the time for generating excitement among users and not breaking their trust.
“Okay, let’s meet in the evening. I need to draft our press statement on the matter. Better to come clean soon rather than let the rumors spread,” Surabhi said.
The very next minute, Sandeep was in another conference room with his entire team.
“Team, if you have finished investigating,” Sandeep was panting as he spoke, “can you tell me what went wrong?”
“Yeah, we’ve fixed the issue now. It was very silly.”
“But what was the issue?”
Derek, the testing in-charge of the team, responded. “We had artificially placed a cap to 5 decimal places to aid us in testing. We have some automated tests that take a look at decimals and just to speed up testing, we had placed this artificial limit. We were going to remove this restriction before the public launch. But… Anyways, we didn’t expect any of the beta users to have such high deposits in their Neo accounts. That's why...”
“Who came up with such criteria?”
After a few seconds, Derek responded, “I did.” Unlike other times, he had no jokes to make, no comparisons to have, neither was there a smile on his face.
“And why was this not discussed with either Sri or me?”
“As I said, Sandeep, I didn’t think this was as big of an issue. We were not expecting anyone to have such high amounts in their Neo accounts. We had explicitly asked customers to limit the total amount to less than one lakh rupees. So...”
Sandeep opened up a word document on his laptop. In this, he wrote down what had gone wrong, when things had gone wrong, and how the team had fixed the issue. Thankfully, the issue had impacted only one customer so far.
After finishing the meeting, he had some time to kill before the meeting with Surabhi. He went to the cafeteria and picked up a banana when his eyes turned to the television. Surabhi’s video statement was playing, which she had released on the company’s YouTube channel.
“... we take full responsibility for this incident. Our team has already fixed the issue and has made sure we don’t create such issues ever again. With the Neo beta platform, we were expecting some glitches, but this one was unacceptable. I promise you that we will hold our teams to a more rigorous standard and ensure that such issues do not occur again. I will take full responsibility if something like this happens again,” she said. “We regret the inconvenience caused. Thank you for your continued support towards PIC bank,” she said, ending the 2-minute video. The video already had more than a hundred thousand views, and some news channels were also airing this statement. The bank’s social media team was constantly putting updates on the case – but none of that sufficed. People were reaching out for more and more questions.
Sandeep sat down on a table munching on his banana. How could Surabhi say all of that so easily? Take the blame when she could have said one of her employees made a mistake and fired either Sandeep or Derek for their callousness? In all seriousness, she could still do it, but publicly, she had taken responsibility.
Probably this was what leadership was all about. Take the blame yourself when required. Sandeep returned to his laptop and started editing the document he had created earlier.
The meeting was scheduled for 6:30 pm that evening. People on Sandeep’s team had started to leave for homes, while Derek was still staring at his computer. His face looked like a red tomato, and his eyes had red lines spreading across them. He was banging his fingers on the keyboard, and his eyebrows were latching together. No, he wasn’t working. He was worried that today would be the last day of the company. Through the corner of his eye, he looked towards Sandeep as he woke up from his chair and went towards a conference room.
Surabhi arrived a few seconds later. She closed the door behind her, thus blocking Derek from hearing any of the conversations. He wished he could be in the room explaining his position, but knew very well that that was not going to help.
Surabhi’s eyes had narrowed and her face looked smaller than it looked in the morning. She went to the table, picked a packaged drinking water bottle, and gulped the entire bottle without taking a breath.
As she settled in a chair, Sandeep shared copies of the document he had written with the rest of the team. He had also brought in a bunch of sharpened pencils, which he handed over to all the people in the room. Instead of starting to talk, Sandeep asked everyone to read the document and formulate their questions. He would then answer them one by one.
Sandeep looked towards Surabhi holding a pencil in her hand and underlining and scribbling on the document. With each stroke of her pencil, Sandeep’s heartbeat rose.
“Oh my god, she noticed something in the investigation section itself, now what? Yes, she is definitely going to fire me?”
After everyone was done writing their notes into the sheets, they began with the first section.
“Any questions on what went wrong?” Sandeep asked.
Surabhi responded - “Yeah, are we certain that the issue had only affected one customer? And how many customers could this have potentially affected, if we hadn’t detected this?”
“Yes, the issue affected only one customer. And, if we had not detected the issue, it could have, theoretically, affected everyone who has more than Rs. 99,999 in their Neo account. Thankfully, we didn’t have any other customers who have more than that amount.
Sandeep paused and looked across the room to see if there were more questions. Seeing most heads nodding and not asking a question, he moved on to the next section of the document. “In that case, let’s move to the cause of the issue. Any questions there?”
“Yeah, it seems obvious to me that the issue happened because of a slip in testing from your team. But, looks like you are stating that the issue is with your processes. While that may be true, we can see that this was not caught while testing.” Surabhi stated.
“Sure, it was not caught while testing. But for people to think they can make such a change without approvals seems rash to me,” Sandeep responded. He was calm and composed. “That said, I will be mitigating this by enforcing a stricter process that ensures better reviewing of such changes.”
“And do you think it will prevent such things from happening in the future?” Surabhi asked.
“We’ll be better for sure. There is never a guarantee that an app cannot fail. But we can test it rigorously to reduce the chances.”
Surabhi didn’t look convinced with Sandeep’s answer. She was looking for something more affirmative.
Noticing Surabhi’s blank face, Sri interjected. “Well, I think that’s realistic, Surabhi. We'll make sure we try our best to avoid such issues in the future.”
The meeting continued for about an hour. As it ended, Sandeep walked out with a narrow smile on the face. Derek waited for others in the room to leave, before he went to Sandeep’s desk.
“So...” he asked. Sandeep turned around, “yeah?” he smiled, looking distracted. He wasn’t expecting Derek to be in the office at this time.
“What happened in the meeting?”
“Oh, yeah...” Sandeep kept his laptop on the desk and stood facing Derek, “First, our jobs are safe. I did acknowledge that we screwed up, but we need to work on ensuring this doesn’t repeat. And second, I have a question for you. Do you want to create a process for ensuring this doesn’t happen again?”
“Yes, yes! I'll work on the process right away. Thanks, Sandeep,” the happiness Sandeep saw in Derek’s eyes eased the tension he had felt during the day.
What had changed? After watching Surabhi’s video earlier in the day, Sandeep had realized that blaming someone on the team was not the solution. Surabhi had taken ownership of the mistake. Later in the day, Sandeep had done the same with his written document. While his initial thought was to blame the issue on Derek, he decided against it. The document didn’t name even a single person on the team.
People make mistakes all the time. It was important to create a process that was resilient to peoples’ mistakes.
“Want to have dinner?” Derek asked, smiling.
“Ha, sure thing. Let's do!” Sandeep replied.
They went to a nearby restaurant, ordered a Pizza, and munched on it, as Derek started telling stories of how he was scared about the whole affair.
“You know, I had started making plans as well - “If I lost the job, I would go on a Tour De India in my car. It would have been awesome! I will likely never get a chance to do that now.””
“Oh, so that’s what you were doing on your computer today.”
“Yeah, I planned the full trip. Start from Mumbai, go southwards first, then come back and travel through Gujarat and head North. The plan was to go away for 6 months, then come back and start looking for other jobs...”
“Wow, nice! We need this level of planning for any big releases. Let’s avoid as many loose ends as we can. And, once we deliver the first version of Neo, we can go on that tour together!” Sandeep smiled. “Of course, we’ll have to come back and continue to improve Neo, but let’s not think about that just yet.”
There’s no training better than on-the-job training. Sandeep never got formal “crisis management” training, but that didn’t deter him from observing and learning.
As you can see, he is finally starting to find his ground as a manager.
In the next story, we’ll see Sandeep the most dangerous problem - that having to deal with human emotions.
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