Quality – It will only sting for a second

June 21, 2011

You all know that stress is just a killer to quality, don’t you? I think all of us know this at some level but we often act as if it wasn’t so. I’d like to share a story about how this became painfully apparent to me today.

To follow up on a recent kidney stone, I needed to take a blood test. I figured I could do this during my lunch break today so I walked down to a medical clinic quite close to work. I had barely sat down before a nurse in her mid 120’s (let’s call her Nurse Singer in tribute to Mr Isaac Merritt Singer) called me in. It was obvious that this lady had been in this line of work for a very long time, which actually made me feel kind of relieved. Younger nurses often have a tendency to wuss around a bit more and unnecessarily prolong the process and since I had a lunch meeting to attend to in just a couple of minutes, this suited me just fine.

We went through the usual procedure with me spelling out my name and social security number while she prepared the needle and tubes. I then rolled up the sleeve on my right arm and she tightened a rubber band around it. After some poking around she seemed to have found a good enough vein and stuck the needle into it. First tube went just fine but mid second tube my lunch date called on my cell to find out where I was. This must have made the nurse jump enough to move the needle out of place because the tube stopped filling up. She tried to find the vein again by moving the needle around but to no avail. I asked her if she wanted to try again with my other arm. She accepted my offer and tied the rubber band around my left arm instead. This time she had some obvious problems finding a good vein and decided to go for a smaller one. After bringing out a thinner needle she once again stung me. This one was a duster to begin with. She pushed and pulled the needle a couple of times but no blood was coming out.

Nurse Singer was becoming apparently nervous now and offered me a stream of apologies. I told her that it wasn’t any problem, to just relax and give it another shot. So she pulled out a fresh needle and went back to my right arm. After a lot of poking this time she decided that she had found the vein to hit. Needle went in and … no blood this time either. More excuses and this time she told me that this wasn’t really working out for her so she would go and fetch a colleague instead (let’s call her colleague Nurse Nightingale). She came back after a minute telling me that Nurse Nightingale had just started on a new patient and that I would have to wait for a while. Already late for my lunch date I was getting a bit stressed as well so I asked Nurse Singer if she didn’t want to give it another shot. After some hesitation she picked up a new needle and went back to my left arm. Well, to make a short story even shorter; it was another barren well.

This time we both agreed that waiting for her Nurse Nightingale would be the only sensible thing to do. Five minutes later I was seated in another room, Nurse Nightingale (another contemporary of Lucy) calmly poked my left arm a couple of times with her index finger, pushed a needle into it and swiftly filled two more tubes with my blood.

Now I’m convinced that, in spite of her turning me into a Swiss cheese, Nurse Singer is probably a very competent nurse who just happened to end up in a stressful situation. She made a small mistake and then noticed that I was in a hurry. Trying to rush things she only managed to lower the quality of her work even more and thus created a need for more rework. In software projects this happens all the time. As deadlines approach, we get stressed (or get stress put unto us) and we begin to make poor decisions. We take shortcuts and we skip good practices to save time. We might not perforate our clients but we do harm to them by wasting their money on low quality products. So the next time you start to feel stress coming over you, remember the old proverb that “haste makes waste”. Take a couple of minutes to calm down and become the Nightingale your clients need.

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