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Co-innovation Customer Voice Strategic Advisor

Breaking Isn’t Always Bad: Reflecting on the Break-a-Thon

Imagine you were asked to do everything you possibly could to break something. This might initially seem like the ultimate stress relief. Who wouldn’t feel better breaking something after reaching the point of frustration? In the context of this story, we’re talking about breaking software. A group of my VMware peers and I were recently asked to participate in an event lovingly called the Break-a-Thon.

After thousands of hours of testing VMware products during development and as part of the continuous improvement/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline process, VMware IT acts as its own “customer zero.” If they identify any critical bugs, software is not released for customer and partner consumption. So, after all this testing, why would VMware want a group of its own employees to try to break the software (even if it is in a lab environment)? To add an extra layer of testing to ensure that VMware products and their surrounding ecosystem are the best they can be through iterative improvements.

A software release (whether major, minor, or just a “patch”) can contain bug fixes, backporting a fix to a previous software version, a security patch, enhancements to existing functionality, interoperability/integration enhancements, or new capabilities. As the capability set within just one product increases, so does the number of test scenarios. Automated testing can certainly help, but the feedback provided by an exercise like the Break-a-Thon allows for different perspectives on whether the software release achieved its goal(s).

Here are my thoughts on the benefits of this exercise to VMware, to our customers and partners, to the employees who took part, and to the internal product teams:

  • We use VMware software for internal business operations (“drinking our own champagne,” so to speak). If something does not work as expected, it impacts VMware employees and their productivity. Using our own workforce to help uncover user-experience issues allows VMware to fix a product or service before a customer or partner encounters it.
  • Hands-on use of our software makes VMware technical field personnel better equipped to speak to its functionality in customer and partner conversations. Tinkering with a product my customer uses may give me an idea of how a customer might gain additional value from that product or achieve a previously stated outcome. If my customer gains value from the use case/feature, my peers can share this information with their customers, as well.
  • As a Break-a-Thon participant, using new software is a chance to grow your skillset and challenge yourself. Approaching it with a fresh perspective and a beginner’s mind can be a catalyst for feature requests that can be shared with our product teams to implement.
  • Knowledge of customer and partner use cases allows technical field personnel to advocate to internal business units on behalf of the customer/partner. It may be that the software was developed in a certain way that isn’t as intuitive as it should be or, perhaps, that there is a feature missing that customers and partners are requesting. Collaborating with our product-development teams in this way drives creation of better products and services that meet customer needs.
  • As software versions are added, documentation needs to be kept up to date. If an explanation is unclear or something is incorrect, we have an opportunity to improve the documentation, making it more valuable to the next person who reads it.
  • Every bug, feature request, and piece of feedback that VMware employees submit provides an opportunity to make a positive impact on the company’s products. In the process, we are looking at it through the lens of our customers and partners. It provides a sense of purpose in our work that heightens employee job satisfaction (in addition to customer satisfaction).
  • The innovation engine is driven by meaningful feedback. Feedback that shines a light on potential improvement is part of it, but we can also submit feedback that recognizes the contributions of our colleagues who are working to create something truly outstanding. Our culture celebrates the work of our talented employees.
  • Feedback sets us up to make things better. Every bug or piece of feedback can be tracked to ensure followup. In this way, I know my feedback has had an impact.

The value of feedback from a Break-a-Thon event cannot be underestimated. Go break something today and when you do, be sure to share your input on how it can be improved. The experience will only make you and your products better.