When bad things occur, we often want to blame others for the problem. Blame is comforting in the moment and not useful over time.
I had a conversation the other day with a manager whose team is trying to use agile. “They’re not using continuous integration. They’re not testing enough. I don’t know what to do with them.” He sounded distressed. He was frustrated and blamed the team for not delivering.
I asked him, “What do you measure?”
He responded with “earned value, velocity, story points done,” and a number of other surrogate measures.
I asked him if he used “running, tested features” or working product as measurements. No, he did not. Would he consider alternative measures? He would and did.
The team was still not able to deliver what he wanted them to deliver. However, now he could see why. (The manager had been asking them to work on multiple projects and to do “more” points per iteration. However, the team did not have the people it needed, and with surrogate measures, he did not realize he was the cause of many of their problems.)
When I asked him what he learned, he said, “When I want to blame the team, I should first look at myself. I did not ask them for what I wanted. I was frustrated when they gave me what I asked for, but not what I needed. I need to learn more about this agile management stuff.” (I had expected him to discuss more about measurements, not his reaction. I was thrilled!)
When I am ready to blame others, I also need to look at myself first.
You might find some of these questions better than “Who’s to blame?”:
- What happened? (A data-gathering question.)
- What changed? (More data-gathering.)
- What haven’t you changed? (Yet more data.)
- How does this issue/challenge/problem affect you? How does it affect me? (What is the meaning to each of us? You might be able to see system-level impediments with this question.)
- How do you feel about this issue/challenge/problem? How do I feel about it? (What is the significance of this to each of us?)
- How will we generate solutions for this problem? (Will we work together? Can we? Do we need to each develop a strawman of potential solutions? Can we use the Rule of Three or experiments? Do we have constraints? Guidelines?)
Blame might be the first place you go, emotionally. Okay. Ask yourself this meta-question: Do you want to blame or solve the problem?
If you want to blame others, okay. If you are like me, you won’t get what you want, but you can blame all you want.
If you want to solve the problem, consider the other questions. Add more questions that help you understand the entire problem and what might need to change.
That is the question this week: Who’s to blame?
- How Confident Are You?
- Are You Failing Fast or Learning Early?