Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Quiet Mistakes

This morning I was coming back from the gym, heading to my apartment. In the lobby there was a man talking to the guy who does the dry cleaning. In the time it took me to cross the lobby and get on an elevator (about 90 seconds), it had escalated from a conversation to shouted accusations on both sides and repeated imprecations: "Don't call me a liar!"

Way to resolve the situation, guys.

Our jobs are often about telling others that something is wrong, and it's very easy for this to get negative quickly. Things have definitely gone downhill if we're getting into arguments about "your code is wrong!" and "how can you think someone would ever do that?".

Many testers and quite a few developers will pay lip service to the value of test (or QA). It's about proving that things work as well as we hope. It's about not being surprised when the product hits the field. It's about gathering information for others (the "them" in this particular us vs them mindset) so that they can make good decisions.

When a bug gets logged, though, there's a little bit of a "darn! screwed up!" feeling for the recipient of the bug. Heck, I've been on the receiving end of these, and I still think that every single time. It's not that I'm sorry someone found the issue; it's that I'm annoyed with myself that I didn't think of that.

So how do we keep this from going negative?
  • Be polite while logging bugs. This is hugely important. "Nanny nanny boo boo" should never be part of a bug report.
  • Handle the negative in private and the positive in public. This is the mistake that man made when I was walking through the lobby this morning. It's a lot easier for someone to say - to themselves or to others - that they screwed up or that they missed something when it can be done quietly. Leave people their public pride and talk about problems only in the audience that needs to know; public scourging only makes people more defensive.
  • Don't overlog your bug. This kind of hitting-someone-over-the-head with their problem . Log the bug once and move on. Don't keep finding followups (bug 12346: "because of bug 12345, which crashed the system, if I then attempt to write to the system it fails!") that are obviously direct consequences of the bug. Be complete and specific, and then let it go.
Because of what we do all day, we're likely to end up in situations that turn negative. It's incumbent on us to do everything we can to avoid negativity and instead work on solutions. 

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