Unintentional “lies” in the software development field?

Beware the Chicken-a-saurus!

Marketing folks have learned a few things from software developers.

It is funny to me that developers often speak of marketing professionals as if they mainly lie to people about what they want to hear (or as if that were a moral thing).

I say that because it sometimes happens in our industry as well… maybe more often than we want to admit.

80% complete

I remember when I was just getting started in software… senior developers would report their tasks being 80% done… and remaining 80% done for weeks afterwards.

On better projects, they would report 80% complete on their first status report, and then 85%, 90%, etc.

And some of them couldn’t tell me what the “method of successive approximations” was. Go figure.

“Ready to ship” in 3 months

Or how about another example – that the software will be ready to ship in “N” months? In a recent MarketingProfs short, “How to Sift Through Unintentional Lies”, it cautions marketers to brace themselves for “one lie after another”.

It is worth reading, not so much to raise your hackles, but to learn about the perception we create in customers in whom we want to build an assessment of value. Though the article speaks about other domains than software, here is a fragment related to us, from their perspective:

No development team wants to miss a deadline—but it will happen. “There’s one project I’ve been watching that has literally been three months away from shipping for 18 months now,” notes Anthony. You’ll get more reliable estimates if you eschew a single, long development cycle for rapid cycles that produce a “minimal viable product” for testing and further augmentation.

[Bold emphasis mine. Again, please read the article at the source reference I included in the preceding lines.]

So there you have it… marketers asking for agile delivery of value. That’s pretty cool and a good place for us to work together on rebuilding trust.

Notice the article is careful to say the development team is not being malicious or intentionally deceitful.

I cannot remember a case where we have been, either. Most developers I know love to write software. We love to create and we love to solve puzzles… but let me highlight a third example before we close for the day.

Trusting each other

Now, there are explicit promises and implicit promises. In fact, it is the implicit promises that can do the most damage. You can try to disavow them easily or you may not even realize others think you made them in the first place.

In this case, DON'T read the manuals!

Have you ever made a promise to a teammate that you intended to keep, but failed in the end to keep? I know I have.

Did you ever “break the build” or overwrite someone else’s changes because of a merge conflict? I have done that, too.

Have you willingly taken on some task for a long time, and then just decided not to do it because it wasn’t really yours to do? Did anyone depend on it getting done, and did they know you stopped doing it?

Did you know you’d made a promise, or acknowledge the breakdown you produced? Not always, for me.

Do you think that failing to notice that you made a promise in the first place makes it any easier on the person you let down?

These are situations we create with our own teammates… and yet we sometimes try to diminish the importance of the cost we produce for others in failing to hold the promises we make.

Keeping promises requires professional attention

Many people write about agile methods being based on a notion of trust (including me). Quick releases, adaptive requirements, continuous integration, better testing and quick communication can go a long way to help us make and keep promises.

There are many levels in a project in which we make promises. They all count, especially in the eyes of those who accept our promises.

Keep the ones to your customers, but also keep the ones to your teammates.

Think about this – You may be committed to the top thing or two on your list, and everything else gets shifted around and de-prioritized. Though it makes you feel better to tell others you are over-committed, you may really be over-promising and failing to commit to the promises you make.

What hurts others also hurts your identity with them.

The immortal words of Socrates: I drank what?

What could possibly be misunderstood? It's so simple!

In the 1985 film “Real Genius“, the character played by Val Kilmer quoted the title of this post… or I suppose I am quoting him.

Have you ever been on a project, software or otherwise, where you didn’t realize what you were “drinking?”

In Socrates’ case, it kinda ruined his day. Of course you might ask, “How could he not know it was hemlock?”

Well, I don’t intend to go any further with the Socrates intro, but I hope it caught your attention.

What we have here…

Where I am taking this post is into failures to communicate… for which the movie quote was way too obvious to use.

So back to your project. When I communicate with you, the result is some coordination… though I may not see the coordination in some physical or observable way.

The short and very direct post by Melanie Pinola: “Redefine problems by changing the words you use to describe them” emphasizes the significant differences a single word can make in the way we orient around a simple question. Choosing your words carefully makes a huge difference – in her case it can stimulate difference ways to think about a problem – used ineffectively it could also send the wrong signals to the other person.

Tuning in the receiver

In communicating with you, I signal some meaning that you have to interpret. If you don’t, then I didn’t communicate… as when someone sends you an email request that you never receive. There is no connection, and though your lack of response disappoints them, you have no idea it even happened.

All this talking and asking questions sure makes a guy thirsty...

These missteps occur more often than you think – even if you have some experience recognizing them. The email thing has happened to me before… more than once. I have also made requests of people they didn’t realize I made, and I’ve had requests made of me that I didn’t interpret as requests.

In yesterday’s post, bfmooz and I traded some thinking about communication within the concept of vision. The same fundamentals apply in this case as well – there is no direct line between your brain and mine. They are not connected together, and we cannot “download” information from each other.

All that we can do is make interpretations, and we are stuck with the interpretations we make.  To us they seem to be “right”, and if we don’t think we need clarification (another interpretation) we won’t ask for it.

One strength of agile coaches is their capacity to remember this simple truth about communication – nobody truly hears what  someone else actually says… they only interpret what was said. So we choose our words carefully, we distinguish requirements and specifications from notions that might be more volatile and we set priorities accordingly.

What did you interpret from this post?