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Tackling problems head on

This was an anecdote I related at the Agile Coaches Gathering this year during Liz Keogh’s session on overcoming problems. It was also retold during the closing circle at Liz’s request.

The problems unit testing cause…

I was attending the retrospective of a new (to me) team when the issue of recurring bugs came up. Obviously a topic close to the teams heart, they exploded into action discussing how it wasn’t their fault and even if it was their fault how they couldn’t do anything about it. Good healthy debate…

I asked why they weren’t considering any solutions, for example unit testing. Oh, how naive I was.

“We’re not allowed to do that.”

“The powers that be have banned it.”

I’ll admit, I like a challenge and this one intrigued me. Why would management ban unit testing?

“Do you know why you’re not allowed to do it?” I asked.

The answer was short and to the point: “Too expensive!”.

“And who decided it was too expensive?” I continued.

“Group IT director” came the immediate response.

“Ok, so where can I find him? I’d like to have a chat.”

“You can’t do that! He’s the GROUP IT director!”

Apparently it isn’t the done thing to question someone several layers above you in an organization. Guess I missed that memo.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends

Despite of the teams best efforts, I managed to track down this all-powerful director (first real use of a corporate intranet for me) to an office a few floors above. So, I went for a walk.

On reaching the director’s office I met the assistant. Thoughts of impending doom (I’m not unaware people don’t always respond well to this) were quickly dispelled. The director had always had an open-door policy. In I went.

The director proved an amiable guy, willing to make time for me pretty much straight away. He asked how he could help, so I told him what I’d been told in the retrospective.

Sure enough I got the answer expected from a very senior executive: “What’s unit testing?”

So I explained.

“Ah, I think I see where the problem has come from. I told the management team they needed to reduce the cost of testing our software. I don’t really care how they achieve it.”

Pretty quickly the director had fired off an email to the department clearing the matter up.

A word of caution

I’ve not often found this a popular method for tackling issues within an organization, you can really put some noses out of joint regardless of the result. However, as an independent I have a level of luxury to follow my values. One day it may lead to early termination of a contract but I’d be happier knowing I acted instead of sitting by and letting things continue.