Vive la Resistance!

Posted: June 2, 2013 in Testing Profession

Disclaimer – I can only speak of these events from my point of view, and I’m sure if you were able to track down my place of work, kidnap a developer or two and interrogate them, you would probably get at the very least a slightly different story. Or you could just take my word for it.

I’ve been thinking about the subject of collaboration lately, and not because I seize upon words at random to reflect upon (though that does sound like an interesting academic exercise). Collaboration is the subject of discussion at this year’s OZWST. And an episode at work recently arose that embodied what can occur when a collaborative attitude is lacking.

A few weeks ago, the Test Lead at work attempted to conduct a Root Cause Analysis session on several recent bugs. This was a new activity for the company, as such introspection has not been a strength (at least in my short time there). But our intrepid Lead was a man who was not afraid to instigate change – indeed, the test team since his (and to a lesser extent, my) arrival had been a veritable whirl-wind of innovation and improvement.

So with the usual grumbling dissonance that accompanies such gatherings temporarily muffled by the impending demise of the working week and the presence of alcoholic beverages, we assembled in the meeting room. It started slowly as people grappled with the goal of the exercise was, but discussion eventually began to roll. However, it was discussion of a not particularly helpful kind.

There are moments when you realise you’ve run into a wall of institutional resistance. It might happen when you’re trying to chase down a bug, clarifying a requirement, or just speaking with a developer. And as we wrestled with the first, and then second bug, it became quite apparent that our well-intentioned Lead had run head-first into a towering rampart of resistance (though such was his lack of progress, that insofar as the metaphor is concerned, he didn’t even make the wall but just fell into the moat surrounding it).

Of the three bugs that were poked and prodded, all had reasons “beyond our control”. On such a small sample size, that might have been the case. We can’t control everything, much as we’d like. But it was the subtly surly attitude that met each exchange that was a far stronger indicator of why these bugs had caused such problems. The “5 whys” approach floundered as it kept leading back to the chorus of “Yeah, that’s out of our control”. It was particularly instructive watching the two managers – one seemed to be aware of what was unfolding while the other unknowingly played a part in the push-back.

After much repetitive and cyclic discussion, the meeting eventually “jumped the shark” with mention of “The Indians”*, an apparently incompetent group delivering dubious software development that derails enterprise. This neatly encapsulated the ambivalent attitude that was prevalent throughout, and sounded the death knell of the meeting.

Regardless of what was said in the meeting, the undercurrent of resistance had been strong and steady. It was discouraging to see that the team has become inured to pushing for change and just accepting “that’s the way it is”, common though that phrase may be in our industry. There are a multitude of reasons behind this, but the fact we (as a development team) aren’t working together to even explore ways of overcoming road-blocks is an issue that needs to “go up on the board” as an impediment.

There have been other skirmishes won and lost in and for the development team, and it’s been an exciting and educational time for me here. But if we hadn’t assessed the size of the resistance we’re facing… OK, that’s enough of the military metaphor – I’m sure you get the point.

* That said, “The Indians” (whoever they may be) have proven a useful excuse for bugs found since, as well as the poor weather, missing pens and unfavourable sporting results, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain.

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