Carlos Leyva

Silicon Stories

Chapter 3: Process Patterns

Blame Game Pattern

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The Blame Game is the most insidious of patterns. It is anathema to team dynamics and causes a cancerous growth, that once it reaches a certain magnitude, becomes next to impossible to remove. In business computing organizations the Blame Game is a team sport (often played to the death) between end users and technology. In companies that ship commercial software the sales and marketing organizations replace end users as contestants. In both cases symptoms and remedies are the same.

Before suggesting a remedy, lets examine the root cause and discuss the reasons why the game always has a tragic ending. The premise is that you have two disparate organizations jointly responsible for project deliverables (e.g. finance and technology). The inevitable dispute centers on that most venerable of words within computing history, requirements.

The business people are supposed to provide correct requirements. The underlying assumption is that they know what they want and they know what they are doing. Both assumptions are almost always incorrect. Business people have (almost) never been trained in the development of formal requirements. They normally do not think in terms of systems, entities, and relationships between entities, or any other of the arcane artifacts and constructs that technology people require in order to get what they need. They also perceive (correctly) that all of these activities are a royal pain in the ass and an additional burden on top of their already busy schedules. They see the requirements gathering process as all downside and no upside. Is it any wonder that they are not active, willing and enthusiastic participants?

When technology people abdicate their responsibility for requirements they are setting themselves up to lose. They are also setting up a scapegoat. Requirements must be coaxed out of the business people. Technology people must become business savvy enough to facilitate this process. They must develop “straw mans” that provide a point of reference. Business people are significantly better at telling you what is wrong than what is right. They are far better at telling you what they don’t like than what they do like. It is a dereliction of your responsibilities and inexcusable not to have a better understanding of the business. Quit blaming the business people for incorrect requirements.

When business people “willy-nilly” change their minds in the middle of a project. When they ask for “must have” features without considering costs. When they ask for functionality that is obscure, absurd, and often ridiculous when considered in the grand scheme of things, they are setting themselves up to lose. They are also setting up a scapegoat. Business people must become more techno-literate. They must learn the basics of the process. They must become team players and accept their share of responsibility as well as their fair share of the load. They must do this in order to ensure team success and get their fair share of the credit. Quit blaming the technology people for your carelessness and afterthoughts.

There is only one remedy. There cannot be two teams on any project that is mission-critical and supposed to provide competitive advantage. There is one team. The Director reports to the Producer, everyone else reports the Director (either directly or indirectly). The Blame Game ends because everyone is to blame. There is only one Berlin. The wall must be permanently and irrevocably blown up and dismantled. We live together and we die together, anyone that continues to sit on the fence gets shot first.

Eliminating the Blame Game is a major first step toward a successful blockbuster movie and a major first step toward creating one cross-functional (non dysfunctional) team.

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