42nd Street Company (#42stc)

Is this really my problem?

By on October 26, 2013

There is a relationship called co-dependence which may apply e.g. in a marriage, where the husbond is an alcoholic, and the wife is frequently covering up and taking responsibility on behalf him.

E.g. the husbond has been drinking and cannot make it to work. The wife will call and tell that her husbond has a cold.

An aspect of the codependent relationship is that the wife is depended on taking care of her weak husbond, to the degree where she would keep him in the situation as an alcoholic, rather than helping him to stop drinking.

At EuroStar’99 Lee Copeland made the observation that people working with testing or quality tend to exercise a codependent behavior in their relationship with developers and project managers. For example, by feeling a responsibility to resolve quality problems that have initially been created by either sloppy development or project management.

Since I heard Lee’s presentation, I have made this a fundamental part of my personal toolbox.

What I do, is that I always ask before accepting a task or starting an activity “is this really my problem to solve?”.

Often I find that I am about to engage with a problem, where I have no power or authority to actually implement the solution, so that I most likely will end up in some kind of conflict or suboptimal situation, spending time on something that I should not be spending time on.

Instead, I analyse the situation and try to identify the person in my organisation who is the right owner for the problem, and would have enough authority to also implement the solution.

This ensures the right level of sponsorship and commitment from the right level of management for effective problem solving or action planning and implementation.

An example of “codependence” could be that the quality organisation identifies a potential problem with project management, to take an example. The quality organisation suggests a special project to top management, to sponsor improvements in project management. It could be developing a process or implementing a tool or both. But, the problem of poor project management is not a problem that belongs to the quality organisation. The quality organisation can help identifying the problem and quantify it’s impacts on the organisation. But, the problem is not the quality organisations to solve!

Normally, the saying goes that the best person to solve a problem is the person who brought up the problem. But, under the influence of codependence this is definitely not true.

This does not mean that all problems raised and solved under the influence of codependence are bad, wrong or something else.

What it means is that problems identified by “outsiders” carry a big risk of not being understood at the right level of priority. Consequently, if the problem is attempted to be solved also by these outsiders, there is a significant risk that the target organisation will reject the thing altogether.

Quality people have a tendency to find quality problems. Testers have a tendency to find testing problems. But, at the end of the day it’s down to a few key managers to balance everything and make real work.