Friday, March 21, 2008

Where have all the liars gone?


Back when I was doing project work in the traditional waterfall way, I noticed liars all around. Developers lied about the status of their work (more or less deliberately) to the project manager, the customer lied to the project manager about how much functionality they really needed in order to use the product. The salesmen lied to the customer about how quickly the team would deliver.

It was lies all around and we where so used to it that we started to make daily routines to cope with the effect of lies . For this reason, all estimates would for example be padded with a fixed percentage and in all contracts you would find legal statements that would punish the parties if they was caught lying. It was a cruel environment to work in. We even lied about the process we used, what we said we would do in a sales meeting was often quite different from what we actually did when we started to feel the pressure of delivering.

The other day I was thinking about how long it was since the last time I felt the need to lie to the customer or the project manager (err,sorry, SCRUM master). When thinking about it, I can't remember the last time it happened. It must have been in one of the projects I mention in my pending post "Dealing with psychopaths".

After years of studying body language and speech patterns, I consider my self somewhat able to figure out when someone is lying to me. Since I started working with only Agile teams or at least teams and customers that want to be agile, I can not recall a single time when I noticed that someone was lying to me. This can of course mean that the liars evolved or that I've simply become more ignorant. But, if that aren't the case; Neither me nor the people around me are lying on a daily basis anymore. Of course, as you might understand, this post is about lies in the professional environment, I haven't noticed the same decline of lies in my private life.

One of the things I have noticed over the last years, is that the people I encounter are more capable in the job than they used to be in the times of the DotCom'ers. I have worked with a lot of different companies the last years, so either I have been very lucky or the entire industry has improved. It seems that people that are good at what they do, lie less often about the results.

Working Agile makes it easier for people to share knowledge. When working in a pair I am sure that there isn't a single day when I haven't learned something new. Other people tell me that this is their experience with working in pairs as well. So, our skills are improving every day. The novice is bound to become a master over time.

Another aspect of this is what you feel about your work. My experience with Agile practises is that we tend to focus on the good things, we focus on being proud of what we do. Why would you lie about something you are proud of doing? Yes, there is of course false proudness, and people that make up successes in order to have something to be proud of, but that is something very different. Agile teams are proud of measurable results.

In the Agile way of doing projects, customers are a real part of the team. It makes it very hard for the developers and scrum master to lie to them. They get to listen in on what is actually happening every single day. It is much easier to lie in a quarterly meeting, than it is on a daily basis. There is no room for the customers to lie about the most important part, priority. You might have heard the number one customer lie "everything is important, we can't do without anything". They are asked to do the prioritization often and they are directly responsible for the outcome. If the outcome isn't what they needed, they can have another go some weeks later. No one will tell them "you can't have this", they will hear "what would you like us to do first?". Tasks and features that doesn't matter just disappears by them selves. No big deal . Literally; no big deal, only small partial deals. No need for them to lie.

So, where have all the lairs gone? The lying people are still there, even in Agile teams. But it is simply too hard for them to lie and they gain too little from doing it.

Whenever it becomes easier to lie than to be honest and the immediate gains of lying is high enough, they will be back.

If you miss the times of deception and lies, please feel free to put more formalities and team separation into your process. And make sure to have lots of fixed price projects. The liars will be back before you know it.

Let's try to stay honest for a while, it feels much better than the alternative, don't you agree?

1 comment:

Baardsen said...

Liars are ony one aspect of the inner workings of a project. Even worse is the "ignorant liar" - or "progression groupie". This is the project member who really believes he (it's definitely a 'he' most of the times) is making goooo-o-o-d progress contributing to the project. He is not. But everyone believes that, including himself.

Great post, Jenerics :)