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The 7 Steps of Software Development - Revisited

July 13th, 2007

7 Steps RevisitedGaëtan Voyer-Perrault read my story entitled The 7 Steps of Software Development and posted his take on some aspects of it on his blog. In his opinion, Joe, the lead programmer in the story, deserved to be fired. In this post, I’m going to examine his opinion and do a little more revisiting of the article.

In his post, Gaëtan writes:

When you are the team lead, your job is the protection of your staff and the protection of the project that’s assigned to you.

I agree with this. I often refer to this as being the ’spear catcher’. As a lead, you are accountable to them just as you are accountable to your management. In the story, Joe’s lack of assertiveness and confidence in the lead role made him a push over for a very choleric boss as well as some co-workers. This led to the team being subjected to a very unpleasant work environment and to Joe’s eventual dismissal from his job.

However, the team was able to pull themselves together and produce a product, even if the design was bad. While I didn’t cover it in depth in the story, Joe did lead the team adequately when it came to developing the program. They built it according to the flawed plan they were given within a reasonable time frame. We can assume that when it came to the actual programming work Joe performed that part of his job satisfactorily.

Joe had not had these types of problem on this project during his previous projects over his 6 years with the company. We might assume that the previous development manager, who Joe got along with well, had acted in a project manager type role that insulated him from these kinds of problems. Joe wasn’t prepared to take on these additional aspects of his job and he failed at it.

Gaëtan continues on concerning Joe’s problems getting a meeting with the project sponsor:

If you don’t get a reply in 2 days, you e-mail Brian’s superior and you forward him all previous e-mails.

This leads into a point that I covered in the story, the leadership vacuum at the company. Brian, who was a second tier manager, reported directly to the CEO. This left the IT development organization with nowhere to go if there was a problem since Phil, the CEO, rarely had time to deal with small problems that bubbled up. Instead he would delegate them back down the chain of command and he trusted his managers to make the right choices. Because of this, Brian’s poor management techniques didn’t become an issue until a CIO was hired, well after Joe had been fired.

Could Joe have made a difference by taking more initiative as Gaëtan suggests? Yes, I think so. He might have still been out of a job but he would have fought a good fight and not wimped out as he did almost to the end in the story.

Gaëtan suggests that Joe could take legal action

Joe should have phone numbers on hand for all government-related agencies and for his lawyer and he needs to walk into the HR office and tell them that the bullying ends as of his visit.

Unfortunately, in my experience I’ve found that legal action or the threat of it rarely works against this kind of non-physical/non-sexual/non-racial bullying. Work place bullies like Brian usually know just how far they can push it to avoid trouble since most are well practiced at their ‘art’. You usually have to wait until they cross the line, making a racial epithet, a suggestive comment or lecherous grab, or push or shove, before you can take successful action.

Finally, should Joe have been fired? Gaëtan thinks he should have been. While I think it was the inevitable end result in this case, Joe was a valuable asset to the company. By firing him the company lost someone with key knowledge that could not be easily replaced. Perhaps his social skills were very lacking, but was this a good reason to fire someone? Unfortunately, often it is the reason many a skilled programmer loses their job.

So, what could the company have done to have avoided this fiasco, other than not hiring a major jerk like Brian?

  1. Hire Product/Project Manager(s) to work within IT and with project sponsors to improve communication within the company.
  2. Make sure that all positions in the management hierarchy are filled within a reasonable time with qualified people while insuring that communication flows well while vacancies are present.
  3. Offer personal development training to employees who are promoted into a managerial role, even a minor one like team lead.
  4. Have an executive committee that closely reviews new project proposals to insure that they’re feasible.

What should Joe have done to avoid his fate? Gaëtan had several suggestions, but what they distilled down to was that Joe should have been more assertive. I agree with that and I do recommend that socially challenged programmers do things that will help them in this area. This might be taking karate lessons, joining Toastmasters, getting individualized counseling, or something else that helps you improve your skills in this area.

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Entry Filed under: Project Management


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gates VP  |  July 20th, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Hey man, me again :)

    I completely agree that Joe was definitely a good programmer and definitely an asset to the company. My problem is that Joe’s managerial failures were actually costing the people underneath him. You have Brian chewing out the whole team, b/c Joe took on a job he couldn’t handle.

    Imagine that you’re working under Joe. You like Joe and you’re still kind of new to this field, so Joe’s teaching you a lot. You’ve been knocking off Joe’s tasks with lightning speed and you’re liking your job. Then Brian comes in, calls a team meeting and yells and swears at everybody, including Joe.

    Now Joe is currently responsible for your career. You’re doing good work for Joe and the only way you’re getting the pay raise that you deserve is to have Joe put in some good words for you. But look, according to Brian you’re just part of a major team failure and you’re going to have to work OT to make up for everything.

    After the second chewing out, why does anyone want to work with Joe any more? You’re doing what Joe tells you and then Managers come in and yell at you anyways. Joe is taking this stage of your career and just crushing it.

    As to bullying, well we have some good links:
    http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/bullying.html
    (Québec now has a bullying law).
    and from Monster
    http://content.monster.ca/9426_en-CA_pf.asp

    FTA
    “This is what I tell my Monster readers,” says Clarke. “If nothing is done about it, and believe me, I’ve heard enough stories from my readers where things were not done, you don’t want to work there anyway. If that is the mandate, if that is the way this company sets its policies and treats its employees, then you don’t want to be there anyway. Get out.”

    If I were working for Joe and received the second “chewing out” from Brian, I’m looking for a new job. If I’m a consultant on that project, I’m working angles for a new gig and blacklisting Brian and the company to all of my consulting friends.

    So Joe may be an asset to the company as a programmer, but his failure to defend the team is costing his company in image and in staff.

    Of course, I like the idea of assertiveness training and associated suggestions. I have spoken with others about as Toastmasters and even had one perenially bitter co-worker take up kung-fu lessons :)

  • 2. jfrankcarr  |  July 20th, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    I know what you mean. I did work for a ‘Joe’ on a contract job and yes, a ‘Brian’ came in and cussed us all out. That was part of the inspiration for the story. Our story had a happier ending since a fellow contractor and myself called up the contracting company we were working through and complained about the incident. They, in turn, called up the company and our ‘Brian’ was history and a contract project manager was brought in to help our ‘Joe’.

    In my story, I was looking at it as a worse case scenario, as in “What if our complaints had fallen on deaf ears?”.

    Oh, and thanks for the links. There’s some good information there. Unfortunately, protection against most of these bullying behaviors is less here in the US than it is in Canada.

  • 3. Aftab yo  |  September 20th, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks for the great acticle. Its hard to find such cool tips and tricks.

    Keep up the good work!

    Cheer!

    Aftab
    http://ComputerVideos.110mb.com/

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