Bug blaming

Yesterday, I came across an interesting post on Programmers.Stack.Exchange which caught my attention for one reason or another regarding additional fields in bug tracking software.

In one of the latest “WTF” moves, my boss decided that adding a “Person To Blame” field to our bug tracking template will increase accountability

It was not, it must be said, universally welcomed by the PSE community. Allegedly, this post is from the boss in question¬†and it didn’t do a whole lot to win him any favours.

Blame is a dangerous word. It is not the sort of word that aids in root cause analysis, it is the kind of word that causes drawbridges to be pulled back up, the kind of word that causes staff to avoid taking responsibility for anything because it means they will get the blame for anything that can stick. It makes it difficult to get teams to work together, and it damages collaboration. Why? Because people are looking for blame and fault where they could be looking for cause and learning.

According to the second post above:

We anticipated the increase in production bugs when we moved away from having a dedicated QA team.

I’m utterly stunned by this. I don’t usually – in interviews – ask questions about these things – but it’s almost inconceivable to me that any place which wants to release good quality software doesn’t have a dedicated testing team. I mean it’s good they recognised they’d wind up with more production bugs but now they want to blame individuals for those bugs when they result from a half assed management decision to get rid of dedicated QA? Why would anyone want to work there?

The thing is, root cause analysis is important. Very important and often ignored over time. For an effective root cause analysis, you need to drop the idea of fault and blame and get in the concept of up-front honesty. I’m a fan of taking responsibility for my mistakes. This is the only way I can learn from them and more to the point, it’s the only way that other people can learn from them. “I goofed up” is a better starting point than “You goofed up”. Accusations and blame result in lousy team atmospheres, less willingness for people to work together; it causes isolation.

If the guy above was serious about getting people to take more pride in their work, he’d not be looking for a “person to blame”. That’s a bullying, hectoring field title and it negatively impacts morale. It’s not the sort of thing that makes people want to take responsibility for their faults and it doesn’t support the desire to be better. It more supports the desire not to be caught.