Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

This blog was originally posted on Medium.

The day started like any other sprint close day would, bugs frantically moving across the sprint board and the “Has this not been tested yet?” questions. This happens in every agile environment that I’ve heard of. If it doesn’t happen in yours, congratulations.

I had written or contributed to the bulk of the user stories in the sprint that was due to come next (i.e. The next day). I had asked for feedback on these stories, not much had come back. I was testing the bugs that had a deadline to be signed off by that afternoon when a substantial amount of emails popped up in my inbox (thank you Jira). They were, I felt, criticising the way I had written the user stories, ripping apart the hours and days of work I had put in to them. Normally if we have questions about each other’s stories we pop a Slack message to one another or, you know talk to each other across the desk like humans. This time was different, this time I felt like I had put in the bulk of the work and not got much feedback until this very moment. And why was the feedback coming in emails and added comments on Jira? When did we stop talking to one another in favour of a good paper trail of our criticisms and feedback?

I won’t go in to the whole details of how I eventually snapped but I did and I decided “Well if you can add a paper trail to Jira so can I”. I responded with “Suit yourself. You’re going to regardless so perhaps you would prefer to take up writing all of the user stories in future”. I said that.

I was discussing it on the testersio (Testing Community) Slack channel at the time. This felt like my work was being torn apart, what should I do and was I overreacting. I was honest and told them how I had responded. I got some very good advice from Nicola Sedgwick, Richard Bradshaw and Neill Boyd to name the main contributors.

Richard told me “Be congruent with yourself. Did you behave correctly? Are you happy with the way you responded/acted? The answers to those questions will potentially lead to some actions.” Firstly, no I was not happy with the way I responded or acted. It was out of character for me, it was impulsive and I more than likely hurt the feelings of the person who had created the paper trail. Did I behave correctly? No, absolutely not! I took a deep breath (thank you Neill for the advice on this one) and I thought about what to do next. I really thought about it, no use diving in because look where that got me already.

I apologised to the other team member “Sorry for snapping. Feeling like I’m under a lot of pressure”. I took Nicolas advice on this one “retrospect on yourself” and I thought that if I was the team member who was only getting to review the user stories now, how would I be feeling? I’d probably send me a similar message to the one I had sent them. There was surely a reason that they were only getting to it now. It was time for a long walk on lunch to think about it all.

I started to think “It’s my fault for not writing user stories good enough”, “It’s the devs fault for not dedicating time before now to review the stories”, “It’s the product managers fault for not telling us what they want”. As I got further on my walk I began to wonder why did it have to be someone’s fault? In my limited experience with agile it’s all about traceability, who did the most user stories, who had the most bugs, who wrote the story that had the most bugs. This brought me back to a video I watched during the week by Selena Delesie and my thoughts about that and my current situation.

The problem wasn’t agile. The problem wasn’t one particular person’s fault. Yes, the feedback from both sides could have been better, I could have not responded like I did. The main cause of the whole problem, the fault in the whole thing was our communication. We stopped doing what we normally do when we communicate with each other. Instead there was this focus on a paper trail and the way things should be done. It wasn’t any one person’s fault but once I apologised and explained where my head was at, I learned that the devs were feeling the same way even the product manager was.

When we sat down to do a retrospective on the sprint we were finishing, a lot of things came into the spotlight. So where do we go from here? We go back to the way we were using to communicate before. I take a deep breath before I reply and I reflect on it and myself to know where I could improve for the future. If we had all stopped focusing on whose fault it was anyway maybe we never would have gotten here.