Don't Forget the Losses

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Mexico. He burned their own ships! It was certainly a ceremony that marked an ending (we're not going back) and a beginning (onward to victory). Dorothy told me about an organization she worked with that took the last page of code that had not been inspected and the first page of code that had been inspected (with all its defects marked in red), framed them, and hung them on the wall in the hallway in a ceremony that marked an ending and a beginning.

Treat the past with respect.
Never denigrate the past; honor it for its accomplishments. Many people, in their enthusiasm for the new, ridicule all of the old way. Instead, credit the past and honor its contributions. Acknowledge it as the foundation upon which future success will be built.

Give people information.
People crave information. Give it to them. Tell them. Tell them again. In situations involving loss (and its associated stress) people will misunderstand and forget. On the other hand, don't substitute half-truths or untruths for unpleasant information. If you don't know yet, just say so. Dorothy and I have heard statements such as, "They don't need to know. We'll tell them when the time comes. It will just upset them now," "We don't know all the details ourselves yet so there is no point in saying anything until everything has been decided," and "They already know because we announced it. Besides, that's their manager's job."

Dorothy told me she learned a lot from our conversation, and she summed it up nicely: "It's easy to become so focused on the technical aspects of the inspection process and the benefits to developers, testers, and the organization in general, that the human process of loss isn't considered. Yet I can see now how critical it is for successful implementation of inspection and other things."

Dorothy's experience had been all too common. Most organizations start with the beginnings they wish to make and pay no attention to the endings. Then they wonder why change is so difficult to implement. But now you can be more successful because you understand change and transition; because you understand that all transitions require endings, and endings bring loss. So don't forget the losses: deal with them in an open, honest, and sympathetic manner, and you will help your organization make the transition.

About the author

Lee Copeland's picture Lee Copeland

Lee Copeland has more than thirty years of experience in the field of software development and testing. He has worked as a programmer, development director, process improvement leader, and consultant. Based on his experience, Lee has developed and taught a number of training courses focusing on software testing and development issues. Lee is the managing technical editor for Better Software magazine, a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com, and the author of A Practitioner's Guide to Software Test Design. Contact Lee at lcopeland@sqe.com.

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