I went grocery shopping at the local supermarket the other day. As I often do, I took two of my grandchildren with me—Cassidy is five and Kayden is three. We always make a beeline to the bakery for the free chocolate chip cookies. I didn't see the bag that usually is set out, so I asked the baker where it was. She replied that she had to keep it hidden in the back because older kids come in and take handfuls. She retrieved the bag and held it out for Cassidy. Cass reached in and took two cookies—one for her and one for her little brother. The baker immediately started with The Lecture—each person could have only one cookie, and Cassidy had better share what she had taken.
The next day I was flying on Delta Airlines to a customer's site to teach a course. Shortly after takeoff one of the flight attendants announced that the snacks for that day’s flight were crackers and cheese, biscotti, pretzels, granola bars, and Sun Chips. A few minutes later she repeated the announcement. As she started her service, one passenger asked, "What are the snacks today?"
The flight attendant immediately responded with The Lecture—"I already made the announcement."
"I'm sorry," the passenger replied. "I didn't hear it."
"I made the announcement twice. I'm not going to repeat it 132 times," the flight attendant said.
At the next row, the flight attendant asked another passenger what he wanted for his snack. The passenger replied, "A bottle of water, please."
"Water is not a snack, it is a beverage," the flight attendant said.
At my age, I just don’t need to hear The Lecture anymore. And I don't need to hear The Lecture given to little children. But I started thinking: How often do we in the software community give The Lecture to others?
For example, how many times have we given our customers and users The Lecture: "The system is implemented exactly to your specifications. It's not our fault if it's not what you wanted. You signed off on the requirements."
How about this favorite Lecture of project managers: "You committed to this schedule. I don't care what you have to do to make these deadlines. Just do it."
And the ever-popular Lecture directed at testers: "After all the resources you've wasted, why didn't you find that bug? Our customer did in the first five minutes of production!"
And in response, testers give The Lecture to developers: "This module fails every time we test it. Don't you care about how much of our time you are wasting?"
And my favorite of all the Lectures (having stopped a system from being released, after being given authority to stop any system of unacceptable quality from being released): "Lee, you're a bright young man and you've got a great future here, but you're not a team player."
Another of my all-time favorite Lectures is one that can be directed at anyone: "Well, if you can't do [insert any impossible task here], we'll find someone who can."
Today's fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia.org, defines embarrassment as "an unpleasant emotional state experienced upon having a socially or professionally unacceptable act or condition witnessed by or revealed to others. Usually some amount of loss of honor or dignity is involved."
Hidden deep within every Lecture is embarrassment. In the preceding examples, the embarrassments were of not being in control, not communicating effectively, not understanding, not using resources wisely, not anticipating the possible results of actions, and not being all powerful—and having this shortcoming revealed to others. To minimize their own unpleasant emotions, some people attempt to transfer these emotions to others through The Lecture. They see it as a way of soothing their egos and legitimizing their positions.
Rather than giving The Lecture, perhaps we could simply admit that, as humans, we make mistakes. A more useful approach might be to say, "I feel we have a problem here," and then continue with questions such as:
This approach seems far more useful (and grown-up) than just giving The Lecture. Try it for me, and let me know how it works