“You can’t handle the truth!”
-Col. Nathan R. Jessep, A Few Good Men
It’s sad, but it’s true… there are a great many people who simply can’t handle the truth. And I mean simple truth, not ‘being brutally honest’ (which is more often a disguise for being honest, brutally). I had the misfortune of having a coworker ask about her own performance… Okay, let me back up.
I’m working on a program. And as I finish parts of it, I turn it over for requirements testing. The people who are testing it are also the people who gave me the requirements. More often than not, when they test, they complain about things the program doesn’t do, all of which are things they didn’t tell me it needed to do. As a result, I’m constantly rewriting my programs to include things after the fact. We have marathon email back-and-forths where we argue over the value of certain items. Their most common defense of a stupid business practice is “We’ve always done it that way.” And my most common attack is “We are writing a new program, so let’s take this opportunity to change the way its done and make it better.” And its not like its an alien idea… these are things they think SHOULD change, but they want the new program to work exactly like the old program and THEN change it. More work for everyone.
Anyway… so it comes that we are on the phone, and after we solve the latest fire she asks me how she’s been doing on the requirements and testing. I ask if she really wants to know and she says, “I want the truth.” I give her the truth, as kindly as I can. I don’t accuse her of giving me bad requirements, I instead explain that when working on requiements it would work better if she worked with the existing system for a couple or three weeks and documented every task she performed and later reviewed that log for missed steps or details to avoid the situation we have where daily tasks weren’t in the requirements. I explain that her testing should be testing of the requirements as written and not of desired features, and that things not in the requirements are enhancements for the next version, and if its discovered that essential requirements were missed they shouldn’t be reported as bugs, but should be brought up as requirements revisions. I explain that her testing is testing of my programming of the requirements as written, and when we move to phase two of testing, the user testing, her users will point out the missing details and at that point new requirements or revisions will need to be made. And lastly I say, that all this is for her sanity and mine, because if she’s constantly checking for items that weren’t in the requirements, then she’s going to be very unhappy; while on my end, if I spend every day rewriting my work for items that I wasn’t told about instead of working on remaining items or other projects, I get very unhappy.
In my opinion, I laid things out very clearly and kindly. I never yelled or accused, I just simply pointed out issues with the process she was using and how everyone would be happier if she did things differently. Well… except the users, but they’ll never be happy until we invent the “Do My Job” button so they spend their days like George Jetson or Homer Simpson, pushing one button when its needed.
So later that day I got pulled aside by my boss and told that I should never yell at anyone about how they do their job because its not within my authority as a contract programmer. I tried to defend myself, but he didn’t want to hear it. He only wanted to hear that I would never do it again (despite not having done it in the first place).
That’s my story… people, especially at work, can’t handle the truth… Now I will present you with a bastardized quote of my own:
“Work like you only need money. Love like you’ll never be happy. Dance like everyone’s got score cards. Sing only when nobody’s listening. And lie like your job depends on it.”
I don’t really mean that… but seriously, when someone asks for the truth, try to be sure they really want to hear it. And never ask for the truth unless you can’t handle it. And by “handle” I don’t mean “make them pay for telling it to you”.