“It’s not a blame culture that we work within, but at the end of the day it will always be someone’s fault”….
I used to say this phrase a lot tongue in cheek when someone started talking about the “no blame culture”; in fact I still do; but I always believed that laying blame was a non-productive action, and only served to demoralise. My view however seems to have changed on this subject, and although I cannot pinpoint when they changed, it was brought to my attention after reading the following tweet from Jari Laakso:
Management lesson: it's not a problem if a programmer makes a load of bugs, but if a tester misses one, let's turn on the bonfire!
— Jari Laakso (@JariLaakso) August 9, 2013
My immediate response to this was that although I do not agree with giving a tester (or anyone else for that matter) the Guy Fawkes treatment, I did find myself thinking that there may be a valid reason that blame might lay at the door of the tester, or more likely at the door of the test department/team. So I respond with the following tweet:
@JariLaakso depends on what that one bug that was missed was. Although not a fan of bonfires for any management situation.
— Darren Hails (@rw_testing) August 9, 2013
Off the back of this tweet I got some response about how blaming a person or team is never the answer. Blaming is bad! I did not agree with this sentiment, yet I felt uncomfortable because it went against what I had thought in the past for such a long time, and I could not articulate even to myself why I now felt so different.
I also noticed on twitter last week that another discussion had broken out about the subject of blame, which had a number of people involved including, but not limited to @JariLaakso, @michaelbolton, @kinofrost, and @maaretp. Again on reading these tweets my initial feeling was that some of these people were getting a little overly sensitive about the “Blame” word.
As my feelings were confusing me I was compelled to try to understand what I really feel about this and why; the following is what I have concluded.
- In my experience when people refer to blame they are using the negative and informal definition of the word, which is to blast or damn.
- If we think of blame in this way then I agree that this is never a desired approach in any situation, and in my opinion unprofessional.
- The more formal definition of the word blame is to place responsibility for a fault or error, and this seems to me like a more constructive definition.
- Saying that there is a no blame culture is basically saying that no one or team is ever responsible for things that are wrong or mistakes that are made. If I said we work in a no accountability culture would you think that was a good thing? I don’t.
- In most of the situations where I have personally seen blame (using the more formal definition) attributed to a person or team it has appeared to me to be fair and correctly attributed. (in the situations where it has not, it is almost always been because of a snap judgement without doing sufficient investigation… also a bad practice in my view)
- Assigning responsibility for a fault to a team or person in my opinion is perfectly acceptable, and in fact necessary to ensure that learning’s can be acquired and improvements to process or skills can be achieved.
- Because people are so afraid to blame, things don’t change. This is a negative result because people think that being critical of someone or their team is a negative thing.
- Blame does not create and us vs. them situation as was suggested to me on twitter. Us vs. Them situations are created by a lack of respect for each other, a lack of trust, and in some cases a fear of being “found out” by the other.
I don’t buy into this notion that to lay blame somewhere is a bad thing. I do think that it is unprofessional to berate, ridicule, degrade, or make an example of in front of others, but if they were responsible for the fault then I think it is OK to blame them for it, i.e. assign the responsibility to them, once you are convinced that sufficient investigation has been done to identify where the fault originated, because although I think blaming is perfectly fine, blaming the wrong person or team is not!