Fear in Software Development

In software development, fear is what drives much of the smoke-screening and mirroring that occurs. These tactics have lots of names like “CYA” (Cover Your Ass), or the generic “politics,” and they all negatively effect the development of software. Software development is primarily about figuring out what the hell it is the customer wants implemented, and then how to implement it, both code- and schedule-wise. Put broadly, software development is figuring out unknowns or, as they say, solving problems. It’s hard to solve problems when the set of positive data and other inputs you have is filtered and limited.

If it’s true that the negative stuff above is caused primarily by fear then, it’d be handy to know what those fears are so you can address them. Here’s a list from

Planning Extreme Programming

Customers are afraid that:

  • They won’t get what they asked for.
  • They’ll ask for the wrong thing.
  • They’ll pay too much for too little.
  • They must surrender control of their career to techies who don’t care.
  • They won’t ever see a meaningful plan.
  • The plans they do see will be fairy tales.
  • They won’t know what’s going on.
  • They’ll be held to their first decisions and won’t be able to react to changes in the business.
  • No one will tell them the truth.

Developers are afraid that:

  • They will be told to do more than they know how to do.
  • They will be told to do things that don’t make sense.
  • They are too stupid.
  • They are falling behind technically.
  • They’ll be given responsibility without authority.
  • They won’t be given clear definitions of what needs to be done.
  • They’ll have to sacrifice quality for deadlines.
  • They’ll have to solve hard problems without help.
  • They won’t have enough time to succeed.

(Thanks to Joe’s Wiki for the original transcription of the above.)

In addition to the human tactics (talking to people) of overcoming this fear, using tools that encourage transparency helps too. There’s a huge chicken-and-egg problem, of course, with those tools: if people are afraid, they have to get over their fear to start using the tools that help reduce their fear. My opinion is my usual “whatever <shrug> better to try than to sulk.”

Also, when check out this short post on transparency in the business end of things.