Accountability Is a Feedback Loop

Accountability is a word that’s getting tossed around a lot lately. You hear people saying things like:

  • That developer should be held accountable for the validation problems.

  • The tester should be accountable for not finding that bug.

  • BP needs to be accountable for destroying an ecosystem.

The term seems to be thrown around most often when parts of a system fail. BP is part of a larger industry which that’s regulated. The government agency responsible for monitoring safety measures is responsible for ensuring they follow safety regulations. So when BP made their whoopsie daisy, the fingers were pointed squarely at them. However, where were the regulators? There were tons of opportunities for the government to push feedback to BP regarding the safety of their operation. But it seemed like no one was talking.

The development process is strikingly similar. Any development team worth their bits has a process that puts any issue in front of at least two parties at all times. Joel Spolsky’s infamous Bug 1203, a quick story about the interactions between a dev and a tester, is the picture of accountability, and shows that without active management and constant feedback being exchanged, things don’t get done.

A quick synopsis and commentary: Jill the tester finds a bug, and provides feedback to the dev team via the ticket system. In doing so, Jill has started the feedback loop, and made it the responsibility of the dev team to investigate the issue. The dev team, as they are prone to doing, deny responsibility for the issue, and mark the issue as ‘NOT A BUG’ Having done so, they’ve put the onus on Jill to prove it’s really a bug, which she does (probably in about 2 seconds). It’s again the responsibility of the dev team to fix the bug, which they do. Jill confirms the fix, and thereby closes the loop.

What’s important to realize is that in this type of process, it is the responsibility of anyone and everyone involved to be accountable for their role, and be focused on pushing feedback to the next person. Once there’s a break in the loop, the issue is likely to be dropped, and never fixed. The last person holding the ball is the screwup. I’m sure someone somewhere is really upset they didn’t ask BP about that little safety measure.

Jun 23rd, 2010