6.13.2013

Antipattern: Mediating Involvement

Definition

Mediating involvement happens when information flows from person A to B to C, where A and C rarely talk directly. A & C could be individuals or a group. In some cases there are multiple Bs!

Think about the telephone game where everyone sits in a circle passing a message around until it comes back to the source. It's often crazy what gets back, even with the best of intentions. Imagine having a conversation back and forth between the first and last person in the circle!

Consequences

Full disclosure: I've been guilty of being a mediator, it's not about blame, it's about what we can do to avoid these issues:

  • Miscommunication / misunderstanding
    • Even in direct conversation this happens.
    • It's even more likely in complex matters like software development.
  • Lost in translation
    • The mediator is very likely to summarize perspectives. Important aspects can easily be lost.
    • What if there was a miscommunication / misunderstanding in conveying the original information to the mediator?
  • Lack of creativity
    • Less minds = less creativity
    • Can't draw on the experiences of those that aren't involved.
  • Assumptions waste time and resources
    • Sometimes I'll ask a follow up question and a mediator will give me an answer they think is accurate when it's not.
    • Only after the software is built do we find out otherwise... ouch!
  • Unrefined information
    • No ability to carry on a quick back and forth conversation to refine ideas.
  • Huge delays in feedback
    • When it does happen, it often takes days for SIMPLE questions!
  • Follow up fails to happen
    • Follow up always runs this risk, even the most organized of people make mistakes.
    • I've never met a mediator who hasn't failed to follow up multiple times, even on critical issues!
    • Sometimes the mediator doesn't understand the value of following up, so there's no impetus to follow through.

In my experience:

  • Nearly every time someone speaks for someone else, I have a follow up question they can't answer.
  • Nearly every time I think I understood what someone said for someone else, eventually something comes up that was miscommunicated or misunderstood.
  • I've been blown away by the ideas that come from those that are often excluded.
  • The majority of times people say they will follow up I have to ask multiple times or just go to the source directly.
  • Countless times I've had to give up on mediators following up and make assumptions.
  • Most miscommunication / misunderstanding traces back to mediation, it's rarely from direct communication.
  • Software development is complex and time consuming. If it's not worth the time to involve everyone in simple conversations it's not worth the time to be developing the software.

Mitigation

This is very simple to mitigate. When a situation arises where involvement is needed, directly involve the responsible people in a conversation. This can't always happen immediately so keep track of these situations in an area visible to everyone so they can be addressed as soon as possible.

  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities
    • Users, Buyer, Consultant, Stakeholders, Subcontractors etc
    • Introduce everyone as soon as possible
    • Exchange contact information (email, phone etc)
  • Foster a team approach.
  • Everyone should avoid speaking for anyone else.
  • Consultant's shouldn't mediate the involvement of employees and sub contractors.
  • Analysts / managers shouldn't mediate the buyer nor the users.




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