Management Can we talk for a minute?

The Big QA Freak Out

Mondays in the software biz are hell. Because productivity decreases in relation to how you close you are to Friday, Mondays, invariably, are full of everyone’s guilt to actually catch up on all the crap they ignored during the end of the week.

This Monday’s freak out was courtesy of my QA (“Quality Assurance”) lead. I heard her simmering in the hallways all morning. She was talking in hushed tones to a variety of people, building up her freak out just for me. I quickly escaped to an offsite lunch, but was immediately leapt upon when I walked into the office…

“Rands, can we talk for a minute?”

Shit.

We walked into the closest conference room; I gripped the table and braced myself.

“DEAR LORD WE’RE GOING TO SHIP HORRIBLE PRODUCT AND YOU’RE SETTING UNREALISTIC DEADLINES AND QA ALWAYS GETS THE SHAFT AND DO WE SUPPORT INTERNET EXPLORER 4.0 AND MY CREDIBILITY IS ON THE LINE HERE AND JESUS CHRIST DIDN’T WE LEARN OUR LESSON LAST TIME CHRIST GOD I HATE HTML AND THIS DEVELOPER KEEPS ON DIDDLING WITH SHIT.”

Rands Rules o’ Software Management #1: If someone is going to freak out, it’s going to be on a Monday.

When you witness a freak out, it’s important to quickly assess whether or not it’s a Monday or not. You also need to follow a couple of easy rules:

Don’t participate in the freak out.

This can be difficult because, hey, it is Monday and you did take last Friday off to play disc golf and smoke dope, oh my god, this person freaking out in my cube is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT AND LET’S GO TO THE CEO AND MAKE THIS RIGHT. Trust me, the CEO is much more adept at identifying freak outs than you and if you show up on his/her desktop blithering and throwing dry erase markers, you’re losing valuable respect points by the moment.

A less obvious participation maneuver is to make an important decision based on data acquired from a freak out. Remember, this data has been tainted by Monday and if you don’t wait to Wednesday to see what actually is going on, you’re an accessory to the crime.

Learn to recognize common freak outs.

Every person in the organization has their button which, when pushed, will result in a freak out. It varies in content and volume, but they always exist. Your job as a manager of people is to quickly discern where these buttons are and predict freak outs before they occur.

As was my case, I’d been expecting my QA freak out for over a week. Every software project I’ve worked on has had one as soon as someone with authority starts getting tense about dates. WAIT YOU MEAN WE HAVE TO ACTUALLY DO WHAT WE SAID WE’RE GOING TO DO? FUCK THAT.

Give the freak the benefit of the doubt.

Chances are your freak really does have something to say, they’re just under the influence of Monday. They probably drink too much coffee, as well. It’s important to try to determine what the person has to say although it might be easier to discern come Wednesday. Even if you can’t sift through the noise, the act of doing so might calm the freak a bit.

Hammer the freaks with questions, present them with facts.

Ultimately, a freak out is about the desire to be heard. Properly timed and correctly constructed questions will lead your freak down a road where he/she may find their own answer. If questions aren’t working and you’ve predicted this freak out then hammer the freak with readily accessible facts.

As with the case with my QA freak out, I had a good two hours in the morning to sniff the prevailing winds which meant I leapt into our bug tracking system to figure out how many bugs this person had filed, what were their severity, as well as other juicy tidbits.

When the freak out began, I started asking leading questions, “How do you know this?” “What facts do you have to support this opinion?” When it became apparent that the QA person was working from an emotional state rather than a logical one, they began to calm down. Thus begins the cooling period.

Get the freaks to solve their own problem.

If you’re lucky and your freak has half-a-brain, they probably already have a solution to the problem in mind. This is good news for you because it means all you have to do is listen to yelling for a good fifteen minutes while the freak wears out. After that, a few well designed questions will reveal a suitable answer and you’ll look like a hero for sitting there and nodding.

WARNING: The worst type of freak out is one which is purely emotional, non-logical, and based on little to no fact. It also lacks any type of solution because there really isn’t any problem except that this person really needs to freak out. The volume in this type of freak out can be negatively intoxicating and you’ll be tempted to jump on the freak out band wagon. Don’t. The best move here is to simply listen and maintain eye contact. Your calmness is a primal attempt to telepathically reflect the insanity back to the freak so they will realize they’ve gone off the deep end.

In ten years of software development, I’ve discovered that most freak outs are a symptom of a larger communication problem in the organization. The information your freak needs readily exists somewhere, but, for some reason, they lack the network of resources to find it. Fortunately for them, they have you, the manager who got to where you are because of your superior network of resources and information. The question, why did they have to freak out to get access to it?

3 Responses

  1. I wish I could either:

    A. send this to my manager

    B. work for Rands

  2. sadly, i’m pretty much the ‘freak-out’ type.

    they wouldn’t happen if a) my company weren’t an arrogant telephone monopoly, and b) if my requests for a nerf weaponry arsenal were granted. grr.

  3. This article just made me laugh so hard. I can totally relate to what Rands is saying here. Nice to see I’m not far off his advice for these scenarios already.