Who Is Driving Your Bus?

I taught a Geographically Distributed Agile Teams workshop in Israel this week. During the simulation, the “tester”  led the “developer”: as in “Let’s do this,” “Here’s what done means,” “ We should do it this way.”

Someone commented that this was “Test(er)-Driven Development.” I laughed.

Then I realized. Aside from “back seat drivers,” this happens all over our organizations. The people at the “end” of the process might drive the front of the process. Here are two more examples.

  • Who decides where people sit in your organization? Do the managers, the teams, or the facilities people? Who decides the desks or the cube configurations? This is Facilities-Led Architectural Decisions. Why? because you will get Conway’s Law: The architecture/design of the product will follow where people sit.
  •  Who decides what to work on? Is it the product owner or the product manager? Or, do you have emergency projects/fixes because no one manages the project portfolio? Or, does everyone decide what to do on their own, because of the rampant multitasking? If no manager makes a decision which project is #1, and says, “Every project is #1, then every person decides him or herself. That means you decide. I decide. It doesn’t matter what our job titles are. We decide. We decide the strategy for the organization. This is Bottom-Up Strategic Decision Making.

We can decide we want to do this. Is Tester-Driven Development wrong? I was a tester like that, many years ago. I made the product better when I asked questions. I didn’t tell that developer what to do or how to do it. But the developer was stuck in his vision of the product. When I asked questions and said things such as, “It doesn’t pass the commercial acceptance tests. I cannot imagine our customers will be happy. Let’s decide on our release criteria as an organization,” I made the conversation involve more than just the developer and me. We ended up with a product that was much better than the one we started with.

My dear adaptable problem solvers, the question of the week this week is “Who is driving your bus?” It might not be the person you think it is.

6 thoughts on “Who Is Driving Your Bus?”

    1. Hi Phil, that’s a good question. Maybe the people who do have the most to lose. But I’m not so sure about that. With Facilities-Led Architectural decisions, it’s not that Facilities has the most to lose, but the most to preserve in terms of organizational power.

      In terms of the project portfolio and multitasking, the managers don’t realize they are abdicating their decisions.

  1. Interesting observation. Regarding “always #1 managers” it sounds like a tail wags the dog situation which I believe may often be better then the opposite by complex products, projects. Furthermore that’s what Google seems to do. In their definition of a “smart creative” (an ideal worker) she (smart creative) does not need to agree with managers view and can make decision by herself. But of course Google does this consciously and here we’re talking about an unintentional situation which in its most radical form could lead to: team members become sort of members of the board. :)

    1. Aleksander, there is a difference between people making smart decisions and everyone working randomly. I tried to discuss the second case.

      I’m all for people making smart decisions. But someone with fiduciary/financial responsibility should make the project portfolio decisions. That’s because the project portfolio is the way you implement your project strategy.

  2. Hi Johanna,
    I like the topics raised in this article. The analogy I’d use for the tester(s) in your example is not that of a back-seat driver but more of a navigator. In the case of facilities they are more like the coach-builders who provide the internal layout of the bus and the environment in which the driver and navigator operate. Then, with a bus analogy there’s the passengers who are the customers but passengers are rarely actively involved.

    Because there is a team involved I might choose the crew of a ship as an analogy… With navigators, lookouts, engineers, etc. The customer might be passengers on a cruise-ship and actively involved or could be recipients of cargo. A captain would ideally be there as a respected leader helping the crew operate as a cohesive group towards a common goal.


    1. Antony, thanks for improving my analogy! I was so struck by the situation, I had to write it down. I think you are on to something even better.

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