An old friend is a civil engineer in Hong Kong. They left the UK years ago, jumping at an opportunity to live and work where their martial arts movie idol – Bruce Lee – grew up. Bruce Lee died young but, as the Badger’s friend often tells him, he left many nuggets of wisdom, including ’Instead of buying your children all the things you never had, you should teach them all the things you were never taught. Material wears out but knowledge stays’.
Whenever Hong Kong hits the headlines, the Badger is reminded of the last boozy meeting with his friend in the UK. It included a discussion about bricks! Bricks came to fore again this week when a young team leader running defect fixing, build, and regression testing for a large, complex, software system called. They were seeking inspiration because their large team was struggling with a sizeable defect backlog, and frequent fix, build, and regression test failures. Team members were working more as a collection of individuals rather than as a team with a strong team spirit and common purpose. Paid overtime and a bonus had been introduced, but to little effect. Did the Badger have any suggestions? ‘Yes. Introduce a brick!’
The team leader, taken aback, wanted an explanation and the Badger recounted that he had overcome the same problem by awarding a house brick to someone on the team at the end of each week! The brick was given to the person responsible for something within the team’s overall control that had failed. Commonly, for example, this was for defect fixes that had either not in fact fixed the defect or had introduced other problems. Majority voting by all team members determined who received the brick which had to be displayed prominently on the recipient’s desk. The ignominy of being awarded the brick proved hugely beneficial to improving individual performance, team spirit, quality, overall teamwork, and progress. Recipients were always reluctant to explain why there was brick on their desk, especially to passing management and visitors! Over time, the brick encouraged individuals to ask for help from colleagues and it brought some levity to the grind of relentless routine and pressure. At the end of the project, the brick was mounted on a wooden plinth and presented to the person who was top of the recipient league table!
The team leader chuckled and realised that financial incentives are not a panacea. They work best if coupled with creative ways of encouraging the human behaviours that maximise team spirit and teamwork. Techniques like the brick work even when financial incentives are unaffordable which is why good delivery leaders have things like this in their arsenal of tools.
The Badger, as per Bruce Lee’s point above, feels not only that he has passed some knowledge on, but also that his civil engineer friend would be very happy to know that bricks can help in the production of software!