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Bad Workmen

Alistair Gerrard
July 23, 2020

The saying goes that a bad workman blames his tools. And if you’re like me then you’ve probably used a screwdriver to tighten or loosen a screw. Or to open a tin of paint. Or as some sort of chisel. Or as a tyre lever. Especially those really big screwdrivers. And when the big screwdriver doesn’t work as a chisel or a paint can opener or a tyre lever, you may blame it using the most colourful of terms. I do.

If you haven’t then I tip my hat to you, and you are probably much better at various DIY tasks than I am. A testament to this can be easily assessed, usually, by a quick visible inspection of any of my projects. Or by the various injuries I have sustained in the process – thankfully all relatively minor to date.

Tasks which went, as far as I am concerned, particularly well are few and far between. One was my disassembly and reassembly of a fitted wardrobe, all to access plugs hidden by the original installation, and to install a TV stand. The better one was the design, build and installation of custom shelves which spanned the gap under a bridging wardrobe, and which provided an integral reading light on each side. I was dead chuffed with those.

I’m proud of that particular job because I understand the scope of the work properly upfront, allowing me to better (under) estimate the effort required. I also carefully planned each section and I knew I had the right tool to complete each part. OR to put it another way, I didn’t just use one of those cool, big screwdrivers to do everything. I used the correct tool for each of the jobs required. Despite owning one of those cool, big screwdrivers. And, more importantly, I didn’t blame the cool, big screwdriver when I was slightly misusing it. I was, for once, a good workman.

Many other tasks have been merely adequate because of my impatience, driven from an under-appreciation of the size of the task, and a lack of training with the specific tools required to complete the task.

There are parallels which can be struck between my quite frankly chequered DIY history, and situations we encounter all too often on projects. And as per my opening paragraph I have recently witnessed complaints about tooling within a project, whereby the tooling was seen as a weak link because, in effect, the project was using a cool, big screwdriver as a chisel.

Tools are designed to do specific jobs. And even in the case of a multi-tool, it only does multiple jobs because it has many parts, each designed to do a specific job. But there is more to this issue that that. Rationally I know I have little recourse to swear at a cool, big screwdriver when it does not behave like a chisel. I also can’t really blame it for failing to work on a small philips screw as I repair my glasses. I have to maintain a reasonable expectation that the tool will do the job it is designed to do well, especially if I use it correctly.

It is therefore also unreasonable to blame an out-of-date software tool for not delivering the agile-supporting features you need when you are running a version which is 5 years out-of-date, was tailored to waterfall or v-model delivery methodologies, and was never really configured when you bought it beyond the standard installation, and you’re not even using that configuration correctly.

I’ve found the same to be true with more modern, agile-supporting tools are expected to solve all problems but the default configuration which does not, for example, reflect the strategy defect management strategy, is still in use. It’s unreasonable to blame the tool you haven’t bothered to set up properly for issues with defect management when it has not been configured to your process. It allows users to bypass process and re-introduce issues the process was designed to prevent.

At Sogeti, we agree that agile projects are driven by People, Process, and Tools. Yet we don’t rush to tools as we know that you need the cultural buy-in from people to achieve success, and that means identifying the ways of working those people want to follow, or the processes they need. Only then can you provide those people with the right tools to do their jobs.

Not only do we have well-honed processes to ensure our clients will have the right tools for the job to require but we also equip our consultants for success, to ensure they can support your business and help bring about the change needed for your continuing success.

About the author

Managing Consultant 1
Upon graduating I applied my problem-solving skills into supporting production software directly with end-users, leading a role testing charge card authorizations for Diners Club International, and ultimately this gave me my first opportunity in automation when I automated regression testing for authorizations and performance tested the international authorizations switch.


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