Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Should You Purposefully Annoy Your Employees?

Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan offer an interesting anecdote in today's "How To Be A Better Boss" article in the Wall Street Journal.   Fisman and Sullivan write:

Employees often wish managers were a little more understanding, but people tend to associate the idea of "understanding" with "nice." A little well-directed pain can be a good thing in getting workers to focus on the tasks they might otherwise choose to forget, and to increase overall productivity.  Given that developers often prefer programs to people, Kayak founder Paul English says, making them deal directly with customers' questions drove them nuts. Once they heard the same complaint two or three times, the engineers tended to stop and fix the code. As an added bonus, after taking his turn on customer-service duty, an engineer can pass the phone—along with its grating ring—down the line for someone else to deal with.

What an interesting example!   Of course, the phone calls work for reasons beyond the fact that they annoy the software developers.  The phone calls create a direct line of communication between the developers and the users.  Kayak has removed all the information filtering that often takes place between the users in the marketplace and the developers back at the office.  Moreover, developers get a real sense of what is just a one-off complaint versus a real pattern.   Too often, someone can shrug off a complaint from the sales force as an "isolated incident."  However, in this case, the developers can begin to see that a pattern exists, and that the incident is far from isolated.   Finally, the developers share the pain here.  We don't have a few "problem-solvers" focused on fixing bugs.  We have all the developers addressing bugs.  Everyone is accountable, as opposed to having a small unit that worries about fixing bugs.   The collective accountability goes a long way toward improving quality.  Once everyone knows that they will have to address these calls at some point, it also makes people take extra care to get it right the first time.  

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