Management fallacy: If I send people email, then they will work harder

A project many years ago neared the conclusion of one of its project milestones. Things were getting down to the wire, and upper management was concerned that the project may not reach the milestone on schedule.

To ensure success, they decided to send email.

From: Senior Manager
Subject: READ NOW!!!! More than one bug

Please see the attached spreadsheet. If you are on the To: line you can look at the Assigned To: column and find your name.

You are in this spreadsheet if you have 2 or more bugs assigned to you. At this stage of the project as we are winding down and entering Milestone Z, people with a high number of bugs assigned to them end up being the long poles for the release.

We have a lot of teams getting to zero bugs, so we have people who can help you. If you need help, then ask your manager. Your manager should be on the Cc: line. It's key we get all the bugs fixed (with quality) as soon as we can. If your manager agrees you can use help, and doesn't know where to go for help, then ask me.

Because as we all know, you can get people to work harder by sending email.

I happened to be one of the recipients of this message, and I sent back a simple reply:

I have more than one bug because my manager asked me to help out other people who have more than two. Thanks for your concern.

Comments (15)
  1. Chad says:

    Sorry Raymond, but I don't see any hollow rallying cries in the senior manager's message.

    When deadlines loom, it's OK to ask for help. It's not weakness or a sign of incompetence to ask. The manager is making that clear. Good! That's a manger's job.

    I guess I don't see the whip cracking that you do.

    Funny reply though.

  2. Peter da Silva says:

    I agree with Chad. This is a perfectly reasonable message to send to a group of people who might be, consciously or not, hoarding bugs.

  3. Eric D says:

    I am quite sure that the bugs were assigned within a bug-tracking tool. Sending email with spreadsheets asking people to use another channel than the normal one causing synchronization issues is not a clever move. Developers should keep working on the bugs assigned to them, you will not get them to work faster or better by having them send email and spreadsheets around.

    A more clever move would have been to discuss this with team leaders. They have access to the bug tracking tool and know why/who is bottleneck regardless of the number of bugs assigned.

    And anyway, measuring load by NUMBER of bugs is silly. Some bugs take five minutes, others take days and require interaction with other unresponsive people. Managing this is the role of the team leader.

  4. -dan says:

     Peter da Silva  >  hoarding bugs


    I love it, and will use it.

  5. Ray Shuman says:

    I never care for it much when someone refers to me as a long pole. I may be 6'6", but I'm mostly Lithuanian.

  6. kog999 says:

    "I have more than one bug because my manager asked me to help out other people who have more than two. Thanks for your concern."

    His email says "We have a lot of teams getting to zero bugs, so we have people who can help you." so it would seem to me that if someone needed help your manager should have assigned someone who had zero bugs and in theory had nothing more important to do. If you had more then zero bugs you should have never been assigned to help according to the criteria of the email. I'm not against this email assuming it was only sent once and you didn't get email every day or more telling you to hurry up. A single email like this shows that senior management is "interested" in this project and implies that its a prority. Also yes it would have been better to use the bug tracking software instead of a spreadsheet but chances are someone in senior management has no idea how to use the bug tracking software and loves their spreadsheets.

  7. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    I thought this should have been tagged as "social skills of thermonuclear device"

    [Good call. Done. -Raymond]
  8. Hans says:

    Raymond, you and the comments made my day! Keep up to bring logic into management.

  9. Ooh says:

    @Dan: To me, "you need to fix your bugs" sounds MUCH more aggressive than the original email.

  10. Nick says:

    This does make me laugh somewhat.

    "Everyone needs to get to zero bugs!" followed by "If you have zero bugs, you need more bugs!"

    I suppose emails like this are helpful sometimes, you know, like if you've forgotten you're supposed to be programming at work and not watching dancing bunnies on YouTube all day.  Then a reminder might be nice.

  11. Jonathan says:

    @kog999: Your response 'why assign someone with non-zero bugs to help with other bugs' (paraphrased) appears assume that no bug reallocation happened before this email.  How do you know that his manager wasn't proactive; taking someone who'd reached zero bugs and reassigned him several new bugs taken from other, even more backed up, team members.

    Side Note: since he said "help out other people" maybe their bug tracking system allows multiple people to be assigned to a given bug and he was tagged onto several bugs to indicate to the primary assignees that they were free to delegate work related to those bugs to him.

  12. Dan says:

    @Ooh: You can be direct without being aggressive.  I welcome direct communication; if you need me to do something, just say so.  It's okay because I have my big-boy pants on and I'm getting paid to work.  And in turn, I'll be direct back, and we'll all be productive and have great communication.

    Passive-aggressive communication, on the other hand, is just so soul-sucking.

  13. Dan says:

    The thing that really bothers me about mails like this is the language.  Notice that it never actually says "you need to fix your bugs".  Instead, "you have 2 or more bugs" and people like you "end up being the long poles"…*cough* *cough*.  It's a very passive-aggressive writing style.

    Also note the classic "it's key *we* get all the bugs fixed as soon as *we* can".  Invariably, despite the use of "we", the sender of these emails is not someone who actually checks in code.

  14. Gabe says:

    -dan: The "bug hoarding" terminology came from  lol@fools's comment in oldnewthing's "Bug-hugging" article a few weeks ago:…/10021303.aspx

  15. Cheong says:

    I think the only thing that's fail in here is that the bug tracking system do not have seperate mail list of "outstanding bug owners" and "reassigned helpers", so the manager have no choice but sending out to the bug owner list, and the mail got sent to people who have zero bug of their own but helping out the others.

    [Um, if you are helping somebody by assuming some of their bugs, then the bug is now your responsibility. That's the whole point. -Raymond]

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