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Blog post summary: Accountability in Software Development by Kent Beck

A summary of Accountability in Software Development, by Kent Beck

Beck starts with what accountability shouldn’t mean: blame. “Holding accountable” is often code for blame, but in an environment of blame it is not safe to say what you do and don’t know, and you spend time and energy protecting yourself. Work gets done much less efficiently.

Instead, he argues that accountability should be about visibility, transparency and accepting responsibility.

He gives examples of doing these things in the software world, including pair programming, test-first programming, continuous integration; visible daily, weekly, and quarterly cycles, and estimations. These are all ways to make public commitments and statements. “Nothing hidden, no blame, no shame.”

  • Test-first programming is a form of accountability. The tests are an account of the programmer’s thoughts.
  • Continuous integration renders account to the team every hour of work done.
  • Visible planning cycles provide an opportunity to make public commitments and, at the end of the cycle, render account for those commitments.
  • Making estimates is part of making commitments. Making and meeting commitments is an important part of building strong relationships.

The consequences of offering accountability can be scary. “If they only knew how long fixing that defect took they’d think I was an idiot,” But if you have done your best, there should be no fear from the judgments of others. “Nothing hidden, no blame, no shame.”

Accountability is important at many different levels.

  • On personal level, it can help focus efforts and take satisfaction in your accomplishments.
  • Inside a team, accountability encourages trust to form, freeing energy to be used accomplishing shared goals instead of protecting individual turf.
  • Teams offering accountability to their customers and their organization also build trust. When an accountable teams says “six months”, others can trust that information, confident that the team is acting in our mutual interest.
  • Some development organizations have even gone so far as to make their internal quality metrics publicly accessible, offering accountability to the world at large.

“The further my accountability goes, the more openly and directly I express my commitments and report my activities, the more empathically I listen to others, the better the results I see. The more accountable I am, the more creative I am, the more work I accomplish, the more value I create, the faster I learn”.

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