The Tyranny of Unintended Conformity? (TESTHEAD)

On October 31, 2011, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing

I just finished the Instructor’s Course for AST (in an unusual twist of fate, I can now say that I have completed the last step I should have done to let me actually be a lead instructor, even though I’ve already been one for quite some time… hey, things happen 😉 ).

Nevertheless, I found it to be a very worthwhile experience, because I had a chance along with several other Instructor candidates (including quite a few I’ve taught over the past year plus) to reconsider how I “teach” what I know. Many of the things that I do and recommend, I’ve discovered, have unintended consequences, and I has a chance to see one of them first hand.

Here’s an interesting thought. When does a “good suggestion” become a call to conformance? When you repeat it enough. I hadn’t realized that something I did as a suggestion to students could actually be used as a blunt instrument and help enforce laziness. What could this be you might ask? My suggestion that people use the question in their answers. How? By structuring their answer around the question. The benefit? In my opinion, it make it easier to see if the question is actually being answered. It also saves me having to jump to another screen to review the question. It’s just something that I figured would save people time and effort.

How can this go wrong? When people start using an “unintended metric” to penalize people who don’t do it. Nope, that was not my intention at all, but I was shown, convincingly, that it does happen. When people look for a lazy out, this is a great way to do it. When they cannot effectively answer or offer feedback for the merits of an answer, they will instead hack points away because the answer “didn’t match the requirement of including the question in the answer”… a “requirement” that never existed in the first place!

Do we find ourselves at times making up requirements that don’t exist, merely because *we* think they would be good? I’ll reiterate, I think the idea I suggested is a good one, it can be genuinely helpful to developing an answer and getting the thoughts down in a format that is direct, answers the call of the question, and stays on target and topic. That would be my preference, but I have to draw the line at requiring people to do it the way I would prefer when their way is every bit as good (or maybe even better).

Having a guideline to help with structure and ideas, I think, is a good thing. Having rigid formalism just for the sake of formalism is not my intent, but I can see how asking for something too often will instill the idea that there is a requirement, and then everyone clings to it as though it were gospel. I’m going to look to doing better on that front going forward.

How about you? Do you find things that you think are potentially good ideas becoming rigid rules you never intended?


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