The Defect Black Market

The Defect Black Market

It all started a week before, when the CTO of Damon’s midsize warehousing and transportation company in Northern California announced an innovative program to motivate employees and boost the quality of their logistics software. For every bug found by a tester and fixed by a programmer, both would get $10.

Well, this doesn’t sound very well thought out. Bonuses often distort behavior. Dr. Deming was not against such targets and bonuses because he thought they would not result in bugs being fixed: Dr. Deming on the problems with targets or goals. It is a question of how that will happen. The system being distorted is the most likely result of any such system.

Everyone worked a bit harder the next day. Testers made sure to check and double-check every test case they ran, while developers worked through lunch to fix their assigned bugs. And it paid off. On that second day each had earned an average bonus of $50.

Everyone worked even harder on the third day. On the fourth day, however, the well had started to dry up. The testers ran, re-ran, and re-ran again the test cases, but they could only find a handful of issues. The developers strained the issue-tracking system, constantly reloading the “unassigned bugs” page and rushing to self-assign anything that appeared.

And then something strange happened at lunch. Instead of going out to eat with his usual teammates, one of the developers went out with a tester. Soon after, another developer went out with another tester. Within a few minutes, almost all of the developers had paired up with testers.

As the developers returned from lunch, they immediately got to work. Instead of scavenging for newly found bugs, they worked on “code refactoring” and new functionality. And as soon as they deployed their changes, testers found bugs — minor, obscure bugs that a developer could easily overlook. And just as quickly as testers found bugs, the developers were able to fix them and re-deploy. By the end of the day, developers and testers had earned an average of $120.

It is simple to blame employees for taking such action. But the management that setup such a system deserve more blame. This type of manipulation is what is encouraged by managers that think management means setting up such simplistic, senseless systems (Why Extrinsic Motivation Fails). This is one more example of forgetting the proxy nature of data (among other things).

Related: Stop Demotivating Me!How to ImproveManagement is helping others become greatFix the Root Cause of the ProblemIncentive Programs are IneffectiveArbitrary Rules Don’t WorkThe Problem with Targets