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February 20, 2017

Waterfall Stockholm Syndrome

4 mins read

Stockholm syndrome: when the intimacy—albeit abusive and intimidating—of a prolonged captivity causes hostages to develop irrational feelings of trust or affection towards their captors, often sharing their opinions…

Are you a victim of Waterfall Stockholm Syndrome? How long have you been held captive in a pathological or bureaucratic organization (see “3 Types of Culture”) that oppresses effective software development practices? Rather than fighting back, have you become numb to your condition? Have you even embraced your constraints, avowing that the underlying mindset is “realistic,” that the culture is “appropriate for our situation,” that the practices imposed on you are “necessary in our line of work”?

Symptoms of the Syndrome

Be on the lookout for these symptoms of the Syndrome!

I am Contented to be Confined and Restrained
I am comfortable having my job defined by workflow models (unless I’m a manager, in which case I just go to meetings). If we must be Agile-compliant, I can just translate my current workflow into Agile terms, then configure one of those Agile lifecycle tools to enforce a faithful execution of the workflow. I’m glad I don’t have to give up the privacy of my cubicle for an open team workspace. I can use the lifecycle tool or email in the rare case that I need to communicate with anyone else.

Trapped in a cubicle, hair on fire, juggling tasks – life is good!

Trapped in a cubicle, hair on fire, juggling tasks – life is good!

This Poor Diet They Feed Me is Probably Good for Me
We have a team space but we can’t meet in it or people will complain about the noise. But no problem! We’ll just schedule a conference room, though I should do it several weeks in advance because they’re scarce. We don’t have a fully configured development environment but we can develop separately on laptops for now. Until we have the system mostly done I can’t really justify a separate integration or test environment.

I’ve Realized I Don’t Deserve Better; This is for Everyone’s Benefit
I’ve got to plan ahead to get in those services requests early. I don’t like waiting to have my environment or tools configured – for that matter getting my architectural design approved or the final release security certified and baselined by configuration management—but those guys are really pretty efficient given the volume of requests they handle from all the projects.

Our estimates for my new project aren’t enough to provide me with full coverage so I’m glad I can stay busy working part-time on other projects as well, although it can be difficult to focus on meeting deadlines. However, I’m fine because the deadlines always end up slipping to the right.

I Look Forward to Getting Some Attention via Regular Harassment and Beatings
This status review would be awkward but fortunately, I can say I’m blocked by delays in updates we depend upon. Hey, stuff happens—those guys are usually juggling multiple projects, too. I wish Management had told Business that those dates we gave them were only provisional, but whatever it takes to get the project funded! We’d essentially make the deadline anyways if Security and Operations didn’t find every niggling thing to complain about after we’ve finished the code!

I Now See That Any Problems Are Largely My Own Fault
I couldn’t justify padding the initial estimates as much as we needed—I should have thought of every delay that was going to happen, and gone through those legacy interfaces to find all the issues. Also, I should have guessed there were more requirements there than Business was telling us. We still could have made it if I’d started working more overtime earlier. I have to be accountable and commit to the plan. I’m a professional—I should be able to predict the future.

Act Now

Are the symptoms listed above familiar, even endemic in your organization? These beliefs are insidious—they must be actively resisted or they will demoralize people and suppress delivery of useful software. Appeal to senior leadership for pro-active leadership. Call an Agile coach. Do it now. Conditions will only worsen while you delay!


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