Hands in the blood

It is a phrase that was much used in my last office and its intent was very simple. In every project, there were a number of key people that would be cornered, coerced, or cajoled into giving a definitive answer or estimate for the work on a project.

The purpose was to ensure that you had skin in the game. It’s one thing giving an estimate or detailing tasks when it is a subjective, even academic, exercise; it is another thing entirely when anything you say can and will be taken down and used as evidence later.

This was effective, and became the accepted culture. When a Canadian PM from a sister office joined the project, he was horrified at the phrase. Initially. After a few weeks, after seeing how we needed to be able to hold people accountable, he began to use the phrase himself.

With the attitude so ingrained, it was impossible to distance yourself from your numbers. You could try to be like Pilate and wash your hands, but you would end up more like Lady Macbeth and futilely try to scrub and scrub to no avail.

This stands in stark contrast with the self-organizing teams used in Scrum. The idea here is to enable the team with the ability and authority to take decisions and readily adapt to changing demands. By allowing them to define and plan their work and commitments this ensures a greater sense of ownership and commitment.

So my question would be why this didn’t occur in my previous projects? The cynical response would be to state that there was insufficient trust and respect for the team members and, without a collective code of ownership, they would not be willing to go the extra mile to help each other resolve issues. However, this isn’t so much cynical as wrong.

The team itself was very tight and cohesive; they knew each other’s strength and weaknesses and were open and honest with each other. The need for ‘hands in the blood’ was actually a case of realpolitik. There were so many players outside of the team that would leap on any errors, by having a process of blooding all the project staff, it was easy to demand the same of the naysayers and doom-mongers in those peripheral teams.

Unpleasant, but necessary.


As an aside for any fans of either Lady Macbeth or the Bard, look up Macbeth on the Estate on YouTube. The play is set as a drug dealer on a run down urban area but still using the original language and works pretty well.

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2 Responses to Hands in the blood

  1. Mr Potarto says:

    Not necessary, just easier than silencing the detractors.

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