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Several years ago, I was a part-time faculty member at a university where there was a policy that part-timers couldn’t have keys to the office that we shared. Instead, the door was supposed to be left unlocked all the time. This worked, until early one morning when I got to the office to get the printouts of the exam I was giving to my 7:30 class — and the door was locked.

The reason the professor in charge of us part-time faculty had decided to not issue keys to part-timers anymore, was because one of the part-time faculty had let a friend of his (who wasn’t affiliated with the university) run a business out of the office. The thing was, the new policy wouldn’t have avoided the problem. And us part-timers suffered for it.

I remembered this when I was running a retrospective for a Scrum team at a company where I was interviewing.

One issue the team discussed was a problem that took several hours to fix and impacted several clients, including one really important one. The team spent some time talking about different ways to track bugs, assess the severity of bugs, predict bugs, deal with clients.

I listened and observed, and after a while I noticed something. I let some more discussion go by, and then I asked them a question.

Is it possible, I asked, that this was a perfect storm? That you just happened to run into a combination of three random events that caused a problem you couldn’t have foreseen?

Is it possible, I asked the team, that you actually dealt with the problem the best way you could have under the circumstances?

And that turned out to be right. The team realized that they hadn’t made a mistake in how they tracked bugs. They hadn’t failed to predict an obvious point of failure. In fact, they’d done the best thing under the circumstances: they mobbed to track down that bug, and they didn’t let up until they fixed it.

Sometimes, you don’t need to change your policies or put new procedures in place. Sometimes, you just have to deal with what happens. And that’s all right.

As for that university where my final exams were locked in the part-time faculty office, I called the campus police, they opened the door, I got the exams, and got them to my class on time.

Photo credit: © 2017 massmatt, CC BY 2.0.

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