Suck(er)ed into the telephone game

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Did you ever play the telephone game as a kid? You know, where you whisper something to the kid next you, who whispers it to the next kid, and when it gets to the last kid, it's completely bonkers and sounds nothing like what you started with? Hilarity!

It's not just for kids though. There's grown up versions, like Scribblish. One person writes a phrase, the next person draws it, the next one describes what the drawing is, the next one draws from the description.. by the end, it looks nothing like what you started with. It's actually a blast to play. Everyone's actually trying to get it right... but they won't.

It's a lot less fun in real life though.

Like when I was approached about a project from earlier this year. There was a request for some new features, a project manager had questions, and since I worked on it last they came to me. Makes sense. I answered a few of them, but one of them required more intimate knowledge of the database, so I referred the PM to one of our DBAs. They'd already spoken. The DBA didn't know. The DBA had referred the PM to me.

Hm.

At that moment, I had a few choices. Should I suggest the PM speak to the DBA again, running the risk that she might not exactly convey what I'd said and end up coming back to me in a few days with more detail (from the DBA, also not conveyed verbatim) about why this was a developer issue? Now she's playing the telephone game.

Or should I contact the DBA myself, hope my interpretation of the original question is correct and the same as his, and we try to hash it out. Then I go back to the PM and discover I got an answer to the wrong question. Now I'm playing the telephone game.

What I ended up doing was just starting a conversation between the 3 of us in a chat room. I rephrased her question (but she was in the convo so she could correct it), added what I know and where my knowledge ends, and stated what I thought we needed from the DBA (which he could correct too). Now we're all talking, the PM clarified what she needed, and the DBA gave me some good advice on how to modify the call our app was making to the database.

The solution sounds so obvious it's almost unnecessary to spell it out, right? Except somehow I've been caught up in it more than a few times. Is it pride in the feeling that I'm facilitating a solution? Maybe it's just feels easier at first to run interference a few times, but before I know it I'm stuck in the same old pattern?

The moral of the story? If you find yourself running between people, reinterpreting what everyone's saying and playing middleman, just lock everyone in a (chat?) room and make them talk to each other! Don't get stuck playing games...

Author

Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.


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