Blog / Are you victim of Stockholm syndrome?

Petr Zaparka
February 11, 2011

I recently listened to a podcast called ‘Developers Life’ where a couple of developers and project managers talked about some rotton projects they’d worked on and how it’s sometimes hard to get perspective and realise that some projects are so bad they’re more bother than they’re worth.

When you’re a developer or project manager working in a framework like Scrum, Kanban or Agile, you can usually look over at the wall and see a big white board with the name of all the projects, and all the stories pertinant to them. The stories will all be in different states: ready for dev, in development, in testing etc.

From a success point of you, you and your team might be cracking the project and delivering the code to the client; but there is another issue you may need to consider. Can you remember how long the project has gone on for? Did you notice that customer or product owner keeps changing their mind all the time, or do you feel they’re doing other things to unwittingly sabotage your work? Did you find out yourself implementing the same functionality again and again?

I know it’s the client’s money, and I know it’s the money that pays your wages and enables you and your team to buy all the fancy toys for you want or need. However even though money is good in the short term, in the long term the happiness of you and your team is much more important. Bad, negative projects are out there all the time and what’s even worse is that you could be working on one right now and you haven’t even noticed! If you are, than I am sorry to say - you could be victim of Stockholm Syndrome!

Stockholm Syndrome, as many of you probably know was observed in Stockholm, when, “bank robbers held bank employees hostage for 6 days. The victims became emotionally attached to their captors, and even defended them after they were freed.“ (source Wikipedia).

Imagine that, 6 days in a terrible environment with violent people. Could this make you lose your "common sense” ? Now, how long have you worked on these bad projects? They last for longer than 6 days don’t they? You might be working in great environment with great people, which this actually could be much worse, because the beast is out there and you didn’t notice. You are a victim, and you should be freed, but how you can tell if this is really the situation you’re in?

Don’t worry, there is a way to recognise what’s happening. One solution could be found in doing retrospectives. It’s good practice to do retrospectives because it allows you to improve your process and you’re taking an active role in solving any problems with the project or the team. It’s about upfront communication. That means if you notice there are repeating complaints about the customer or project’s craziness, you can let everyone know and solve the problem quickly and for good.

Another way to realise that there’s something wrong is Pareto principle also known as 80/20 rule. In short, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. That means you can spend so much time and effort to keep going on a nightmare project, but the income and achievement just doesn’t match up. The last way is outside observation by somebody who is working in your company or for your company, but not on the same project. This person could give you proper insight.

Do you have any other suggestions of how to be aware of Stockholm Syndrome in your project ? If yes, then share it with us please.