Normalization of deviance in Software projects

Found this article before Christmas talking about “normalization of deviance”, were groups of people develop a culture of accepting bad behaviour as the norm. It compares the behaviour of people in Volkswagen, introducing and hiding the emissions defeat device, to Johnson & Johnson, proactive management to encourage moral responsibility.

I believe this phenomenon occurs in Software companies too, we often grow to accept bad practises and shortcuts despite knowing the risks and problems they will cause. How often have you joined a new project found something worrying and been told “Yeah, we know it’s a problem but…”?

To avoid deviance becoming the norm, managers and technical leads need to take a proactive approach, encourage and reward people for avoiding and fixing bad practises that cause issues and technical debt, even if it takes more time. We should also listen to new people to see our projects from a fresh perspective which often sees the problems we ignore.

Here’s another article more focused on this issue in technical and healthcare cultures.