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Target Fixation and Effective Communication

September 29th, 2010 No comments

“Target fixation” is a very interesting phenomenon.

I found a very good post describing it far better than I could written by a lawyer. The relevant quote is:

In World War II, fighter pilots spoke of the danger of target fixation. During bombing runs, pilots could become so focused on their targets that they’d dive, drop a bomb on the target, and yet remain so intent on hitting the target that they’d fail to pull up in time. They’d end up hitting their target and killing themselves. Although they would have achieved their mission, they wouldn’t survive to fly the next one or even to celebrate their accomplishment.

As people working on software we sometimes suffer from this as well. You have a client that is waiting on you to deliver, and you disappear for a month to work on the software, and fail to keep the client informed of status updates.

This is a very common case of ‘target fixation’ with us software folk. From the client’s point of view, they are being kept in the dark and out of the loop. They have customers and other stakeholders they need to inform as well.

The worst possible scenario is when you deliver two days late, and at the last minute inform the client of the delay. Prepare to be attacked. The client now looks bad in front of their customers and stakeholders and you’ve lost credibility big-time as a professional.

In this case the software developer suffered from target fixations to the extent that they hurt their customer relationship.

Being adept at communication is a very important skill, and a competency that will determine your level of success. Indeed, this is what distinguished people such as D. Eisenhower who had to deal with very skittish and nervous allies, and keep interests aligned with the most unlikely of supporters, in a very challenging time. Most of us are not asked to win impossible wars, but we should make the effort to make sure that we do take care of our responsibilities, and effective communication makes this more likely.