Ingrid Bergman is dead

Phone conversation #1

I was on the phone talking to this guy some time ago, the usual blahblah when he mentioned that he was in his parents’ apartment, checking if everything was fine, since they were on vacation.

“Yeah, so I am watching some football on TV and now I am about to go home and sleep.”

“Cool. Did you water the flowers?” His mum has a lot of flowers, very pretty flowers, a jungle!

“Eww, no…”

“But you said that your parents are away for like, 2-3 weeks.”

“Ewww, yeah, but no one told me to water the flowers.”

“Okay, how do they look?”

“I donno, like flowers, eww…”

“Well, maybe you should just water the flowers, or, if in doubt, call your mum and ask if you should water them”. I was getting a bit upset, partly because I love flowers so much, partly because that attitude was a bit too familiar, and a bit too wrong, for my taste.

“Eh, I donno, I am not calling anyone. I got no instructions about their thousands of flowers and now I just want to go home…”

“But… Well… Okay.”


Phone conversation #2

So today I talked to that guy’s mum who called me all upset because Ingrid Bergman was dead.

“Ah… I am sorry to tell you, but Ingrid Bergman actually died some 20-30 years ago. I know you are not a fan of Internet and Google News, but… to get THAT upset NOW is a bit too much of a strong reaction… I think.”

“Well, please – your hubby gets REALLY upset every now and then that The Alexandrian Library was burnt centuries ago! But, anyway, it is not the actress…”

Yes, that  is true, my husband is very sensitive, do not dare mention The Alexandrian Library in front of him unless you are prepared to listen to whining and raging for the next two hours because of the idiots who burned it. All of the different ones.

“Okay, your argument stands. And back to Ingrid…”

“My rose, my Ingrid Bergman is dead! Well, when we got back from the vacation half of my flowers were dying… I saved the most of them, but my pretty rose, my beloved Ingrid Bergman kind of rose died… buaaaaa…”

Ah, Ingrid was some kind of rose…  The conversation went further and I did not mention to the lady the chat I recently had with her son. But, I got really upset, too.

And that was EXACTLY…

Yes, that was EXACTLY what I encountered numerous times in various projects, from different project members. That is a serious attitude problem, and can be very visible, blunt, in your face, or – very nice, covered in sweet chocolate crispy phrases…

“Well, when you tell it like that – it sounds very logical, but, I am sorry – it was not in the specifications, so we did not implement it.”


“Yes, the code is broken, but I am not fixing it since I did not break it. No one told us we are supposed to fix other people’s mistakes.”


“No one told us that code has to be tested, so we didn’t do it. No, why would we do double work if not forced to?”


“He knows how to restart the server, but he is sick today. No, I can not try it, no one said what to do in situations like this one, so let us wait for him. Yes, what can we do, the whole team can not continue now…”



All of you out there; and you know which ones I am talking to – you, Ingrid Bergman killers – that attitude is NOT OKAY!!!

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13 Responses to Ingrid Bergman is dead

  1. Olivier says:

    Your anger is OK for me… except if you expect me to fix bugs and implement features FOR FREE and without impact!

    You can’t just ask to have a project at the right (read: sub-minimal) cost, with (junior and minimal) team and strong deadlines (read: specifications are not finished because the marketing team changed their mind for the 4th time, and the project is due for tomorrow)… and ask for MORE work than what has already been planned.

    On the other way, give me a realistic deadline and scope and a skilled team working on the application for 2 or 3 versions… and I agree. But the cost won’t be the same.

    Left arm or right arm, choose which one you want to cut… but assume it!

  2. Jelena says:

    Hi Olivier,

    Thank you for your comment.

    We are humans, not machines. Generally speaking – machines are better than we are in doing exactly what they are “told to”. And it is okay that they are better in executing the pre-specified set of instructions. Why should we behave as machines, blindly following the specifications? Our advantage, the things that make us, humans, superior is that we are able to do the right thing EVEN with incomplete specifications.

    It is about building quality in and assuming responsibility for what we do. It is not about asking people to do MORE, it is about having the right attitude within the team, working close to the marketing team from your example and making everyone aware what the common goal is. A team with the right attitude and values that drive them would probably communicate themselves to that marketing team if the specs should be changed.

    And about the higher cost you mention – should we really charge more for acting as humans? Well, I don’t charge extra for that, my human abilities are included. 😉

  3. Stef says:


    I read the post and although I couldn’t totally relate to you, I could at least understand your point of view.

    Your comment though – whole another story. It should be posted on Wikipedia under “Managerial Bullshit” topic.

    You’re reflecting “I’m great and others are morons” attitude. Are you purposefully trying to alienate your coworkers?

    Good luck with your career!

  4. Stef, perhaps you just never felt the drive in a team with the values Jelena describes?
    If you haven’t, I understand that you are unable to relate to the article and discard the comment as Mgr BS.

    Humans are good at solving ill-posed problems and successful software development is all about that; accepting responsibility for resolving inconsistencies.

  5. Jelena says:

    Hi Stef,

    I guess, since you point out that my comment “should be posted on Wikipedia under “Managerial Bulls*it” topic.”, that you assume that I am a manager, also – one with a bad attitude. Hm.

    Most of my career I have worked as a developer, but does that really matter?

    For me it is not about that, on which “side of the fence” we are.

    It is about ethics, doing what is right; not being “a resource” that only executes the set of specifications I am “fed with”.

  6. Jelena says:

    Daniel, I agree with you.

    I also second the possible reason for Stef’s reaction. Yes, there is a lot of empty phrases and managerial blahblah around. It can be a cultural and/or an individual thing; the very same sentences coming from different people can have opposite meanings. It is hard to judge correctly someone based on a blog post or a comment.

    Anyway, back to the subject, it never ceases to surprise me for how long we have been working in not-so-optimal ways in many software development projects, and how hard it is to change that.

    There are some books around that may be valuable to read. Stef, if you wish, try anything related to Agile software development. I’d recommend Lean Software Development, written by Mary and Tom Poppendieck, as an intro. One of the Lean principles is “Empower the team”. And this is what Wikipedia 😉 says about that one:

    Empower the team
    There has been a traditional belief in most businesses about the decision-making in the organisation – the managers tell the workers how to do their own job. In a Work-Out technique, the roles are turned – the managers are taught how to listen to the developers, so they can explain better what actions might be taken, as well as provide suggestions for improvements. Most experienced project managers have simply stated the key for a successful project – “Find good people and let them do their own job.”…

    More can be found here.

  7. Carol says:

    Agile seems to be the silver bullet and an answer to everything these days…

    – What are we having for dinner tonight?
    – Agile chicken with change-welcoming peas. It’s lean, responsive to our needs, and continuously delivers working protein…

    The word “agile” is, imho, the most misused words in today’s practice of software development. I’ve seen way too many waterfall people who decorate themselves as agile and are very vocal about it; as well as many truly agile people who do not because they are too busy delivering (plus, they want to differentiate themselves from the preaching bunch… do you see the irony here?).

    The talk on “feeling the drive”, “accepting responsibility” and “human abilities being included in price” – it’s all zen to my ears, but as noble as it is – it’s just a talk. I’d rather see the walk, but I guess this is just a blog and I will have to trust that you are actually doing what you blame others are not.

    And finally, here’s my (humble and unsolicited) advice for you. There’s really a simple solution for dealing with colleagues with “can’t-do” work attitude. If *they* are on *your* payroll – fire them and find better people. If not – quit complaining, find yourself a better environment and move on. There’s only so many organizations able to carry freeloaders and maybe you’re in one of them. Or, I might be wrong, maybe Sweden is a slacker’s paradise? But, one thing is for sure – people who don’t water their mothers’ plants, or don’t test the software they develop, or generally refuse to do anything that wasn’t in their job description – they do not read or comment on these types of blogs. They are too busy relaxing and not in the mood for fiery discussions! We are here all on the same side, and maybe you have just been missunderstood…


  8. Jelena says:

    Hi Carol,

    Thank you for your comment. I was not sure if I should use the word “agile” at all, just because of the reasons you mentioned; there are so many people who “went agile” because it has been sort of trendy now for some time, but a number of them did not get the values behind it. That has been blogged and written about a lot in the community, so I will not take it here.

    I recommended the book about Lean because I like it, and I think it is a valuable read. I do not think that “going agile” is a silver bullet. But I think that values should come before practices, and the values that Agile propagates are what gives it a special weight compared to other methodologies.

    I never intended the blog post to be a complaint; the persons one works with should not get a critic delivered via blog, that would be just silly. Think of it as a comic in text. It could have been one. The idea behind the post was to illustrate and put a parallel between an everyday situation (which obviously was wrong) and the same pattern of behaviour at work (which gets hidden, defended and justified at times. We humans are often very smart and very subtle).

    BTW, no, Sweden is not a slacker’s paradise. I did not work only in Sweden or only with Swedes. Cultural differences do get somewhat mirrored in behaviors at work – yes, generally speaking. But we are all humans with same drives at the bottom. Strictly personally speaking – from my experience – the organizations with flatter structures (less hierarchy) are more joy to work in, and I saw more of those in Sweden and Denmark.

    I am not sure if I was misunderstood. We all are now and then. Not everyone can agree on everything. It is easier to get to agree having a little chat in some pub in a friendly atmosphere, when a direct feedback is delivered to one’s face. But this is a blogosphere and the commenting will have to do. 🙂

  9. Anders Grusell says:

    Hi Jelena!
    Nice blogpost.

    I have seen this attitude thrive in cultures where short-sighted project thinking is the norm (“we have to make the budget”) since in those cases, anything not thought of before-hand (such as unit testing, for instance) is considered “scope creep” and thought to be bad for the project. Product quality is not consided as important as staying under budget.
    Just my two cents.


  10. Hi, Jelena

    A provocative blog post, in the best sense of the word! However, I think the person most to blame in this situation is the “I” person in the blog post: This was the only person who saw the negative outcome of the apathy, so it was the only person with the necessary information to change the outcome. “You” are the only one who could prevent the death of Ingrid Bergmann.

  11. Jelena says:

    Hi Anders, that matches my experiences, and you got one very important point nailed, IMO. The point is – it is not about individuals with “bad personalities”. It is about situations. It is about cultures that nourish those attitudes.

    People are almost never slackers by nature that should be fired or punished. People try to fit into the group they belong to, and to obey its rules of conduct. Some will try to change the culture, if they think it needs to be improved. Some will just follow the rules.

  12. Jelena says:

    Hi Johannes, I think that I understand how you are thinking. Shared responsibility, right?

    Perhaps “I” could have put more pressure on the reluctant guy and tried to convince him to water the flowers (in this case a new set of questions would arise – how to do it, what is an appropriate approach, what is an appropriate amount of meddling allowed – depends on their relation etc).

    Maybe “I” could have gone and watered the rose himself (if he had the keys and lived close).

    Maybe “I” could have called the lady and inform her that some “instructions” were not delivered before she and her husband left for vacation.

    A lot of “could haves”… anyway, I could not agree more – the outcome is a shared responsibility of all the participants. It is hard to argue about the percent of blame that falls on everyone in this concrete example, and at the end it does not really matter, since the rose is dead. What matters are the lessons learned, so the next time there are no victims of the common irresponsibility.

  13. PEZ says:

    This is possibly one of the best articles I have read in a really long time. Where I work we steer everything using five core values:

    – We are on the same team
    – We make it easy
    – We are Agile (yes we do use that word, it’s a good word!)
    – We are straightforward
    – We want and can do even more

    It’s interesting to note that if they would be globally applied, Ingrid Bergman would still be alive. People on the same team care for each other and each other’s objectives. Making it easy means no instructions need to be written for doing “the right thing”. If you’re agile you don’t get stuck when you stumble across the unforeseen. If “I” would have been straightforward he would have let the son know that it’s unacceptable to disregard your teammate’s objectives. People who strive for improvement don’t let things drop just because they’ve now done “their” thing.

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