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I work in an agile environment. People have a lot of intrinsic motivation, but something is missing.

It is not clear who is responsible for what.

One part of my job (I have chosen this task. Noone told me to do this) is care for the central wiki.

Imagine a developer who created a new cool tool.

The developer told me and others about this.

Since this tool is helpful, I create a wiki page about this.

I do this together with the developer. Let's call him Bob.

Up to now everything is fine.

Then I ask him "Can I add here 'responsible for super-tools is Bob' ?".

Bob does not like this.

I am not his manager. We work on eye level (peer-to-peer).

How to define responsibilities on a peer-to-peer level?

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  • 4
    What makes you feel it is your duty to define responsibilities? Has your boss told you to do this? Mar 13 '20 at 11:54
  • 1
    It is not clear who is responsible for what wiki content aside, what does your boss think when you raise this as an issue?
    – dwizum
    Mar 13 '20 at 17:39
  • I think what you should have asked if you could include their contact information if someone has more questions on the tool. It does not imply responsibility and the person is welcome to say no.
    – jcmack
    Mar 13 '20 at 21:43
  • I think this is a great Q (for those of us lucky enough to be working in flat hierarchies:)
    – Ajasja
    Mar 14 '20 at 4:33
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Your mistake here is your actions could have been interpreted as an attempt to assign responsibility, rather than reflect responsibility. This can be problematic for a few reasons:

People may not want to be assigned a specific responsibility

They may have a lot of work to do, and don't want to accountable for a tool.

People may not want their responsibility to be publicly known

Maybe they want their PM / boss to handle all requests and be the focal point of content

People may view it as you exceeding your role

Nobody likes having multiple bosses and team members that attempt to perform tasks that their is not the responsibility and cause confusion about who should be assigning tasks

It is a wiki. Wikis are designed to be edited by multiple people. The best people to modify pages on a wiki are experts on the subject matter. You should have invited Bob to fill out any detail that he feels needed filling out.

If someone needs to know who to contact about it, they can look at the edit history, and then chase it up with who has written about it.

If you think generally speaking there is a problem with accountability, you should take it up with your boss, rather than take it upon yourself.

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Bob created a cool new tool. Good for you, Bob.

You documented the tool on the company wiki, as your role says you should do. Good job, guettli.

But then you wanted to add that Bob is responsible for the cool new tool. Now you are assigning responsibilities to him. This is probably outside your zone of control. Your job is documenting things, not assigning ongoing maintenance responsibility. Maybe Bob understands what that might mean in the company - extra work maintaining the tool forever and never being rewarded for it, including being actively punished by it taking away from work he is expected to do.

Middle ground - include that the tool was created by Bob. So if someone later needs a change they can talk to Bob about it, but there is no expectation that Bob is responsible for it if it doesn't work quite right or is broken by some stack upgrade in the future. Now people know Bob did this good work but he isn't punished for creating cool new tools.

That's the specifics, but in general you don't assign responsibilities on a peer-to-peer level. It just isn't how organizations usually work.

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  • Responsibility can be assigned only in a dialogue. The work item "improve the Wiki" is send to Bob, and Bob has the opportunity to accept the work item. If not, the work item is send to the next potential candidate and so on. Apr 24 '20 at 11:16
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Responsibility can be a loaded term. It may be that Bob was simply assigned the task of creating the tool and has no desire to maintain or be the product owner of the tool and that everyone on the team should be and can be assigned bugs or new features.

So write up that the tool exists, how you can get it and how to use it. There's no need to go further unless instructed to by your manager.

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"Responsibility" is a loaded term. What in your mind (and Bob's) are the implications of saying Bob is "responsible" for something?

In the past, I've written programs because I needed and wanted them to exist. I'm perfectly willing to make them available to others.

While I'm interested in hearing about bugs, suggestions, etc., from my users, I'm not willing to commit in advance to doing anything -- because (a) I wrote this to do what I needed it to do, which it does, and (b) I have an actual assigned job to do, the stuff my manager expects to get done and on which my performance review depends.

So, someone else saying flatly that I am "responsible" for something, without a couple of paragraphs of caveats, would make me not happy. Stepping up to take responsibility is a privilege for the author of "above and beyond" programming, not some passer-by.

(I say this as someone who's written officially-unsupported tools used by hundreds of programmers, and who has supported them as a matter of personal pride -- but it's still on my own terms).

tl;dr - if you're not Bob's boss, then Bob is the one who gets to say what he's willing to be responsible for.

Perhaps a simple rewording giving Bob "credit" for producing a useful tool would work?

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"Bob created this tool therefor it is his responsibility" makes sense to me. I know you're not in a position to say who's responsible for what, but in my opinion and in my position if you make something you own it. If you own it you're responsible. It does not need to be defined, it should just be an assumption.

Also, if you create something to make the job easier why would you not want to take credit for it and take care of it to make sure it operates to its full capability?

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