Via The Art of Ass-Kicking   Article

What Engineers, Product Managers, and Executives Can Learn from the Volkswagen Scandal

“Volkswagen has been eviscerated after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in September that VW had installed ‘defeat devices’ to cheat on their emissions testing.

It turns out least 500,000 diesel cars made by VW were rigged with software that would reduce engine emissions to meet standards, but then turn off to achieve higher fuel mileage. When not in testing mode, the engines released nitrous oxide chemicals at levels up to 38x times greater than allowed by the Clean Air Act. …

When no one is willing to say ‘no’ to leadership and bad news is punished, secrets emerge and people spend more time covering their ass than doing the right thing.


Engineers and individual contributors: Refuse to implement work that is unlawful or violates your sense of personal integrity. Forget the obvious reason (that’s just the right thing to do) but think about this: if it works and you don’t get caught, you’ll be asked to do it again. And it’ll be more egregious the second time, and eventually the cheating will get detected. And when it does, it will probably be really bad, and you will be thrown under the bus. The US chief executive of VW went up to Congress and seriously said that the defeat devices were the result of ‘a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reason.’

Product managers and group leads: Every product decision has trade offs and no solution is perfect optimal on every dimension. Most PM’s recognize this, but it’s important to acknowledge that fact within your own teams and communicate that upward to leadership.

Do not pressure your team into doing something you know is wrong because it will spiral out of control fast. Make sure you understand what is happening on a technical level with your product. If a trade off ‘magically’ gets resolved, you should be suspicious.

Executives: Winning is awesome and every organization needs to hustle to get ahead, but balance your ambitions with a long-term approach. Don’t use fear or punishment to manage, don’t turn a blind eye to potentially sketchy behavior, and don’t reward teams who cut corners but get results. Cheating can get you to the top, but you will get caught and everyone else in your industry will love seeing you fall from grace.”


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