Self-Serving Bias

Image created with Midjourney. Image prompt:
Image created with Midjourney. Image prompt: 2d minimal style illustration of An individual, standing on a podium, holding up a trophy with a triumphant smile on their face. The shadows and light in the scene form the shape of a question mark, hinting at the unseen circumstances that contributed to their success or failure

In the world of digital software products, it's important to note the influence of cognitive biases on our work. One such bias is the Self-Serving Bias, which can subtly yet significantly impact our perception of success and failure. Simply put, Self-Serving Bias is the tendency to attribute successes to ourselves and failures to external factors1. This phenomenon isn't limited to the realm of personal psychology, but extends to the collective psyche of software development teams and organizations as well. Let's delve into three examples that highlight the relevance of Self-Serving Bias in creating digital software products.

  1. Project Success and Failure: It's common in software development teams to attribute the success of a project to the skills and efforts of the team members. If a software product does well in the market, we tend to celebrate the individuals involved, crediting their technical expertise, creative problem-solving, or excellent project management. However, when a project fails or faces significant hurdles, we often blame circumstances. We point fingers at shifting market trends, unclear requirements, or tight deadlines. While these factors certainly play a role, Self-Serving Bias can prevent us from acknowledging potential shortcomings in our skillset or approach, and ultimately from learning and growing.
  2. Code Quality and Debugging: When developers write code that works well, they're likely to attribute it to their coding skills and knowledge. However, when bugs appear, they may blame the complexity of the task, lack of proper documentation, or changing requirements. This could lead to overlooking opportunities for improving coding practices or expanding their understanding of the technology stack.
  3. Product Management: Product managers might attribute the success of a feature release to their foresight and decision-making, while blaming the development team or external circumstances for any delays or setbacks. This not only affects team dynamics but also limits the scope for the product manager to reflect on their decision-making process and enhance it.

In all these scenarios, Self-Serving Bias can create a barrier to learning and improvement. By attributing successes to our actions and failures to external factors, we lose the opportunity to learn from both our achievements and mistakes. It is critical in software development, where iterative learning and continuous improvement are key to maintaining a competitive edge.

The first step in combating Self-Serving Bias is awareness. Once we're aware of this bias, we can then consciously work to factor it into our assessments of successes and failures. Encouraging a culture of open, constructive feedback can also help keep this bias in check. Furthermore, creating a safe space where failures are viewed as opportunities for learning rather than personal shortcomings can foster a more balanced view of both success and failure.

In conclusion, being aware of and mitigating the effects of Self-Serving Bias is crucial in the realm of software development. It promotes a more accurate understanding of project outcomes, encourages personal growth and learning, and contributes to the creation of superior digital software products.