As we saw last time, the difference between a risk and an issue is that risks are adverse events that might or might not happen. They are uncertain. On the other hand, issues are adverse events that have already arisen, or are certain to do so. Undetected issues are especially problematic when we treat them as risks, instead of mounting serious efforts to uncover them.
Let's now explore tactics for uncovering undetected issues. The general principle underlying all these approaches is an obvious one: Look for undetected issues in the places where you're most likely to find them.
- Involve the customer in development — from the beginning
- When developers and customers collaborate, they educate each other. Customers don't always know what they want or need. Sometimes they think they know, but they're mistaken. Still, customers can make valuable contributions to development processes, and participation in development helps refine their knowledge of what they want or need. The sooner this happens, the closer the product comes to delighting the customer. And when this mutual education doesn't happen — or when it happens too late — we sometimes discover issues only after the product is delivered.
- Use what you're building — early
- Actual usage is Actual usage is the method
most likely to expose the
problems that arise
in actual usagethe method most likely to expose the problems that arise in actual usage. Use what you're building (or parts thereof) as early as possible, or recruit actual users to do so. If needed, install placeholders for incomplete components. Placeholders are usually worth the investment, because early usage that exposes serious problems can reduce rework.
- Exploit organizational history
- In retrospectives, note the occurrence of undetected issues, the time it took before they were detected, and the cost of not having detected them promptly. Review the observations for patterns. Apply this information to future and ongoing efforts, checking for repetitions of these patterns, and incorporating into designs of products, services, projects, controls, and procedures, clever mechanisms that will signal the presence of any of these patterns. Use the cost information to set the levels of these investments.
- Account for the effects of cognitive biases
- Cognitive biases are patterns of thinking that lead to systematic deviations from rationality and objectivity. They can cause us, for example, to dismiss indications of undetected issues in products or projects. Learn about cognitive biases and incorporate safeguards into your processes to reduce the impact of cognitive biases.
- Test with undetected issues in mind
- Tests and inspections typically focus on determining whether the items tested meet requirements and quality standards. That isn't enough. If you have evidence of patterns of undetected issues in earlier work, broaden the testing focus to check for undetected issues. If you're unaware of patterns of undetected issues, make some brilliant guesses.
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More articles on Project Management:
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- Sometimes we cancel a project because of budgetary constraints. We reallocate its resources and scatter
its people, and we tell ourselves that the project is on hold. But resuming is often riskier, more difficult
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- Films Not About Project Teams: II
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on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't
discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
- Why Scope Expands: II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often?
One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
- Unresponsive Suppliers: I
- If we depend on suppliers for some tasks in a project, or for necessary materials, their performance
can affect our ability to meet deadlines. What can we do when a supplier's performance is problematic,
and the supplier doesn't respond to our increasingly urgent pleas for attention?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.