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:
- More Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix
- The Eisenhower Matrix is useful for distinguishing which tasks deserve attention and in what order.
It helps us by removing perceptual distortion about what matters most. But it can't help as much with
some kinds of perceptual distortion.
- Unnecessary Boring Work: II
- Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from
the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
- Team Risks
- Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are
some risks worth mitigating.
- Down in the Weeds: II
- To be "down in the weeds," in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of
detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here's Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing
with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.
- Missing the Obvious: II
- With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised
us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
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