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:
- Films Not About Project Teams: I
- Here's part one of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to
be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
- The Injured Teammate: I
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is very ill or has been severely injured. How do you
handle it? How do you break the news? What does the team need? What do you need?
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: II
- Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges
that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
- Mitigating Risk Resistance Risk
- Project managers are responsible for managing risks, but they're often stymied by insufficient resources.
Here's a proposal for making risk management more effective at an organizational scale.
- The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we
tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 27: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can chairs do about stone-throwers? Available here and by RSS on March 27.
- And on April 3: Career Opportunity or Career Trap: I
- When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter. Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap. Available here and by RSS on April 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- 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.