Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 51;   December 17, 2014: On the Risk of Undetected Issues: II

On the Risk of Undetected Issues: II

by

When things go wrong and remain undetected, trouble looms. We continue our efforts, increasing investment on a path that possibly leads nowhere. Worse, time — that irreplaceable asset — passes. How can we improve our ability to detect undetected issues?
A schematic representation of the blowout preventer that failed in the Deepwater Horizon incident

A schematic representation of the blowout preventer that failed in the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. In a report released in June of 2014, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board explained how undetected issues in the blowout preventer, including miswiring and design flaws, led to the disaster. The report also states that these issues could be present today in blowout preventers in widespread use throughout the industry, and that additional blowout preventer failures are possible. The CSB Web site offers a marvelous video, including computer animation of the failure. Image courtesy U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

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 usage
the 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.

Your organization probably has a number of projects underway. Almost certainly there are some undetected issues. What are they? Where are they? First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Perils of Novel Argument  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenRmxfzAkFAhSJRETzner@ChacqjEVBsQjFckajCIBoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

FootprintsStatus Risk and Risk Status
One often-neglected project risk is the risk of inaccurately reported status. That shouldn't be surprising, because we often fail to report the status of the project's risks, as well. What can we do to better manage status risk and risk status?
The Samuel Morse Telegraph ReceiverRemote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
Platform supply vessels battle the fire that was consuming remnants of the Deepwater Horizon oilrig in April 2010Managing Non-Content Risks: II
When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand — content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those that relate to organizational politics.
Three simple carabinersTeam Risks
Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are some risks worth mitigating.
Rapids in a northern streamThe Risks of Too Many Projects: I
Some organizations try to run too many development projects at once. Whether developing new offerings, or working to improve the organization itself, taking on too many projects can defocus the organization and depress performance.

See also Project Management and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Probably not the kind of waiting we have in mind hereComing July 26: Strategic Waiting
Time can be a tool. Letting time pass can be a strategy for resolving problems or getting out of tight places. Waiting is an often-overlooked strategic option. Available here and by RSS on July 26.
Srinivasa RamanujanAnd on August 2: Linear Thinking Bias
When assessing the validity of problem solutions, we regard them as more valid if their discovery stories are logical, than we would if they're less than logical. This can lead to erroneous assessments, because the discovery story is not the solution. Available here and by RSS on August 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHhDpFBduiSAgbknWner@ChacorQROuWqFuKZfbFsoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.