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Thursday, March 26, 2009

3 Ways To Guarantee a Failed Product

I was at the county jail a few weeks ago coaching a group of young men on strategies to transition back into society. I asked them two questions, the first list 3 goals you would like to accomplish during your lifetime, things you will be proud of in the hereafter. They jotted down some goals on 4*6 cards. The second question was list 3 things that if you do, you are 100% sure that there is no way you can achieve these goals, it will be impossible to achieve them. I gave them a few minutes and they all had a few points to share.

One example of a goal that was shared was to get back to education and enroll in college, get a degree and be a productive member of the society. The young man noted involvement with illegal substance to be a factor not allowing him to realize this goal.

Developing successful systems follow the same pattern. We need to understand user requirements, the utility of the system, why is the system needed, what value is the system offering, the gap it is filling. Once that goal is clear and understood, we need to make sure we protect these requirements from "outside noise", what is also known as scope creep. Scope creep is for sure a main reason why projects fail, it is when we add requirements, remove requirements, or just change requirements in an uncontrolled fashion, without going back to understanding the rationale and true value for doing so and relating it to the project's objective, cost and schedule.

Reason 1: Low Quality Requirements and Scope Creep - Uncontrolled Changes

A second young man in the group shared his goal was to be a successful businessman offering valuable services to the society. He noted down that unethical dealings would be a reason to ensure he never accomplishes his dream. I advised him that to overcome this hurdle he needs to continuously gauge his relationship with his Lord and measure his values and ethics. If he notices that his relationship is getting weaker, he needs to take corrective actions.

In the domain of systems development we call that validation and verification. Is the project still valid? i.e. is it still delivering what it was originally intended to deliver. And is the work correct? Can we verify that the work is what was expected earlier at the beginning of the project, through testing, and if it is not correct, can we take corrective actions to resolve defects. This validation and verification needs to be conducted throughout the whole life cycle of the product, and not just near the time we turn it over to the client, otherwise the deviations from the expected results could be huge, leading to costly modifications, schedule slippage and possibly a failed product.

Reason 2: Not Considering Validation and Verification Early in the life cycle of the product - Developing the wrong product, or developing the right product incorrectly

A third person shared that his goal was to be a teacher, nurturing young minds not only with knowledge but the application of the knowledge and its purpose. I reminded him to share with his future students trace back the purpose of the knowledge they learn from him, to the purpose for which we were created. Everything we do needs to serve the purpose for which our Lord created us.

Similarly, in the domain of product development, we can that requirements traceability. How do the original requirements defined by the client relate to design work, development work, testing and final product features. It is important that throughout the life cycle of a product we maintain a clear trace of how the work we are currently involved in relates back to what the customer needs.

Reason 3: Poor Requirements Traceability - Missing some Requirements in Implementation, adding Features not Needed, or both

Make sure if your customer asks for a mule, you deliver a mule as expected, and not a cow. Although a cow has plenty of benefits and utility, it might not serve the need satisfied by a mule.

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