EPM Principles

Is it really a problem?

Sometimes when you feel like the sky is falling it is only a drop of rain… 

One of the hardest things about developing something new (in basically any field) is the shear number and variety of issues, setbacks and obstacles you will encounter along the way. Thus, a real challenge in New Product Development is not just envisioning the product or thing you will build, but also having the discipline and resilience to slog through the development process in order to actualize your vision. If that assertion is true, what can we as Project and Program Managers do about it?

How can you improve your chances for success during the development process?

How can you make things easier for your team?

If the problem is Problems – too many, too often, too varied, too hard, too ambiguous – then one mitigation is by objectively evaluating each and every newly reported issue with the framework of ‘is it really a problem?’

When your team brings you a new issue, ask them to evaluate the issue across the following metrics;

  1. What is the severity of this issue? For example, is this a line-down, show-stopper, or a minor bug?
  2. Who or what does this issue impact? Is this a user facing issue, or an internal nuisance?
  3. What is the rate of occurrence? For example, will this issue impact 100% of our users, or is it a corner case which may only be seen by 1% of users, 0.01% of the time?
  4. What is really failing? Is it a specification or requirement we understand well, or is it a placeholder metric which may not indicate an actual problem?
  5. Have we verified the negative outcome? If this issue occurs, do we fully understand what the ultimate impact and outcome will be? In other words, do we “think” it is a risk or do we “know” it is a problem?
  6. Do we understand the mechanisms which will cause this issue to occur?

The above questions should serve as a good first round of issue triage, however there will likely be other questions to ask specific to your industry, product or project. But the point remains, before you and your team drown trying to plug a million little leaks, first take a step back to evaluate which are real problems and which are just shiny new distractions.

If you don’t have a good process to triage and assess the barrage of new issues reported each day, you may find yourself overwhelmed and unable to make meaningful progress on the one or two (or three) really big and import problems that actually need to be solved for your project to be successful.

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