Author Topic: The Costly Dangers of Ambiguity  (Read 5969 times)


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The Costly Dangers of Ambiguity
« on: July 27, 2007, 11:26:41 AM »
For years I've been expounding the virtues of simplified IT project analysis, where every project can be defined by three simple tasks:

a) Identify and understand the problem;
b) Determine the solution;
c) Map a path between them (this is the implementation strategy).

Working from the bottom up, to know the path you have to first know both the problem and solution.  To determine the solution you first have to understand the problem.  All of this factors into the concept of "defining done" at the outset of a project and in my opinion, knowing "done" at the beginning is the most crucial component of any project's success.

Recent tasks have reminded me how important this is.  I recently took a call where the customer started the conversation with "you need to fix this program" (determining the solution) without having established specifically what the problem was.  When I asked him what the problem is, his response was "Users are saying this report is wrong".  Unfortunately, without resolving the ambiguity of the word "wrong", that statement of problem doesn't do anything to help determine a solution.  In this particular case, we ended up going back and forth for hours to try to understand specifically what the word "wrong" meant, and once that was determined the solution and path fell into place nicely and the actual change went in very quickly.

Yet in the end this was an EXPENSIVE project for that customer.  Even though the final two steps of the analysis, implementation, and testing were virtually painless, that first step of establishing the problem required an exceeding amount of time and discussion to resolve the ambiguity.

My point in writing today is simply this: The longer it takes to answer three simple questions, the longer the project is going to take and the more expensive it's going to be.  On the other hand, if we avoid ambiguity in quickly answering these questions it's amazing at how much can be done with very little time, money, effort, and stress.
Accidents "happen"; success, however, is planned and executed.