The Virtues of Looking for Trouble

Rarely do products fail for reasons that were not known and predicted by at least someone on the team. Frequently we find that these concerns were glossed over because, for a variety of (often compelling) reasons, bad news was not welcome at the meeting.

How does one seek out trouble? The short answer is that anyplace there is vagueness, worry, or unexpected or disconfirming information, it should be a high priority to check it out. But often this does not happen.

What are the reasons? There are 3 main reasons, and many minor ones.

Here are the biggies:

1. Passionate belief in the product such that disconfirming information is ignored or explained away without serious consideration. This is a common reaction to market research results that do not meet expectations.

2. Management pressure. There are organizations (believe it or not!) where the culture simply does not admit bad news. Blame is rampant and fierce, and no reasonable person wants to be hit with it.

3. The need for speed – sometimes there’s just so much going on that the team just puts its concerns on the back burner to be dealt with “eventually”.

The remedies

1. Sophistication

Its important that the team be infused with an appreciation of the value of trouble seeking. That trouble managed eary can make a product better, faster and more profitable. It supports and maximizes success. Trouble managed late is simply firefighting. It is beating off failure rather than actively pursuing success.

2. Humility

Sometimes we all make mistakes. Accept it as inevitable, accept mistakes as part of a creative, fast moving, accept it as a virtue. Learn that the wisest and smartest and most successful person is the one who is able to coolly evaluate their current status in order to go further.

3. Shared Trust and Respect

A team that has a deep, shared sense of trust and respect will find it easy to bring problems to the table and get great solutions. Teams that lack these traits make it awkward to bring problems into focus, or admit (gasp!) mistakes, or make the price of this a big pile of blame. So problems remain hidden.
When you believe your team is good, dedicated and focused, you know that they bring problems to the table to get the fastest, smartest solution that the full team can deliver. A good team rewards bad news found early.

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