So, Now that I’ve found the trouble…

I recently posted about the trouble seeking process (The Virtues of Looking for Trouble). So, I’ve been asked the question – what do you do with trouble when you find it. Well, in short, the goal is to minimize risk, and maximize opportunity.

How. Well – first, as I said before, its imperative that you alwas have your ears open for trouble, and make it a regular activity to discuss it with the team, and management (get them used to it – it will pay off in the long run!)

1. Keep blame out of it.

Even if someone really screwed up, there’s time to deal with that later. Blame will not help solve the problem, and blame will make it much, much, much harder to discuss problems productively. No one will bring up bad news if they fear they’re going to get slammed. Most of the time, assuming that you have a good team, the blame will be that we work fast, blazing paths through the unknown – we’re paid to innovate – that means we just don’t always know in advance how things will play out. So – respect and trust. (And if you do have a bad egg – deal with that quietly, and make sure its about skills, talent, match, etc and not about “this went wrong and its your fault”. But that’s a different subject)

So back to dealing.

2. How bad is it?

Is there general agreement that if this problem is not managed, the launch, the schedule, the user adoption, the business model or other critical success metric is in clear peril? If so, all due attention should be These should be at the top of the agenda, and made as visible within the organization as possible to get to the best possible solution.

3. Verify and characterize the problem.

Once the problem is on the table – get general input on it, then make it someone’s responsibility to map out the size and shape of the problem. Is it a lack of information? Is it a technology glitch? A new competitor? A design flaw? A resource issue? What are the ramifications? Best, worst case scenarios? Is there a critical decision point, or is this something we can just watch.

5. Identify key decision factors: (ie if this outside event does not occur by this date, then we’ll… ), if this metric hits this mark, then…, if this study returns this result, then….. If the blah blah group (or partner, or whatever) can’t deliver x, by y, then…

4. Decide on a course of action: Solve, remediate or watch.

Some problems can’t be solved, but you can keep them from making fools of you just by tracking them, and responding when and how you can – is it positioning, PR, expectations setting on the schedule, feature-rejuggering, getting new partners, etc. A team that can sit down and really hash out problems will get to the “aha” moments much faster. A team that is looking for, and dealing with trouble effectively is going to make it to the goal line faster, and score bigger.

Moreover, many problems, found and managed early, will make your project, product or campaign much much better than you might imagined. Stay tuned for “How canceling a project won over our users”.

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