Circumventing Murphy's Law

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A post by a  fellow member of HBL recently reminded me of a book reviewed by Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions that had struck me as interesting some time ago. I haven't gotten to read Gary Klein's The Power of Intuition yet, but the post prompted me to re-read the review and thereby become reacquainted with the idea of a powerful planning tool called a pre-mortem. As summarized in the review:

[P]retend you can look into a crystal ball and see that the project ended in a complete fiasco. Then ask yourself, what happened? Why was it such a disaster? This imaginative approach will help you bring out all the potential problems that you can envision.
An article in The Harvard Business Review about how a project manager might employ this technique provides a powerful example of how effective it can be:
In a session regarding a project to make state-of-the-art computer algorithms available to military air-campaign planners, a team member who had been silent during the previous lengthy kickoff meeting volunteered that one of the algorithms wouldn't easily fit on certain laptop computers being used in the field. Accordingly, the software would take hours to run when users needed quick results. Unless the team could find a workaround, he argued, the project was impractical. It turned out that the algorithm developers had already created a powerful shortcut, which they had been reluctant to mention. Their shortcut was substituted, and the project went on to be highly successful.
I can think of several instances off the top of my head that this technique could have saved me time or trouble. Even if I never get around to Klein's book, I owe him thanks for discussing this idea.

-- CAV

1 comment:

Realist Theorist said...

I once had a project manager who would ask: "Everything seems under control, but what is the weakest link?" A bit like the "why will we fail" question.

He would also usually follow through with overkill to shore up the weakest link. Something of an A,B,C analysis.