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Manage scary issues on the (consulting) project

I just followed Google Reader’s recommendation to Lost Garden. It’s a blog about game development. Some time ago I was interested in the topic, but I consider it frozen for a while, so I didn’t expect to find anything of immediate interest on this blog.

But this article proved I was wrong:

In every project, there are issues that that frighten the bejesus out of the team. They are so frightening that no one wants to talk about them publicly. The schedule might be impossible. There might be the lurking suspicion that Management does not believe in the project. More commonly, there is a major technical flaw that no one is handling.

The article relates to game development, but the issue is relevant for any other project. The urge to keep sensitive issues under the carpet is familiar enough.

Here are some steps I recall from the latest consulting project that helped in management of the “scary” stuff:

  • Carefully store and process remarks sent by the client (there is good chance that sensitive issues are among them): store all remarks in one document, color-code them to distinguish difficult ones, dedicate a meeting with a client for walking through the remarks to ensure that they are understood properly and agree the solution
  • When sensitive issue is identified, create dedicated approach to solve/mitigate it: brainstorm possible solutions, create issue tree to structure the thinking, identify constraints related to the issue (e.g. define most pessimistic scenario and start from there)
  • Dedicate resources to follow the agreed approach to resolve/mitigate the issue

Some issues may really seem scary, but it turned out that solving them (or at least addressing them and mitigating related risk as far as it was possible) raised client’s confidence in the overall direction and justified all the effort that went into sorting them out.