Talk About Quality

Tom Harris

From Success to Failure: Problem-Solving

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Someone comes to me with a problem that sounds like,

“I wanted to do X but it doesn’t work.”

When I hear that request, often they know a lot more about the technical details than I do. I need them to teach me in a way that lets me put things in order. My method starts from success … and progresses to failure. Strange? But it works.

The questioner is focused on the failure scenario. I crave success. There must be some around — just have to find it. I ask what similar scenario succeeds. What version of the file did work? What build compiled successfully? When did this test last pass? As we discuss the successful scenario, I learn why it worked. What requirements were met by that configuration. I repeat those requirements out loud for confirmation.

With a success in hand, well understood, we have a checklist to apply to the failed configuration. We can go over the failure and check whether all the things that made something similar work are present. Of course, one will be missing. We have found the problem. I may not know how to fix it. But usually the questioner does.

Written by Tom Harris

July 24, 2009 at 12:42 am

Posted in Problem Solving

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