Software Teams: Assessing a Problem

by John W. Stout

Sometimes software teams fail to understand and effectively articulate a difficult user-level problem and also fail to properly assess it to arrive at a workable solution. Solutions arrived at without an assessment can miss the target and backfire with consequences to the business.

How can this occur?

  1. Not carrying out an up-to-date and accurate assessment of the external business climate, market players and user response to the team’s software product(s).
  2. Not looking outward at evolving best practices and then assessing the team’s own processes, tools and technologies used to produce its products.
  3. Treating an assessment as a subjective internal discussion. An assessment based on internal opinions, however well-intended, is usually myopic.
  4. Engaging in internal battles without explicitly stating criteria that would be used to measure the viability or success of a solution. In my experience, this is a biggee.

In the past three months I have been in three separate consultations about the establishment of criteria for assessment of software quality, project teams and departments. These assessments were driven by financial and other business needs, and they required bringing team members together who often had diverse viewpoints.

For these reasons, Stout guides its software product clients through an assessment process. An assessment, often in the form of a project “discovery period,” does not need to take a great deal of time, but does have to be thorough enough to expose any “gotchas.” Efficiency is inherent by knowing in advance the right questions to ask (see 12 questions top technical managers ask at A completed assessment has to be done, before one starts to create a solution document.

By the way, an assessment would include if the team even has the right people in place to implement an effective solution.

To skip the assessment is why projects fail to meet their objectives, with the resulting disappointed users. An assessment done well steers you past the cliff and strengthens your leadership position in your company or industry.
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