There were three parts to the exercise:
- identifying some key failures
- developing a 5 Whys causal chain for each failure
- proposing process improvements to address each step in each chain
I showed the Ries video, assigned the Ries essay, and then had them do similar analyses on several failures in the project they had just finished. I did these as critiqued exercises, figuring that it would take a few iterations to get right. I was right about the need for iterations, way off on the "few" part. Each part has been quite hard for most of the students.
What is a 5YA failure?
A project has lots of failures, but only some are appropriate for a 5 Whys analysis. Both Ries and Ford uses examples involving some form of web site failure. Here are some of the things my students submitted and the critiques they got. There were many similar examples of each type of problem.
- Our team had to implement image upload three times
I classify ones like this as as "bad choices led to rework." Clearly something you'd like to avoid in the future, but is it a 5YA (5 Why Appropriate) failure? I say no, because there's no user story failure. A 5YA failure is a user failure, like "the web site crashed" or "the search function returned 'page not found' errors." Without knowing what user stories were impacted and how (broken, missing, slow, ....), you have no idea how to prioritize the importance of the failure and therefore how much effort to expend in trying to avoid it in the future. Furthermore, making things run smoother is much less motivating than avoiding embarrassing public failures.
- Our client changed the design of the website twice
- XXX was working on a fork of the repository so almost none of his code got integrated
I leave what's wrong here as an exercise for the reader. It's one of the points already made.
- The code XXX submitted for "index" view of the "projects" controller didn't work
- Buggy and totally non-working code was checked in
A 5YA failure is a bug report
My final recommendation for my class was that a 5YA failure should be writable as a bug report. That is, it should be put in the form "when a [user-type] does [action], [failure event] occurs." Failure events should distinguish between nothing happening, the wrong things being return, errors being returned, and so on.