The Headlight Effect: How To Avoid Pitfalls In Your Software Project?

Imagine yourself driving a car. It’s already dark. No headlights. No streetlights. Nothing. It’s just you, travelling on a dark road.

You know you’re already running late. And stopping is not an option because this is really important!

As your eyes are accustomed to the darkness, you do recognise some shapes but it’s hard to distinct any details.

Moving forward, your biggest problem is that you see things at the last minute, if at all. No way to tell if there is a junction, pedestrians, deer or children. It mostly depends on luck if you reach that destination without accidents.

Anyone in their right mind would significantly slow down or stop all together and fix those lights.

Yet, in software projects this is an every day situation.

The deadlines are often tight and budget constrained. Projects are ran gas pedal on the floor often on very dark roads.

In software projects, slowing down is rarely an option. So, the question remains. How could you and your team see the road ahead earlier and better?

The sooner you see surprises and threats, the better the chance to react and save the situation.

The Tool

Think about the pitfalls of your project. What specifically are the things you should be able to see and anticipate earlier so that you can course correct before accidents happen or pause and re-plan what you were doing?

To visualise this with your team in a retro for example, you can use a pic like this for example.

Step #1: Into the beam of headlights, quickly make a list of factors that may impact short term success of your project. They can be things like bottle necks in the process, bugs in the system, deadlines too early or errors in the requirements for example. Just write down things that to your experience hide long enough for an accident to happen.

Step #2: Look at your list and discuss about it with someone if possible. Now comes the important quoestion: Write down ideas about specific things could you do to fix that headlight and make it brighter in your project? You can think about people, processes, tools and schedules to get started.

Step #3: As usability of new ideas is a function your ability to take action, pick the one thing that you feel like most drawn to at the moment. Take the first step right away or open your calendar and schedule it in!

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