Learn to See Problems

“Andrew’s Law: Never trust anyone to do anything correctly. Especially yourself.”
- Astronautics Professor Andrew Higgins, McGill University

I am the CEO of Black Pixel. A large chunk of my time is spent reviewing everything in our company, looking for things that are going wrong.

This doesn’t mean that I lack faith in my team. I’m doing this for the same reason we hire testers: bad things are happening somewhere and we want to make sure that we don’t get surprised by them.

For me, this is about taking care of my team, not distrusting them. People need help. I need help, too. We take care of each other.

As one of the most experienced members of the team, part of what I have to do is be on the lookout for the things I’ve seen burn myself or others in the past. And they frequently show up again, no matter how good the team is.

When I read The Lean CEO, there was a quote about Taiichi Ohno, of Toyota, that stuck with me:

“Often Ohno would instruct a manager to stand in a circle and watch production for a period and take note of any problems. If the manager had the temerity to suggest that there weren’t any problems, Ohno would reply, often quite forcefully, that there were always problems and anybody who didn’t realize this had not learned to see. Legend has it that he would occasionally leave a manager in the circle for an entire day.”*

There are always problems. Your job is to see if you can spot them before they hurt someone. If you are incredibly lucky, your team will have this attitude already and will be aggressively looking for these things themselves, but it is a learned skill. Also, fresh eyes with a different perspective often spot things that people working closely with a project miss.

Under the best circumstances you will do your diligence, and you find out — to your great pleasure — that everything is great. Sometimes you find something that isn’t so great, and save everyone a lot of heartburn down the road.

But there are always problems have you have to be alert and ahead of them. Learn to see. Learn to look.