Is the Enemy Us or Fate? (4 of 5)

via Flickr by ashapiro515
via Flickr by ashapiro515

Reasoning by Analogy

To reason by analogy; recognize a past experience is similar to the current situation, evaluate what did and didn’t work in the past situation, make a choice about what to do and definitely not do.  Certainly analogical reasoning differentiates the novice from the grizzled veteran PM, based on the sheer number of stored past experiences.

For example, if you are defining the scope of a computer server development project and have worked on similar projects, experience will tell you that the printed circuit (PC) boards will require multiple prototypes (“turns”) before a workable version is obtained.  Your experience is PC boards always have required multiple iterations, thus multiple turns should be scheduled.  On the other hand, your hardware developers may be telling you they expect to nail it on the first round.  Do you believe them or your experience?  They are telling you one and you’ve never see less than four.  This is where the analysis comes to play.

Use of analogies can be especially powerful when applied in an area unrelated to the past experience.  Many times this results in innovation. One technique to foster innovation is having team members with varied backgrounds, thus avoiding groupthink, but this is a team item which we will leave to another time.

A few words of caution are needed in use of analogies.  We tend to focus on similarities and downplay differences.  Sometimes we are reluctant to surface and validate the underlying assumption of the two situations.  We have to be wary of having a solution in search of a problem.

Up to this point we have discussed analogies as a positive contributor to the situation; a way to move forward.  What happens when our experience fails to provide an analogy?  The chances are you have encountered a novel situation where the pattern recognition doesn’t square with past experiences.


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