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Rework is Good!

wick Oct8“Rework is good!”


“But I don’t like mistakes. I take pride in the accuracy and completeness of my requirements.”

“Zero defects, that’s my goal for every product launch.”

“Why would I want rework? As soon as my project goes live, I’m done. I get to focus on a new project. I can’t/don’t want to keep going back to old projects to do rework.”

For most BAs, rework conjures negative thoughts: 

  • Requirements Defects = Rework
  • A low number of defects means we are good at our job and a high number of defects means we aren’t.
  • High defects can cause the project to fail, ruin our credibility with stakeholders, and damage our organization’s reputation.

Our attitude about rework was shaped by our professional upbringing. We are part of the zero defect, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM), Capability Maturity Model (CMM), ISO, IEEE generation. Quality control has been, and continues to be, a priority in most organizations. 

Does this emphasis on quality and standards limit an organization’s ability to compete and innovate? 

Quality vs. Innovation Paradox

I came across an interesting PhD dissertation from 2008 by a guy named Prem G. Raganath. He wrote: “The challenge of achieving an acceptable balance between the freedom to pursue creative work through experimentation and yet deliver a defect-free product is a growing paradox. The fear of failure slows the process of innovation and sends an indirect message to teams that “status quo” is the assured path to growth and success in the organization.”

So, back to rework. If rework is unacceptable in your environment: 

  • Rework and defects = failure
  • You are afraid to fail
  • You don’t take risks
  • Your company stagnates or dies.

Intelligent Fast Failure

Have you read “Innovate or Die: A personal Perspective on the Art of Innovation” by Dr. Jack V. Matson? In the book, Matson discusses a concept he calls Intelligent Fast Failure. He suggests that failure is required for innovation. Organizations need to quickly apply the knowledge gained from the failure to generate new ideas. He wrote, “Each failure is a knowledge building block in fully understanding how to become successful.”

Obviously, BAs prevent rework if possible, but in some environments, rework is unavoidable and maybe the only way to get feedback about products and services. 

What if your product or service is so bleeding-edge that:

  • Your users don’t even know what they want or need
  • There are no SMEs
  • The consumers are your SMEs, and you are creating a new concept product
  • You don’t know who your customer will be
  • Your customers invent new uses for your products or services
  • Prototypes go directly to the marketplace?

In these cases, rework and defects provide meaningful feedback towards the evolution of the solution or product. Rework is a good thing! 
So, do we call it a defect if it is a learning? A learning of what the market truly desires, would that be a new requirement vs. a defect?

In an innovative environment, rework will be the norm, not the exception: 

  • You can’t do a complete market analysis when you are designing products consumers don’t even know they need, meaningful feedback and rework is necessary.
  • You can’t create a clear business case when you are operating on the hunches and assumptions of invention.
  • Gaps in requirements will be commonplace when your SMEs are your consumers and you are learning in a complex world together
  • Prototypes go directly to the marketplace for user testing and must get meaningful feedback. Without meaningful feedback the prototype has failed.

Innovative vs. Traditional Environment

Here are a few characteristics of innovative vs. traditional environments. Which description best matches your current workplace?

Innovative environment: 

  • Constant pressure to launch new products, new features or new services
  • Time to market is critical for competitive advantage
  • Products or services are experimental, new inventions, new to the market place
  • The consumers may not know they need your product or service
  • Examples: app design and development, smart phones (both hardware and software), pharmaceuticals, cloud computing, robotics, 3D Printing

Traditional environment: 

  • You are developing or enhancing internal systems or products.
  • Time to market is dependent on various factors
  • Standard product/software processes are well-established and routinely followed.
  • Products or systems are fairly stable, primary functions rarely change.
  • Examples: Finance, Insurance, Telecom (land lines, long distance, DSL), Retail, Manufacturing, Education, Transportation

Of course these distinctions are not always clear cut. Most industries and organizations have pockets of both traditional and innovative environments. 

Many big, traditional companies create innovation centers that use practices like design-thinking or painstorming (evaluate known customer pain points and attempt creative, experimental solutions). 

For example, Proctor and Gamble’s Clay Street project (, pulls a diverse group of team members out of their day-to-day work for three months to solve problems, create new products and inspire culture change. 

Obviously, some environments are innovative but defects are unacceptable—think medical devices. Defects that lead to human death are definitely NOT a good thing.

Do you work in an innovative environment? Here are a few questions to ponder:

  • What is your definition of success as a BA?
  • What’s your organization’s definition of success?
  • Does your organization expect perfection?
  • Do you openly discuss failure, rework, defects?
  • Do you systematically apply lessons learned to next steps?
  • Can an organization promote quality and innovation at the same time?
  • Would a more traditional environment build your confidence or stifle your creativity?

Do you work in a traditional environment? Here are a few questions to ponder:

  • What is your definition of success as a BA?
  • What’s your organization’s definition of success?
  • Does your company measure and reward quality/perfection?
  • Is failure covered up or penalized?
  • How would experimentation impact your organization? Any upside?
  • Would a more innovative environment set you free or make you feel like you are failing?

As BAs, we are here to add value to the business. Sometimes that means precision and perfection; sometimes that means rework and failure. For those of us trained in traditional environments, can we accept, learn from and even welcome failure? Are we ready to take risks and embrace a culture of innovation?

Please share your thoughts.  Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

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