PMI-ACP Study Notes: Domain VI Problem Detection and Resolution


Domain VI Problem Detection and Resolution

[NEW! For the 2015 July PMI-ACP® Exam syllabus] The PMI-ACP® Exam consists of 120 questions which can be categorised into seven domain. The Sixth domain: Domain VI Problem Detection and Resolution is the knowledge about “Continuously identifying problems, impediments, and risks; prioritizing and resolving in a timely manner; monitoring and communicating the problem resolution status; and implementing process improvements to prevent them from occurring again.(source: PMI-ACP® Examination Content Outline).

Domain VI Problem Detection and Resolution accounts for 10% of all questions in the PMI-ACP® Exam (i.e. ~12 questions among 120 PMI-ACP® Exam questions)

According to the PMI-ACP® Exam Content Outline, Domain VI Problem Detection and Resolution consists of 5 tasks:

  1. Encourage experimentation and communication in order to discover problems or impediments that prevent maximal value delivery.
  2. Identify and resolve issues and threats timely by engaging the whole team.
  3. Issues should be resolved by appropriate team member(s). In the case the issue cannot be resolved, the team should communicate with appropriate stakeholders to adjust project expectations and priorities.
  4. Keep a prioritized list of issues/threats/risks to track assignment/ownership and the current status and to provide transparency.
  5. Incorporate resolution activities into task backlog for future planning.

PMI-ACP® Study Notes: Domain VI Problem Detection and Resolution

Below is a collection of the key knowledge addressed in Domain VI Problem Detection and Resolution and the 5 tasks related to the domain:

Risk / Threat Management

  • Risk is uncertainty that could affect the success/failure of the project. Risks become problems or issues once they actually occur.
  • Risks can be threats or opportunities, negative project risks are considered as “anti-value”.
  • In order to maximize values, negative risks must be minimized while positive risks should be utilized. But once problems or issues arise, they must be resolved timely in order to reduce effects on value creation.
  • Risk identification should involve the customer, project team and all relevant stakeholders
  • Five Core Risks mentioned in the book “The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility”
    • productivity variation (difference between planned and actual performance)
    • scope creep (considerable additional requirements beyond initial agreement)
    • specification breakdown (lack of stakeholder consensus on requirements)
    • intrinsic schedule flaw (poor estimates of task durations)
    • personnel loss (the loss of human resources)
  • Risks are assessed by risk probability (how likely it occurs) and risk impact (how severe the risk impact is):
    • Risk Severity = Risk Probability x Risk Impact
    • Risk probability can be a percentage value or a number on a relative scale (the higher the more likely)
    • Risk impact can be dollar value or a number on a relative scale (the higher the more costly to fix)
  • As a general rule, “riskier” features (with high values) should be tested in earlier sprints to allow the project to “fail fast” as failing during the earlier phrase of the project is much less costly than failing during a later phrase
  • Risk is high at the beginning of the project (both for traditional and Agile projects) but Agile projects have higher success rates as the very nature of Agile project management tends to reduce risks as changes are inherent to the projects
  • Risk can be categorized into the following:
    • Business – related to business value
    • Technical – about technology use and/or skill sets
    • Logistic – related to schedule, funding, staffing, etc.
    • Others – Political, Environmental, Societal, Technological, Legal or Economic (PESTLE)
  • To tackle risks: Identify Risks -> Assess Qualitatively and Quantitatively  -> Plan Response -> Carry Out Responses Should Risks Arise -> Control and Review
  • Risk Adjusted Backlog
    • Prioritization criteria for backlog: value, knowledge, uncertainty, risk
    • Backlog can be re-prioritized by customers as needed to reduce risks while still realizing values
      • The customer can give each feature / risk response actions (non-functional requirements) on the backlog a value by, for features, assessing ROV and, for the case of risks, the costs involved (by multiplying the probability of the risk in %)
      • The backlog of features and risk response activities can then be prioritized based on the dollar values
    • Risk adjustment tries to identify and mitigate the risk at an early stage of development
    • ‘Fail fast’ allows the team to learn and adjust course
  • Risk Burn Down Graphs / Charts
    • to show the risk exposure of the project
    • created by plotting the sum of the agreed risk exposure values (impact x probability) against iterations
    • to be updated regularly (per iteration) to reflect the change in risk exposure
    • general recommendation: top 10 risks are included
    • the risk burn down chart should have the total risks heading down while the project progresses
  • Risk-based Burn Up Chart
    • tracks the targeted and actual product delivery progress
    • includes estimates of how likely the team is to achieve targeted value adjusted for risk by showing the optimistic, most likely and the worst-case scenario
  • Risk-based Spike
    • Spike: a rapid time-boxed experiment (by the developers) to learn just enough about the “unknown” of a user story for estimation / establishing realistic expectations / as a proof of concept
    • the “unknown” can be: new technologies, new techniques
    • can be a “proof of concept”
    • spikes are carried out between sprints and before major epics / user stories
    • products of a spike are usually intended to be thrown away
    • types [for XP]:
      • architectural spike: associated with an unknown area of the system, technology or application domain
      • non-architectural spike: others
    • Risk based spike: a spike to allow the team to eliminate or minimize some major risks
      • if the spike fails for every approach available, the project reaches a condition known as “fast failure”, the cost of failure is much less than failing later

Problem Detection

  • Definition of Done (DoD)
    • Done usually means the feature is 100% complete (including all the way from analysis, design, coding to user acceptance testing and delivery & documentation) and ready for production (shippable)
      • Done for a feature: feature/backlog item completed
      • Done for a sprint: work for a sprint completed
      • Done for a release: features shippable
    • The exact definition of done has been be agreed upon by the whole team (developer, product owner / customer, sponsor, etc.)
    • The definition of done includes acceptance criterion and acceptable risks
  • Frequent Validation and Verification
    • early and frequent testing both within and outside the development team to reduce the cost of quality (change or failure)
      • validation: (usually external) the assurance that a product, service, or system meets the needs of the customer
      • verification: (usually internal of team) the evaluation of whether or not a product, service, or system complies with a regulation, requirement, specification, or imposed condition
    • Agile measure to ensure frequent validation and verification:
      • testers are included in the development team from the beginning taking part in user requirements collection
      • unit testings are created for continuous feedback for quality improvement and assurance
      • automated testing tools are used allowing quick and robust testing
      • examples: peer reviews, periodical code-reviews, refactoring, unit tests, automatic and manual testing
      • feedback for various stages: team (daily) -> product owner (during sprint) -> stakeholders (each sprint) -> customers (each release)
  • Variance and trend analysis
    • variance is the measure of how far apart things are (how much the data vary from one another)
      • e.g. the distribution of data points, small variance indicates the data tend to be close to the mean (expected value)
    • trend analysis provides insights into the future which is more important for problem detection
      • though measurements are lagging, they will provide insights should trends be spotted
    • variance and trend analysis is important for controlling (problem detection) and continuous improvement, e.g the process to ensure quality
    • Control limits for Agile projects
      • by plotting the time to delivery / velocity / escaped defects / etc. as a control chart
      • if some data fall outside the upper / lower control limits, a root cause analysis should be performed to rectify the issue
        • common cause – systematic issue, need to be dealt with through trend analysis
        • special cause – happens once only due to special reasons
      • another example is the WIP limit in Kanban boards
  • Escaped Defects
    • Agile performance (on quality) can also be measure by the number of escaped defects (defects found by customers)
      • defects should be found and fixed during coding and testing
      • defects found early are much less expensive to fix than defects found late

Problem Resolution

  • The Five WHYs
    • a systematic approach to analysing identifying the root cause of a problem / cause-and-effect for the problem or issue
    • perform by repeatedly asking the question “Why” for at least 5 times until the root cause has been identified
    • imaginary example: Looking for the root cause for failing the PMI-ACP® Exam
      1. Why did I fail the PMI-ACP® Exam?
        – Because I got a lower mark than the passing mark
      2. Why did I get a lower mark?
        – Because I was not sure about the answers to many questions.
      3. Why was I not sure about the answers to many questions?
        – Because I could not remember some facts for the exam.
      4. Why couldn’t I remember some facts for the exam?
        – Because I was not familiar with the PMI-ACP® Exam content.
      5. Why was I not familiar with the PMI-ACP® Exam content?
        – Because I did not spend enough time revising the PMI-ACP® Exam notes.
  • Fishbone Diagram Analysis
    • another tool for carrying out cause and effect analysis to help discover the root cause of a problem or the bottle-necks of processes
    • aka cause and effect diagrams/Ishikawa diagrams
    • to use Fishbone diagram technique:
      1. write down the problem/issue as the “fish head” and draw a horizontal line as the “spine” of the fish
      2. think of major factors (at least four or above) involved in the problem/issue and draw line spinning off from the spine representing each factor
      3. identify possible causes and draw line spinning off the major factors (your diagram will look like a fishbone now)
      4. analyze the fishbone diagram to single out the most possible causes to carry out further investigation

Summary: Domain VI Problem Detection and Resolution

This PMI-ACP® Exam Study notes covers the sixth domain: Domain VI Problem Detection and Resolution of the new 2015 PMI-ACP® Exam syllabus. Domain VI accounts for 10% (~12 questions) of all questions to be found on the PMI-ACP® Exam.

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Edward Chung

Edward Chung aspires to become a full-stack web developer and project manager. In the quest to become a more competent professional, Edward studied for and passed the PMP Certification, ITIL v3 Foundation Certification, PMI-ACP Certification and Zend PHP Certification. Edward shares his certification experience and resources here in the hope of helping others who are pursuing these certification exams to achieve exam success.

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