Thursday, January 17, 2013

Answering Loaded Questions

As a human, I am slow to evolve my behavior. For example, I was recently asked. "What is slowing the pace of development for the new regressions so much?"

In the past, I would have had a snarky response, or just gotten upset. I still got upset, but I didn't speak up at first. I gave it some thought.

Here's what I came up with. I found an article "Indirect Responses to Loaded Questions" from the 1960s. . It describes how a natural language processor could handle such situations.

Here's the gist:

  • Identify the assumptions in the question
  • Determine which are valid, invalid or unknown
  • Respond with at least one of the following types (called 'Corrective Indirect Responses')
    • Answer a more general question
    • Offer the answer to a related question
    • Correct the assumption presumed to be true and indicate that it is either false or unknown.
So, in my case, the assumptions and their validity are:
  • I would know about the pace of developing new regression tests. (this is true)
  • The pace of developing the regression tests is slowing. (this is only true in a very narrow view of the situation)
  • There is an expected pace for the work. (this is not true)
I'm still thinking about my response. Here is a sample of what I've come up with.
  • "As viewed through the project dashboard, the pace of the project has been pretty consistent, even if a bit slower than desired." 
  • "Before I was asked to coordinate this work, the project had no measurable progress for over a year. It now has measurable progress."
  • "When we discussed applying normal project planning methods to this work, I was told that it was too much effort. If we had done that, we could answer this question clearly. We have not asked for any commitments of time for all the team members involved. We have not asked for estimates of the effort to complete the work. Both of these would help manage the progress of this work."
What would you do?

I thought about this some more. Here are some additional responses, focused on providing solutions, rather than defending or explaining the current state.

  • "We can certainly discuss the pace of work. That will require agreeing to specific commitments with those doing the work."
  • "Let's discuss in detail specific estimates for the remaining work and available time with those doing the work so that we can get a better understanding of what the end date could be."

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