Just back from JAOO 2007 and I have too much to write about. What a great conference!

Lucky for me, in two weeks I’ll get to attend another great conference, PNSQC, in it’s 25th anniversary edition. Twenty-five years of focusing on building quality software. And it’s not just for testers and QA people anymore. Since the Agile movement has gained momentum, developers and applications directors and such folks have also embraced the idea that software can roll out the door to the customers in a ready-to-use, defect-free form. Y'all come to PNSQC.

But that’s not what I want to write about today. While I was off gallivanting around Scandinavia, right here in Portland innovations were afoot. I received a question from a QA manager, and retrospective fan, about using the Fishbone Diagram activity - one of the activities we mention in Agile Retrospectives (see sidebar) for Generating Insights during a retrospective.

He wanted to remember the classic, minimalist, four-bones for creating the diagram. Traditional “bones” often used in manufacturing quality circles were: “man, machine, methods, materials”. Over time, those analysis categories had been replaced for use off the machine floor by: “people, product, process, and.......” and the manager couldn’t remember the last “p”. (If you check the wikipedia article, you'll discover 6-, 9- and more-boned versions. IMHO, too many for most software teams to sit through in one short iteration retrospective.)

From the 9-hour time-zone lag between me in Denmark and him in Portland, I wrote back to fill in the traditional fourth P, “Plant”, which includes things like equipment, ergonomics and other work environment characteristics.

Alas! My reply came too late for his retrospective meeting.

Today I heard from him that he had innovated a new P for the model, “protocol”. Sheer genius! Of course, if we are looking at problem-solving from a systems-thinking perspective (and we are, aren’t we?), we must include a way to look at organizational systems to discover how they also might impact the issue at hand.

So, in his honor, I propose an addendum to the Fishbone Diagram that I’m calling the Savage Corollary, after my QA colleague. From henceforth, every time I lead a team in a Fishbone analysis looking for the root causes of impediments to their progress, we will have five, not four, bones on our “fish.”

People, Product, Process, Plant, and (ta-da!) Protocol.

People: anything to do with the humans involved in the issue - with Kerth’s Prime Directive firmly in mind, of course - we look at how people were assigned or recruited to the team, skills, training provided, experience, and other human factors.

Product: features, elements, intentions, deliverables, stories, etc., about the product that contribute to the issue.

Process: work processes, methods, engineering practices, and so forth.

Plant: As above. The setting in which the work gets done.

Protocol: the impact of organizational systems, policies, procedures, hierarchies and the ways in which they interact and intersect.