Thursday, May 14, 2009

Certainly certainty

Our every day events would have, with sufficient insight, enough meat to support very deep and prolonged discussion of the many philosophical issues suggested by the title of this post which will deal with unknown unknowns (the opposite, so to speak).

One could put it this way: we see 20-20 only when looking back. But, guess what? Even that is wrong; we never see 20-20 (assuming that pair of numbers represents some type of perceptual paragon). The problems of the world stem from several things, but cognitive mismatches are a very large one.

Case in point is the manager who has to exhibit some type of optimistic view (he or she thinks) in order to keep the troops motivated to work hard. "Oh yes," he says "we'll have this thing tested and out the door on time." Without naming names, one just has to go back a couple of years to see this.

As with any new program, we can look at both the process and the product and, of course, a lot more. But, let's look at these two. In this particular case, the process was shown to be other than was forecasted, and admitted to. Now, that in itself is not an issue, as who does not daily handle knowns and unknowns (see above). How these are handled will tell a lot about how the day develops. Being aware and able to handle curves as they are thrown by the daily life is an important part of success.

Now, speaking of the product side, there have been tests to date that have confirmed the thinking that went into functional design, which can be separated from process design. But, more tests are forthcoming which will be visible and of continuing interest. So, expect more comment.

Now, there will be knowns involved with the coming tests, such as those based upon the knowledge acquired by aerospace engineering (and other disciplines) over the years or derived from extrapolations that will be allowed by the tests to date. Of course, there are other sources of knowns.

And, unknown knowns (yes, and known unknowns) would have been handily taken care of by the advances in risk management. We saw this same discipline fail on the process side, but those delay factors may have been more management, and execution, failings rather than that of the planners. After all, the whole framework (on many sides) was new (which was gloriously touted early on). On the product side, there is more science that comes to bear which ought to help the management of this type of uncertainty if given the proper time.

It will be the final class, whose cardinality may be larger than we allow (that is an issue being addressed by truth engineering), that we'll have to watch, namely the unknown unknowns. You see, all along this program there have been mathematical and computational methods used that are more new than not. Just the fact that these have to slide along with advances in computer hardware speaks to that.

So, in a sense, the residue related to risk handling coverage (its incompleteness, if you would) will be a continuing subject of study. Too, some of these issues which can raise the philosophical conundrums do have a way of being unmanageable.

What? Yes, we need to recognize that and reward managers (the engineers already know this) that allow truthful handling of this phenomenon. In short, more of these things are influenced by basic undecidability than has been admitted, to date.

That we have a program with which to review and discuss this topic is something that is too important to just overlook. However, from the outside, there are always limitations in trying to accomplish such analysis.

But, it may be that the emergence of the internet-based information sources will help overcome some of the constraints that were formerly very difficult to surmount.


05/28/2012 -- Can we tell if we're on a limb?

09/14/2010 -- Must and may. Two important concepts.

09/02/2009 -- Lets face it, folks, undecidability needs to be discussed and adopted in any complex situational setting, especially if computers are involved. Only hubris pushes us to make loud exclamations about what we're going to do in the future.

07/14/2009 -- Nope, confounding continues.

05/18/2009 -- Testing in flight is within sight.

Modified: 05/28/2012

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