Video: Wicked Problems

Jun 27, 2021

Explore this topic further by using one of the tasks / questions below.

Go deeper

Here's Wikipedia's entry on Wicked Problems – which definition (Rittel & Webber / Conklin) resonates most with you? Which quality in particular?

Do you think that a problem has to meet every qualification in a definition to be wicked?

Are all unsolvable problems wicked? Are all wicked problems unsolvable?

Is it useful to distinguish between wicked and tame problems? Why? What other distinctions do you use?

Application to your work

What examples of wicked problems are meaningful to you? Can you think of an example from your own context?

How do you approach problems in your work where you don't know the scope?

Can you think of a problem in your work where the solution was not obvious – until you found it?

Can you think of a time that you started work on a problem as if it was tame, and then realised it might be more wild?

What problems do you have, in your work, that might be combinations of tame and wicked problems?

What problems do you have, in your work, that seem particularly wicked? Why?

What problems do you have, in your testing work, that you cannot experiment with? How could you change your context to allow you to experiment?

As testers, we find problems. Do we find wicked problems?

Further Reading

Stahl and DeGrace wrote "Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions" in 1990, about wicked problems in software development. Research it – is it still relevant?

In this short Guardian article, Robert Ashton ascribes Jeff Conklin's principles to Tim Curtis. Consider the "four barriers" listed in the article – do you see them? Do you see others?

Have a look at Tom Wujec's Draw How to Make Toast exercise and TED talk.


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