What we can learn from the show House?

Not all television is not mind numbing.  I enjoy The History Channel and many other similar channels as these are not exactly learning opportunities but close.  However, my son turned us on to a show called House on Netflix[1] and it is very interesting.

House (also called House, M.D.) is an American television medical drama that originally ran on the Fox network for eight seasons, from November 16, 2004 to May 21, 2012. The series’ main character is Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), a pain medication-dependent, unconventional, misanthropic medical genius who leads a team of diagnosticians at the fictional Princeton–Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (PPTH) in New Jersey.

Logo for House TV Series

Logo for House TV Series


 All of you engineers, test engineers, and project management people out there could benefit watching this show.  In this show, the premier diagnostician – House works to solve complex physiological and life threatening conundrums with his patients.  He does this by considering the symptoms (failure mode) and then drawing upon a diverse set of inputs from other very talented doctors to theorize a possible diagnosis or range of diagnoses.  He does not assume he knows more than he knows, following the evidence and aggressively working to uncover evidence (biopsies) and treating based upon what he knows.  Even when a contraindication may arise due to the proposed treatment, he presses on and adapts based on what he learns.  For example, there are two possible conditions the patient has, the most probable is selected and that is the prescribed treatment. However, this treatment will either fix the problem or if the second possible diagnosis is really plaguing the patient, then there will be a turn for the worse for the patient.  This essentially is putting the life of the patient at risk.  Both of these outcomes provide more clues as to what is really going on with the patient and the possible solution.  In some instances, the team presses the stimuli to which the patient is to be subjected beyond the limits.

So here is how to apply this approach for testing.  Follow the evidence and do not make the assumption the reported failure symptom is a lie, but more likely an errant description of the situation.  I have personally seen test failures reported that cannot be replicated, and the idea is often to dismiss until more evidence is found.  That does not mean the failure did not happen, but some combination of stimuli or preceding stimuli may have set up the witnessed failure.  These require aggressively seeking the cause pushing the product beyond the limits. To quote from the Spinal Tap movie “turn it up to eleven”[3].

As for project management, we should rely more on metrics that allow us to understand the situation.  If there is no measurement backing up the statement from the team member, we know there is risk associated with the topic under discussion.  To not be duped either intentionally or accidentally (unbridled optimism) we need to remain objective.

[1] “House, M.D.” Wikipedia House TV Series Retrieved August 31, 2016.

[2] The logo for the TV Series House.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_to_eleven Retrieved August 31, 2016

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