[Video] The Future of Traceability, Pt. V

How to build great products continuously

Ania Osinska-Bulloff | August 18, 2016



“It’s more broad and powerful than we give it credit. We all benefit from the concept” says Robin Calhoun, Senior Product Manager at Jama, when Derwyn Harris, Director of Product Marketing asks about traceability and the non-traditional ties it has.

Search is a great example of traceability in real life. Traceability, data that’s interconnected in a logical, structural way, is like doing research, whether online or in a library catalogue. In each case, we are tracing something. We’ve all been benefitting from tracing since we’ve adopted Google as the default way to answer our questions. None of us approaches Google research caring about the giant database with linkages, but rather, we focus on relevant result it presents.

Another great example of the concepts behind traceability in real life is a map. Maps include a lot of data: location, directionality, space, time, etc.  They change how we think and how we get places. There is a certain sequence of questions we’re asking of a map and we have a process for that.  We start with “Where should I eat dinner?” and begin with our current location or GPS coordinates, then we move to the decision of how far we want to go, we look at a local area, the type of food we’re in a mood for, then we pick a spot and look at reviews. Each time we ask a question, the data that comes back is very different.

Good traceability surfaces in a way that you can answer a logical sequence of questions and get a relevant answer. Similarly to a map, you look at “What product am I working on?”, “Is it a current product or a legacy product?”, “Did it pass all the tests?” and so on. Traceability makes it possible to ask these questions and receive a relevant answer when building products and looking at complex data. Or rather, it provides a variety of results that answer our questions.

Working on traceability is related to Robin’s background and interests. Given her background in neuroscience and behavior,  human decision making and working with constraints (what you do with imperfect information) fascinates her. She went into working on traceability for a reason: “You can make great choices if you have enough information presented to you that you trust.” What fascinates Robin is how people make choices when building things. Some products are extraordinary and they come out rapidly: “What’s so different about this product vs. that product that costs the same thing but has all these flaws. Why did one team work so well together and make the right choices, and the other team didn’t?” Another exciting topic for Robin is how much data there is in the world, that we can base our decisions on, which drove her to another question: How do people do this and how can people do it better?

Robin keeps working on helping people answer these core questions. It can be done by structuring data in a way that allows for relevant answers, or by helping others understand what questions they need to ask, as there may be some they haven’t even thought of. She hopes that traceability in the future will highlight a hotspot in a system based on past projects that went really well,  and let you know a certain pattern of communication is expected.  “Traceability will surface that kind of stuff, because you wouldn’t know to look – something that computers do really well.”