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  • Ian Wells

The attack on wicked problems in software quality

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

What is a wicked problem? From “Don’t even think about it - why are brains are wired to ignore climate change” by George Marshall: (loosely copied from his book, p95)


“the concept of “wicked problem” was first formulated in 1973 by Rittel and Webber, applied to urban planning. Now it is applied to intractable problems such as terrorism, financial crises and climate change, which has often been called the “ultimate” wicked problem. Simple, tame problems have defined causes, objectives and outputs. Wicked problems are multi-facetted in every respect, they are incomplete, contradictory and constantly changing. Tame problems can be complicated but wicked problems are complex. There is no point at which one has enough information to make an informed decision. Instead, wicked problems demand a continuous process of evaluation and redefinition. There is no definitive definition of a wicked problem other than to say, by definition, it defies having a clear definition because it keeps evolving according to the solutions we evolve to solve it! You can’t learn about wicked problems without trying solutions, but every solution you try creates new consequences and wicked problems! “


Now if you are a software quality professional, this may sound somewhat familiar in software development terms. All software systems seem to work this way, there is no definitive way of confirming software quality without trying it out in the real world with real customers, And this results in bugs, which cause a new release. Agile software development, pivoting and devops are processes that we have evolved to deal with our own “wicked problem” world.


Next step: apply our ways of dealing with Software Wicked problems to our world's wicked problems. Stay tuned.

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