How to 'Fail Better' on IT Projects

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 12-05-2014 Email

Playwright Samuel Beckett famously wrote, "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Such advice would greatly benefit modern IT teams, given that 17 percent of projects fail completely, and two-thirds fall short of expectations, according to the Project Management Institute. In the recent book, Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner (Harvard Business Review Press/available now), authors Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn provide in-depth perspectives about how such experiences can ultimately benefit professionals in terms of accumulated wisdom through trial and error. After all, Henry Ford went broke five times before he started the Ford Motor Co. Bill Gates and Paul Allen launched the disappointing Traf-O-Data before they came up with Microsoft. And remember that Christopher Columbus discovered America by mistake. All of which signifies a simple message: Failure can often serve as the beginning of great achievements, rather than the end of anything worthwhile. "Small failures enable discovery and learning," according to the authors. "They help rule out options, unearth flaws in reasoning and disconfirm incorrect hypotheses. … Over time, people recast their own failures and losses—even those that they would have at an earlier time predicted to be unbearable—to find meaning in them, in a sense relabeling them as successes." The following list of project failure drivers and best practices for "failing better" is adapted from the book. Sastry is senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Penn is co-founder and principal consultant at Mission Spark, a management consulting firm dedicated to organizational change and improvement.

Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.


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