How to 'Fail Better' on IT Projects

 
 
By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 12-05-2014 Email
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • Previous
    Project Failure Driver: Detail Complexity
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    Project Failure Driver: Detail Complexity

    A wide range of tech requirements, resource limitations, user needs, market shifts and other factors combine to overwhelm IT project teams.
  • Previous
    Project Failure Driver: Dynamic Complexity
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    Project Failure Driver: Dynamic Complexity

    Behaviors shaped by hard-to-predict human and machine relationships will play out in unpredictable ways, making it hard to draw a line from actions to results.
  • Previous
    Project Failure Driver: Cognitive Biases
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    Project Failure Driver: Cognitive Biases

    Everyone comes to a team with various ideas about how to pursue and manage information. When their cognitive processes aren't in sync, unfortunate decisions may follow.
  • Previous
    How to Fail Better: Define Failure
    Next

    How to Fail Better: Define Failure

    Establish early on what kind of failure is ultimately beneficial, and what defines inexcusable failures that cannot be tolerated.
  • Previous
    How to Fail Better: Divide and Conquer
    Next

    How to Fail Better: Divide and Conquer

    By breaking a large project into manageable chunks instead of tackling it as a monolithic effort, you can more easily contain any failures.
  • Previous
    How to Fail Better: Get Buy-In
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    How to Fail Better: Get Buy-In

    Get agreement from influencers to incorporate discovery (with no guarantee of success) into various project phases. With this, even notable failures will instruct.
  • Previous
    How to Fail Better: Stop and Think
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    How to Fail Better: Stop and Think

    When you get a sense that something is going wrong, take a step back to identify and correct issues before they gain too much traction to undo.
  • Previous
    How to Fail Better: Link Thought to Action
    Next

    How to Fail Better: Link Thought to Action

    Analyze the mental processes that went into methods, interactions, problem-solving, change management, etc. to integrate individual approaches into a cohesive team "brain."
  • Previous
    How to Fail Better: Don't Demand Perfection
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    How to Fail Better: Don't Demand Perfection

    It's better to get started and end up with something that's good-to-great but still flawed, then to stall indefinitely in search of a perfect game plan.
  • Previous
    How to Fail Better: Embed Learning
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    How to Fail Better: Embed Learning

    At the end of the project, collaborate with team members to assess miscues along the way. Designate new habits to preserve and old ones to drop. Share with other project teams.
 

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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