“You should fail more often” is not usually a phrase you hear in business. However, when it comes to IT projects, Toby Wolpe of TechRepublic suggests that failed projects can teach us invaluable lessons. Wolpe suggest that companies that have experienced more than their share of project failures are more likely to be willing to experiment. This is because they understand that, while a project failure isn’t exactly fun, it can teach lessons that otherwise would go unlearned. In short, failure can ultimately give your organization the competitive edge needed to be successful. The key, according to Wolpe, is to get attitudes to about failure to change:
Changing attitudes to project management and failure will also result in an improved ability to develop business cases and planning, according to Gartner. It will lead to the introduction of mechanisms to support that new mentality. Early warning systems, stage or phase gates, and frequent reviews by unbiased individuals will become normal practice and help organizations to pull out early from projects that are failing. In the past, improvements to project management have focused on processes, using tools for standardization and optimization. This approach improves things in 80 percent of cases, but creates a false sense of security in the remaining instances, Gartner said.
When dealing with project failure, you will gain a clear vision of why a problem occurred and how to prevent it in the future. Instead of creating a false sense of security, this creates security based in fact and predictability. The ability to acknowledge a failure and move on to future success is a positive thing for any company. Being able to bounce back from an issue or an overall project failure will show resilience that will not go unnoticed by company leaders.
This is not to say that you should want the majority of your projects to fail. While some failure is desired for the purposes of learning, Wolpe does say that there is a limit. Wolpe notes that “project managers who take an approach that accepts failure rates of between one in five and one in three will ultimately end up making technology more responsive to business conditions.” It is important to remember, however, that repeated failures are not desired. If a project fails once for a certain reason, you should learn from that experience. If a project fails multiple times, you should be concerned. Should multiple project failures occur, you and your team must take the time to find the root cause. Otherwise, your project failures are also business execution failures as well.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, failure can sometimes be the key to success. Failure in moderation allows for teachable moments. It also prepares IT professionals to deal with uncertainty and problems so they are able to prevent such things in the future. Remember, failure all the time is certainly not the goal here. However, learning to translate IT project failure into the ability to minimize your losses is a smart and strategic way to make the best out of a bad situation.