Don’t Hide The Pain of Project Failures

Is there ever a time your team should plan for failure? The answer might be yes. Although project failure is dreaded, in truth one failure can prevent other failures in the future, and sometimes (when finding support from executive management is scarce), it's an inevitability. An article by Dirk Jungnickel and Abid Mustafa suggests that having a plan for failure may in fact be the only way to find success:

There are compelling circumstances when PPM practitioners have to face the reality and actually plan for failure, before things can improve. This usually occurs in business environments that are predominantly shaped by a ubiquitous blend of inhibiting factors that include: shareholders and executives interested only in the top line, companies are cash rich and face very little competition, and markets are subsidized by governments. Emerging markets neatly fit the forgoing description and portfolio managers often interact with executives who sense the need for PPM but have very little faith in the project portfolio methodology.

Jungnickel and Mustafa note that PPM practitioners need to take on a new role in order to operate in such marketing conditions. Simply enough, understanding how painful it can be to manage a project portfolio may be the first step toward success. Strategic knowledge is a must, but not letting things go to pieces when a project fails is also important. Grouping projects in portfolio under the headings of revenue generation, operational efficiency, regulatory, and market share. This structure will allow comparison of successful and not as successful projects in an organized manner. Again, it will be easier to see for the future what works well and what does not.

It is also important to “manage the pain” from failed project portfolio planning so that it can be slowly erased. Jungnickel and Mustafa describe a 4-point cycle to deal with this. You must recognize and feel the pain from failure. Next you must magnify that pain so that it is recognized as an issue. Following magnification, executives must seek solutions. Finally, after solutions are found, they must be administered to the problem in small doses until the ideal answers are found. No one is suggesting that you go out of your way to try to fail, but Jungnickel and Mustafa argue that it is not the worst thing in the world.

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