Project Practitioners > The Power of Failing

The Power of Failing

By Brian Irwin

I am a case study in failure.  Sometimes it seems as if I’ve made every conceivable mistake one man could make, and I’m a better person because of it.  I now have a higher degree of good judgment than I did when I started my career.  Good judgment comes from experience.  Unfortunately, sometimes experience comes from bad judgment. 

 We’ve all failed; had bad judgment, and generally messed things up.  Let yourself wallow in it—briefly.  It’s important you experience the emotions that resonate within you when you experience a failure.  But it’s even more important that we use these emotions as a motivator to change.  Within each failure is a lesson.  What’s interesting is that it continues to teach you over and over again until you finally learn, or until you move on to something else.

 Let me share with you a few of the failures I’ve experienced as a project manager:

  • Within scope, schedule, and budget I’ve delivered exactly what wasn’t needed;
  • I’ve delivered what was needed while not meeting scope, schedule, and budget constraints;
  • Losing focus on driving issues to closure, I’ve allowed those issues to doom projects;
  • I have spent inordinate amounts of time assembling a perfectly unachievable project schedule;
  • I’ve failed to push back on dates that were not achievable in an attempt to satiate a customer only to infuriate them later when the unachievable was not achieved—but the expectations weren’t managed;
  • I’ve allowed management to be surprised by issues made opaque earlier in a project because I thought we could make up the time only to find out we couldn’t later in the project.

 I believe I’ll stop there.  It’s hard to reminisce on some of these failures.  I experienced some multiple times because, as stated previously, I didn’t learn from them the first time.  Have you ever taken time to consider the power of failing?  Every failure has a lesson to teach us, in some form or fashion.  We only truly fail if we don’t seize the opportunity to learn from them.  In every failure there exists a chance to grow. 

 Failures occur at the project and organizational levels also.  We attempt to gather these lessons through lessons-learned sessions that, unfortunately, rarely get learned—leading me to refer to them as “lessons-observed”.  Another example is illustrated in the Standish Group’s annual Chaos Report which consistently reports very high percentages of software and IT project failure rates.  Might there be some lessons there?  I am guessing—yes!

 Take some time to sit and reflect on your career and life.  List those failures you’re especially “proud” of and write down any aspects of them you can remember.  Comb through these and try to identify any lessons you may have overlooked.  Then, learn them and celebrate the failure as your opportunity to improve has just presented itself and you embraced it.



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