Project Practitioners > Failure Is an Option

Failure Is an Option

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


As I was perusing my local library and its book selection, I came across a title that struck a chord. Failure Is an Option: An Attempted Memoir by H. Jon Benjamin is the book. History is written by its successors. No one hears the tales of failure that lead up to the moment of victory or the story of the ultimate failure leading to a society’s demise.


The overnight success story is a popular narrative. All of a sudden, out of nowhere some megastar is born. No one talks about the six-hour one-way trips to play music at a bar in front of three people, two of which are your parents. No one talks about the failed project that took two years to research and another two years to develop only to fall on its face.


This book is a collection of the author’s failures in life told in comedic prose. The idea is we all fail and continuously. Hence, failure is an option. A sleepover at a friend's house that went array or your plan for the perfect proposal that ended in a no are examples of life's journey not being so perfect.


In project management, many failures occur hourly from team members showing up late or not meeting deadlines to vendors quitting and forcing a delay. Estimates get submitted daily and rejected as often. No one is awarded 100% of the jobs or projects. If it is not 100%, failure exists. Having a text or email sit in its draft form because you never sent it may be a common one.


So, as the theme of the book goes, here are a few of my failure stories:



Failing to Ask

As I am writing this, emails are coming in about how an owner is upset about not being contacted about maintenance being performed at the property. Even with the explanation of the contractor was only supposed to provide a quote and ended up completing the work, the owner remains upset about not receiving the full amount of rent.


I cannot control a contractor's actions, but I can control where they show up and who knows about it.


This failure to communicate until the end takes one phone at the beginning and turns it into a waterfall of emails and phone calls later. Eventually, I will learn who needs the extra attention for their properties. Until then, I will continue to make the mistake, just less often. Lesson learned: overcommunicate.


Failing to Recognize

As an assistant project manager, I went on a solo mission to inspect a pile of concrete that was going to be crushed into usable material. This pile had been there for years with overgrowth and mud throughout the concrete chunks. No slabs existed, which is preferred for the crushing process.


I delivered this message to my superiors, and they told me to price two quotes, a bad and a good. Should the pile be decent, the good price was to be submitted. Should the pile be muddy and chunky, the bad price was to be submitted. The failure came in not having an ugly price.


I submitted the bad price, which was not bad enough because the pile turned out to be mostly mud and hardly any useable material. Somehow, my boss and the county agreed on a price as to not lose our ass saving my stupidity. Lesson learned: always have a backup to the backup.


Failing to Pass

I did not pass my first attempt at the PMP exam. Heartbreaking to say the least, but gave me an appreciation for the difficulty of the exam. I was always a decent student and got by without much studying, so my approach to this exam was similar. Read a few notes. Answer a couple of questions. Then pass the exam as if it were an introductory English test. Not the case.


From the jump, I knew I was in trouble. These questions were unfamiliar, and the answers were guesses at best. I knew very little and received the anticipated message of ‘FAIL’ once I submitted the exam. I am sure it was said more nicely, but that is how it came across to me.


This failure led to my eventual success of passing the exam. I changed my approach, answered questions, reviewed the wrong answers, and continued to modify my brain dump sheet for the exam. No one asks who many attempts it took and what your scores were. All they see are those initials at the end of your name. Lesson learned: be better and do not rely on terrible habits.


There are a few of my failure stories. Now, I would like to hear from you. What failures have you had and how have they led to successes?

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