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Monday, December 19, 2016

Love That Failure

 Most information we see about project success and failure falls into one of two major topic areas.
     Numerous studies have revealed the bad decisions that led to famous historical disasters such as Robert Scott’s 1911 expedition, in which everybody died after reaching the South Pole (while Roald Amundsen had led a flawless round trip to the Pole a few weeks prior).
     And we’ve read about the project management mistakes that sank the mighty Titanic of the White Star Line in 1912. And why the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (“Galloping Gertie”) destroyed itself in 1940.
     Big-time and big-budget, all of them.
     And then there are statistics that tell us what percentage of present-day projects actually make their numbers on cost, schedule and requirements. Results vary, but not many are outstandingly good. 
     In either category, there isn’t much of use to us small-timers with nontechnical challenges in unsophisticated environments. So innumerable project managers wrestle alone with issues of limited resources, demanding sponsors, resistant stakeholders, shaky budgets, distracted team members -- often with utter lack of precedent.

     The basic issues in such efforts are the how-tos of building support and skilling up an old-fashioned group for an innovative process.
     Sometimes we’re trying to integrate merged staffs of formerly competitive organizations. Or leading a project team composed of individuals whose departments are worlds apart in purpose, function and even lingo.
     What’s the secret to project success in the everyday environment?
     Design and implement your own failures. They’re going to happen anyway, so why not have them under your control?
     Here’s a sample situation. You have been blessed with responsibility for setting up a new procedure. Say it involves several departments of your modest company, and it’s something never seen before around here. Not a huge deal, but you want to do it right.    
     You’re not even sure it’s really a project. It’s a mini-project.

     The best way to plan anything new to you is to take a look at how this kind of thing was done before. Talk to the people who did it, and pick over their experience. What worked, what didn’t and how was it all successfully handled? Or not. If there is a report in existence (very rare), study it.
     For this discussion, let’s stipulate that there are no such people, no such record. Your organization has never attempted anything like this before, but changing times demand that it do so now. And it’s all up to you – you’re the pioneer mini-project leader.
     My advice? For your mini-project, devise and pursue miniature risk management.  Since there is no history to work from, create a history. Use risk management to organize your team and build your process.  
     It’s a relatively safe way to develop facts on the ground and competence in the people, and you can do it quickly if you’re careful.
     Here’s how you do it: You construct the history progressively, in a cycle that keeps diminishing the risk. Your management increasingly operates from the factual record you’re creating. Team confidence grows at the same time, further improving overall ability to achieve the goal.

     You’ll be trying out unfamiliar ideas, so at the beginning make sure the steps are short. But do a lot of them. Plan out the assumptions and execution of each, track what happens and immediately take another – improved – step, a somewhat bigger one.
     Where assumptions turn out to be faulty, identify why that happened. Adjust. Repeat.
     Delegate as much of this as you can, so you’re developing team skills while clearing your own mind for the most pressing management demands.
     You are building a trustworthy process by pushing the limit of allowable risk. Share ideas and actions with your team. Prepare to make mistakes, but make sure you know why each misstep occurred so you don’t repeat it.
     The team will like this. Anyone who can’t overcome the discomfort should be allowed to withdraw. Replacement members should be chosen with greater understanding, on the basis of the developing performance record.
     All this can’t happen without making mistakes. There is no other way, so get good at it. Doing nothing because of fear of making mistakes is the worst mistake of all.
     With all this, your statistical profile should be the count of how many mistakes you made . . . and successfully corrected. All those little failures become the metrics of progress.
     There can be no progress without mistakes. Embrace them, because you need them. When you make enough of the right ones, you’re on your way to success.

Screwing Up to Succeed

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