When Projects Fail

pinball machine

We had a project fail.

  1. Let it sting. Soothing pain is for babies, not big boys and girls. Team members who don’t care about losing are losers. Don’t sooth discomfort by minimizing failure, but don’t overreact, either.
  2. Expect responsibility. Blamers are covering for something they should have done. Finger-pointing is the loser’s way of getting out of the spotlight.
  3. Remember what worked and why.
  4. Celebrate wins. One failure isn’t reason to stop celebrating all successes. Don’t give failure so much power that it turns out the lights.
  5. Make it personal. Ask, “How did we let each other down?”
  6. Step up to excellence not down to mediocrity. Excuses are the path to ease, insignificance, and irrelevance. “How can we be better?”
  7. Pick the scab. Dig into issues optimistically and respectfully. The goal is improving next time, not blaming and putting down.
  8. Don’t assume you know the reasons for failure.
  9. Evaluate the project. Was the project worth doing in the first place? Improve individual performance, but, don’t improve what isn’t worth repeating.
  10. Separate planning from execution during evaluation.
  11. Seek feedback from constituents outside the team.
  12. Explore lessons learned. What can be improved and how?
  13. Avoid globalizing. One failure doesn’t mean everything is going to hell.
  14. Don’t identify failure with who you are.
  15. Believe improvement is possible.
  16. Don’t assume working harder will make things better. What will you do differently, next time?
  17. Was the duration of the project too long? Short timelines are best.
  18. Explain how you’ll do better next time. Be specific. Clarity is the mother of success.
  19. Put it to bed.
  20. Re-vitalize momentum. Examine what happened with what’s next in mind. Create a win and celebrate.

Bonus: Let time pass between failure and review to allow emotions to stabilize.

What do you do when projects fail?