When Projects Fail
We had a project fail.
- 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.
- Expect responsibility. Blamers are covering for something they should have done. Finger-pointing is the loser’s way of getting out of the spotlight.
- Remember what worked and why.
- 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.
- Make it personal. Ask, “How did we let each other down?”
- Step up to excellence not down to mediocrity. Excuses are the path to ease, insignificance, and irrelevance. “How can we be better?”
- Pick the scab. Dig into issues optimistically and respectfully. The goal is improving next time, not blaming and putting down.
- Don’t assume you know the reasons for failure.
- Evaluate the project. Was the project worth doing in the first place? Improve individual performance, but, don’t improve what isn’t worth repeating.
- Separate planning from execution during evaluation.
- Seek feedback from constituents outside the team.
- Explore lessons learned. What can be improved and how?
- Avoid globalizing. One failure doesn’t mean everything is going to hell.
- Don’t identify failure with who you are.
- Believe improvement is possible.
- Don’t assume working harder will make things better. What will you do differently, next time?
- Was the duration of the project too long? Short timelines are best.
- Explain how you’ll do better next time. Be specific. Clarity is the mother of success.
- Put it to bed.
- 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?
Finger-pointing is the loser’s way of getting out of the spotlight. It is so true to the organizations. This symptom is the one reason, why projects fail. In the organizations, where people are more prone to point towards someone in case of failure and taking credit in case of success. And such behavior is the bottleneck. I do agree that planning and execution is different issues. However, decision making plays a crucial role and perhaps deciding factor when projects fail.Many times, when consensus is made on some issues, it is seen that decision does not take place in time. So, in that case, decision taken based on personal judgment may not guarantee the success for project. We do not need to find out who is the decision maker, rather create a system in place that forces one to take decision in time. Organizations may reward decision making in time for that matter.
I also believe that project fail because of many reasons. The prevalent reason is decision taken by few people, not engaging line managers in the process. Other reasons could be not taking the contextual factor into consideration while making decision. It is very important to note that strategy that worked in the past, may not fit for future. One need to scan the environment and people associated in decision making process.
Hey Ajay, isn’t it the THINKING that decides pointing the finger where to point is where the problem starts?
If so, say it!!!
Like if I got a problem in my bathroom. The problem is where the water comes in in the pipe coming in under the sink. Not the faucet. So what does changing the faucet do?
Answer nothing but maybe make the fella FEEL like he did something.
The cause is where solutions are. The cause is our thinking, not our fingers.
Just like my opinion based on my experience, man.
SP back to now
I agree with you. It is our thinking that decides the finger where to point out. Sometimes, I also feel that when we do not point out the problem directly and point out peripheral issues, then this could be our inability to face the realities.
Alternatively, we tend to do so because of our fear of not tarnishing relationship. Or we do not want to look bad in others eyes.
When I lead projects, it’s hard for me to take feedback. I ask my team “What went wrong?” In earlier years, I invariably addressed each concern as it arose, explaining how this or that was a fluke or because someone else dropped the ball. Now, I just shut up and take notes. When it’s all out, I ask: “What needs to happen for a better program to be possible?”
This is a great list of action-steps for failed projects, Dan. Reflecting on failure is difficult, but necessary!
Great thoughts, Dan. You actually hit most of the points we covered some years ago when our team had a major project fail. After a brief cooling off period, we all came back together and brainstormed what went wrong. But we did it by asking the question, “What could we have changed if we had known this sooner?” The follow-on question was “What could we have done to know that sooner?” This became the basis at the company for a paradigm we called The Project Success Factors. I still routinely haul them out both before and after a project. They are a work in process, but the formalization really helps.
Well before I had a Spiritual Awakening Dan I coulda used all those suggestions and as many more as u could give me.
Then as a results of working the 12 Steps, it happened, a psychic change!! Horray psychic change!!
Now thanks but don’t need none of that stuff no mo!!!!
Now I got a special purpose like Navin Johnson!!!!
Now there ain’t winning and losing, just being!!! And figuring out stuff that works and brings me closer to goals and what don’t!! Period!!!!! This don’t work, ok next no need to tell myself I am a loser cause of that!!!! That is just silly!
Finding out what don’t work ain’t failing!!! It’s finding out what won’t work!!!!! That Dude who made the lightbulb glow!!! Didn’t he tell us? He said those 10,000 ways he tried that didn’t work wasn’t failing, just the ways that did not work!!! He is smarter and happier than I choose to go with his philosophy!!!!
So lets see 20 and infinitum ways to deal with my WOES or choose a way to look at it where I ain’t got any??? Wowza, just for me not a difficult choice!!!! You?
So this is a marathon to the dirt nap, all roads lead to the dirt nap!!! So don’t worry be happy till then!!
Two kids, two stalls, two shovels!! One rotten kid with 20 and more ongoing ways to react to his life strategy!!! The other a happy little fella who gets it!!!
The 20er pissed, upset looking to wrest happiness and satisfaction out of this life only if he manages it well. The other just happy and excited to see how the imprisoned down for will escape!!!
After an hour we go check on them. 20er pissed, irritable, discontent, miserable!!!! Ready for 21st suggestion.
Happy kid enthusiastically shoveling away!!! Goodness the energy enthusiasm springs forth!!
We know why the 20er is miserable, nothing can fill his gaping hole of need!
But what about the happy kid? Why such unbridled enthusiasm in a stall filled with crap and no pony???
We ask him and he gleefully states, “with all this in here there has got to be a pony here someplace”!!!!!
Yep you got a choice, stall one or stall two, your way if experiencing what happens to you is all up to you. I suggest James Allen. As a Man Thinketh. Cool read!
Or 21, 22, 23 forever!!!!
Shifterp back to the present in left field!!
Imprisoned splendor, not down. Typo!!!! Whooppppss!
It is important to fail. If you aren’t failing you aren’t challenging yourself.
One thing I would add is to create action from the failure. Reflection alone is useless unless you can create a way to apply the learnings.
Great thoughts today.
Excellent comprehensive list. I think it’s important to review this list before the start of a project. After a project fails, these are great guidelines but if we can be empowered to think about them before maybe some of the engaged team can begin to highlight specific issues upfront which could cause a few changes in the project’s management and head it toward success. In addition, everyone on the project team must be empowered to speak up and be 100% engaged, as in my experience many of the issues could have been “called out” up front by team members but they felt they would not be heard due to “fear”. Projects fail many times before they even start. Start the project by asking the question – What things could derail this project?”
Well Simon Sinek says hire people who believe what you believe
Then it sounds like this
Those who believe what we believe offer their blood sweat and tears.
Those who don’t believe what we believe demand more money and glory.
Now which team you feel needs an ongoing list of excuses or a warriors call to action to keep at it no matter what till we get it done?
What Simon says in Start With Why is AWESOME!!!!
Barry Wehmilker uses it in action better than any other company.
Sounds like good folks to mimic, right?
SP back to now! Ps be like Cicero, burn the dog gone ships and only one way to go!!!! Forward!!! March confidently to our connected why, agreed upon, goal and nothing can keep us from victory!!
Thanks ; O)
I suppose not too many people would say, ‘Woohoo, we failed.’ But you could, especially if it is pilot project. Better to fail early and often and learn from it, than to have the failure reach the recipient, the customer, or even the patient.
Your #2 Dan, might also be, Accept Responsibility. Expect it and accept it that it happened on your watch to some degree. A true leader knows that s/he is partially responsible for the failures and a bit responsible for the successes too.
I agree too, that time and space is needed to let emotions subside for accurate reflection on what worked/didn’t work.
Yep. Spot on and simple, in the elegant way you offer up these ideas. Keep up the good work.
Much different than the 6 Phases of a TYPICAL Project Management Approach:
Enthusiasm for the initiative
Disillusionment with initial results
Panic as things fall apart
Search for the Guilty
Punishment of the Innocent
Praise and Honor for the Non-Participants
Six Phases of a 2nd Project
Mild enthusiasm combined with unexpressed general concern
Search for volunteers
Avoidance of involvement
Search for anything positive
Discussion of any other projects tabled until further analysis…
Hmmm, Dr. S….seems like there may be a few parallels to Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief…and then some!
Did you mean “accept responsibility” or did you mean “expect responsibility” because they are both valid, but with somewhat different ramifications ?
Expect for this one.
It’s easy to finger point anyone when a project fails. However it takes a real leader to learn from their mistakes and move on. Thinking critically and observing the problems of what went wrong or right is what corporations should do but don’t. Great post!
Someone you win and sometimes you learn! You never lose if you can take something from the experience. This makes us stronger and better for next time round!