Business Growth & Strategy

How Project Failure Can Be Your Project’s Biggest Ally

project failure

Let’s just be blunt here: the rate of project failure is astoundingly high. According to a recent article by Capterra, “75% of business and IT executives anticipate their software projects will fail.” Not only that, but, “The United States economy loses $50-$150 billion per year due to failed IT projects.” Ouch.

project failureIn a results-driven economy, failure comes at a lofty price. How big that price is often depends on the size of the failure, as well as the culture of the company involved. Not all failure, however, needs to be such a disastrous event. In fact, failure can actually be your biggest ally in some cases.

So just how can failure be your biggest ally? The key is managing failure in a productive manner.

Incremental Failure

One of the most important factors in effective project management is setting incremental, or milestone, goals. Alexis Chrzanowski, Account Executive, at Innovative Facility Solutions, emphasizes the need to “set up calendar notifications, alerting the team when steps should be completed and due dates. Setting up these notifications keeps everyone’s mind in the right place and right stage of [the] project.”

In addition to helping keep the project on track, having milestone goals also helps you manage–and learn from–failure. For example, if you need to have a certain percentage of the project complete by a certain date, or when a specific portion of the budget has been spent, a failure to meet that goal can be a valuable asset. It provides an opportunity to evaluate why the milestone was missed and what adjustments need to be made—before it’s too late.

Far better to miss a milestone at the ten percent mark when there’s still time to make adjustments than when you’re closing in on the final stretch.

Scope Creep

Another failure that can be an ally is scope creep. Scope creep is ‘when the scope of your project increases while the rest of the constraints (like time and cost) do not change,’ says Eric McConnell.

Even this failure, however, can be an asset. If caught early enough, this failure can provide valuable insight into your project’s shortcomings. Why is the scope creeping? Is there a fundamental need the client has that was not addressed? Is there a difficulty with the current workflow, or method of tackling the product, that is contributing to the scope creep? Recognizing creep as it starts to occur and understanding the underlying reason can be a valuable factor to salvaging the project as a whole.

When It All Goes Wrong

As the above situations highlight, failure can be your biggest ally primarily when you catch it early and can use it to make changes. The sooner the failure is recognized, the better.

What happens, though, when a failure progresses to its fullest conclusion? Can failure still be an ally when the entire project has tanked?

Although it may be difficult, even this worst-case scenario can still provide valuable lessons. There’s a popular saying that “experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” In other words, no matter how colossal a failure may be there is always something we can learn, experience we can gain. That experience can then play a pivotal role in future success.

In order to benefit from that experience, however, it’s important to be brutally honest in evaluating why the project failed. Was it poor planning? Poor execution? Impractical expectations? Scope creep? A lack of clearly defined goals? Was communication stifled? Honestly looking at what went wrong, as well as what may have went well, is an important step in benefitting from even the worst failure.

In any event, and under any circumstances, don’t be afraid of failure. Use it, learn from it and make it one of your biggest allies.

Category: Business Growth & Strategy


Curt Finch About the Author: Curt Finch

Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Journyx strives to be relentlessly creative and to build tools that help you spend your time on things that matter. After all, time is all we have. Founded in 1996, Journyx offers customers two solutions to …

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