How tech failures can transform your business for the better

Introduction and fear of mistakes

Success is a wonderful thing, but while it makes life a lot easier, it doesn’t develop either you or your business. This is especially true in IT. Lessons learned come the hard way through poor practices in management, botched implementation and limitations in technology.

Failure can also stem from trying to get too much done in a single project rather than breaking things down into more manageable chunks, or not allowing enough time for people to do their parts. Sometimes it can be down to a vendor or consultant leading you down the wrong path.

But failure doesn’t have to be all bad. If you have the right processes and more importantly, the right attitude in place, then tech flops have the power to be informative, educational and often in the end they can transform your organisation for the better.

Insight from failure

We are often told when we are kids that we should learn from our mistakes. But in the world of work, most organisations cannot handle failure and often don’t have processes in place to work out why problems happened. This is wrong as failures should be embraced as part of the learning process.

What divides great IT leaders from the rest of the pack is the ability to get insight from failure and then apply that insight to help succeed in the future. So how can you make the most of failure and learn to avoid it down the road?

Learn what works for your organisation

Over the past few years, businesses across an increasingly wide range of sectors have begun working in an agile way, Tracy Goddard, director of professional services at Changepoint observes.

She says: “It is important to remember that agile will not be the right fit for everybody. It is dangerous to change the way you work just because it ison-trend; the UK Government encountered big problems with its £2 billion (around $2.8 billion, or AU$3.8 billion) Universal Credit project because it tried to use an agile development method when that way of working did not suit the way it worked with suppliers.”

Learn that it is safe to fail

Larger companies find learning a slow process and are often quicker to blame things that solve problems which manifest themselves. When this happens, staff won’t be quick to admit failure, compounding things further along the line.

“You can’t have people who are afraid of making mistakes,” says Yorgen Edholm, CEO at Accellion. “In high-tech, there are no templates, so you need to cultivate a culture that accepts mistakes, as long as you learn from them.”

In doing so this encourages creativity and innovation. Anyone with new ideas can experiment with them without worrying that failure would be perceived as only a negative. Of course, this doesn’t mean there is no accountability when failure happens. There’s a fine line to tread and you need to have employees motivated to perform to the best of their abilities and not just to a level they can get away with.

Own your mistakes

Learn not to blame others for failure

As children, we can try and pin the blame on others as an easy way out, and to some extent this is something we never grow out of. We learn when we are young that being blamed for something is an uncomfortable experience.

But playing the blame game never works. A study found that people who blame others for their mistakes learn less, lose status and perform worse. The same goes for organisations.

While the temptation to pass the buck is huge, you have to resist it so you can move on. The benefit of this is more respect and loyalty from team members.

Learn to own mistakes

If the fault is yours, don’t try to shift it onto others. Michael Snow, business development manager at Capita IT Resourcing, says that a good IT leader is someone who isn’t afraid to admit they’ve made a mistake. “A respected individual will be able to accept if they’ve slipped up and will admit that they don’t necessarily have the answers to everything,” he says. “They will also be confident relying on professionals at all levels of the organisation.”

Admitting mistakes early helps greatly in taking corrective action and ensuring peace of mind.

Learn from failures by setting up a process to deal with them

When things go wrong, finding out why is important; don’t sweep it under the carpet. Pinning the blame on someone or something doesn’t help in moving forward. Investigate to get to the heart of the problem, and then find a solution to that.

Edholm says that IT leaders shouldn’t “celebrate mistakes”, but “be tolerant of them, learn to adapt with the unexpected changes.”

Goddard says that with failed projects it is important to note the lessons learned from them – as well as processes that have been put in place that can be continued. “Learn from the failure of Universal Credit to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated,” she says.

After a project, especially one that hasn’t gone so well, IT managers should ask themselves and their colleagues: what went well?; what didn’t go well?; and what could have been done differently? Doing this in a debrief meeting can provide valuable insight into how the project went and also lessons for the future.

Learn from the competition’s failure

The great thing about failure is that not only can you learn from your own but also from the failures of other organisations. Looking at other firms’ disasters can help you identify problems within your own projects and with any luck you’ll be in a position to side-step these issues before they manifest themselves.

Conclusion

Projects can and do have some failures at parts of their lifecycle, which is why it is best to have a management process in place to mitigate risk. The key to a successful project is to learn from the mistakes made and put those lessons into practice.

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