In a classic quote "...I have never really learned much of anything from success..... The lessons which stick with me are those which I learned through failure ... " It is clear that something needs to be done about this nonsensical approach to improving our lot in life as project managers.
If we have no notion of looking for what works, what has been shown to be useful, and what steps we can take to reduce the risk of failure, then we're simply not paying attention. The picture to the left is all too common these days, when it is popular to bitch and moan (it's called bully bluster) about how bad things are and how they are getting worse, instead of looking around for guidance for improvement.
There is a cultural fascination with failure being the source of great lessons to be learned. What did you learn? You learned what didn't work. Now you won’t make the same mistake twice, but you’re just as likely to make a different mistake next time. With that approach you could know what won’t work, but you not gaining any information about what will work. That’s not really the approach we need for increasing the probability of project success (PoPS).
How about we put our energy into studying how others have succeeded. What have others done right? What have others done that increased the probability of project success? What have others done to make it work? Has what they've done repeatable on our project?
Success gives use a basis for decision making that is actually actionable. Looking at all the mistakes reveals all the mistakes, but doesn't really provide any guidance other than don't do that again. When something succeeds, we know what worked – and we can do it again. And the next time, we'll probably do it even better.”
We all know the platitude of Everything is a learning experience. But it's just that a platitude.
But all learning is not equal. If your approach is to be the curmudgeon who points out all the failings in the past your going to spend your time with your head in the sand. Instead if you focus on the wins not the losses, the lessons you'll be learning well give you a better chance at continuing your success.
So what's a PM to do?
- Making the Impossible Possible - a case study of success
- Modelling Complex Projects - provides guidance for dealing with complexity
- Anti-Patterns in Project Management - while anti-patterns sound like "what went wrong," they are not. They a patterns to avoid and can be used to learn what to avoid, from the success of others.
This post was inspired by 37signals and Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson contribution as those Bully Bluster voices that take great delight in standing on the side lines pointing out the mistakes of others, while standing on the side lines, like Teddy Roosevelt's Man in the Ring, they want their voices heard without wanting to actually contribute.