What level of project failure is acceptable?

Business project management software promises executives and executives sophisticated dashboard reporting, providing all the information they need to ensure workforce success. However, I wonder if it is enough with a visible view of the project performance.

Earlier this year, project management expert and author Harvey Levine was asked, “We recently saw an up-tick in yellow and red projects among our portfolios. This has raised an interesting question. Is there any research that can tell us what the ideal blend of red / yellow / green is on a portfolio? ‘”

Harvey’s answer was what you would expect – and spot it. “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as an ideal mix. It’s like asking, ‘what level of failure is ideal?’ Is there a default level of failure? This is not a QA application. We are talking about project investment here. Failure of projects leads to failure in the company.

Yellow or red indicators that do not initiate any kind of action just do not make sense. When a stop light glows red, don’t you take the brakes? Harvey offers three suggestions for working with a dashboard system:

1. Set meaningful thresholds for the yellow and red alarms

2. Create standardized routines for reporting deficiencies and remediation

3. Look at trends as well as current data

Define what the warning lights mean and create a structured and appropriate response. For example, a yellow indicator for an individual task may be a greater cause of alarm than the same indicator for an entire project. However, a red indicator should induce immediate corrective action whether associated with a task or project.

The dashboard is not useful because of the visual indicators, but in how well these indicators initiate the actions required to withdraw an identified task or project on course.

Is failure an option?

I don’t think anyone would deny that Michael Jordan is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Did you know, though, that I missed something like 9000 shots, lost nearly 300 games, and took the winning shot 26 times – and missed out?

I occasionally receive a newsletter from OpenView Venture Partners, which included an interesting post this morning by Scott Maxwell, You Need to Fail More !. He suggests that our culture is “… stuck with the notion that we must plan and then act, and if there is a failure, then it was either a failure in planning or execution.”

I think it is a mistake to look at problem solving this way. So does Maxwell, who argues, “Most situations and all new situations are unpredictable, so the best approach is to get a quick deployment, identify the problems and opportunities, and then iterate again. Follow this iterative approach a few times and you will ultimately finding almost every problem and being able to perform at the best possible level. “

He suggests that most people would call this “failing multiple times”, but he considered it a success. So do I. Creative problem solving is rarely successful right out of the gate. Michael Jordan is a great example of someone who we universally accept as incredibly successful on the field – but even Michael wasn’t 100% successful 100% of the time.

Maxwell points us to this short Michael Jordan commercial for Nike to make his point. It is only approx. 30 seconds, but it’s worth a look. For most of us, project-based work includes the occasional failure. Regardless of your work management methodology or the project management tools you use, the difference between success and failure is our ability to learn from our mistakes and improve.

What do you do to ensure that mistakes become learning opportunities?