In my career, I have seen plenty of projects fail. The reasons for failure are as diverse as the criteria for failure. I’ve written other blog posts on this topic.
Most people get really apprehensive when you talk about failure. It is a rather foreboding topic. So, it might seem misplaced to talk about planning your failures. People think you should be planning successes instead of failures. What kind of crappy plan am I talking about? Try this one on: Planning failure is the best way to face it and get some value from it.
The real problem with failure, is when it takes you by surprise. When you are not expecting failure, you are going to be deeply challenged to manage it. I’m sure you would acknowledge that with nearly every project that fails, plenty of people could see it coming. There are warning signs and red flags from the start. Anyone with experience is going to recognize that something is wrong. The optimists on your team begin looking up recipes for making lemonade, and your pessimists start to pack their bags or brace for impact.
The value that is often overlooked from failure is this:
You can learn more from you failures than from your successes.
I’m sure you have heard that saying before. The reason that can you learn more from failure, is because you can gain the experience of 1) how to fix a mistake (and hopefully) 2) how to avoid/prevent it altogether. People who are never presented with such opportunities, will dive headfirst into some pretty treacherous waters without a worry in the world. When they are surrounded by crocodiles, they find they are unprepared.
In contrast, people with a lot of life experience will have a pretty good idea about what is under the surface and what skills will be needed to deal with the dangers below. They may have even acquired some training for fighting crocs and maybe packed a pocket knife or a harpoon gun or 12 gauge or something.
So, where does a person acquire such wisdom and skill for dealing with these dangers? Often, those lessons are learned the hard way, from their own mistakes, or maybe (hopefully) from the mistakes of others. Still, if you don’t have those opportunities in your life, it will be hard to gain them. A person can’t just ask his employer for permission to generate random chaos and mayhem, with the intent to learn from it and build some skills. Right?
The answer is “sort-of”(yes). To some degree, learning on the job, is expected. The key is, to keep the chaos contained and manageable. You don’t want to share your chaos with anyone else. You especially don’t want to surprise people with one of your experiments. Bottom line: it is highly advisable that you don’t try to learn on your production environment. You need a test or dev area for trying some ideas that you expect might fail. Virtual Machines are perfect for this sort of crash-test-dummy work.
Also, keep in mind that your education is not the primary concern of your employer. It really benefits you long-term. So you need to be willing to put-in a bigger investment than your employer. Even if your employer has a commitment to your learning and improvement, don’t take such generosity for granted. Take it seriously and make it clear that you also value such a gesture, by applying yourself.
So, plan your failures, plan to learn from them, plan to not inconvenience others with them. Once you subscribe to this philosophy, you will find that you can learn some remarkable things and become very resourceful. It is the kind of value that will take you places, at work and in life.