Being Open To Failure

One of the principles underlying the Agile approach is to fail fast and often, so that we can reduce the time wasted on things that ultimately will never work and invest scarce resources in an already-tested approach.  To allow this to happen in a team environment, we need to be open to failure.

In my opinion, being open to failure is more about what we value (openness, transparency, collaboration and outcomes over process) than whether something is done ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

To quote from the Prime Directive (see http://www.retrospectives.com/pages/retroPrimeDirective.html): “… we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could…”

If this is truly our belief, and people are indeed doing the best they can with the information and skills that they have, the notion of failure moves from being an end-state to a step in the journey (whether the journey of ‘getting something done’, or the personal journey of growth / skills development ‘ etc.).

Failing fast to me also means learning quickly. If we try something to prove a hypothesis and it doesn’t work, this is the scientific method in action – we should celebrate that! To quote Albert Einstein: ‘You never fail until you stop trying.’

There is also another quote attributable to Einstein which is appropriate here: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” The goal is to create value (for the organisation), not to be a successful person (a by-product of that endeavour).

Being open about failure allows us to focus on doing the right thing (and getting the right outcome), rather than focusing on trying to do things ‘right’.

© Eric Jansen 2011. All rights reserved.