Failing Faster

Who doesn’t appreciate a good alliteration? The concept of “fail faster” seems to be popping up all over recently. Generally speaking, I think this is a good thing. What is missing, perhaps, is the add-on: succeed sooner.

There’s really nothing new about this, of course, but it’s always worth remembering that you can’t know the future absolutely. Strategy – according to Kaplan and Norton – is a set of hypotheses of cause and effect. This hypothetical part is worth exploring.

Cause and effect

Just try

Before you begin to set in motion a series of actions – a project which may fail or succeed, faster or slower, sooner or later – you already have in mind some kind of outcome – the effect – that you’re aiming for. It could be a financial one, a stakeholder one, a process one, a people one. With that in mind, there are going to be a range of causes that may or may not result in that effect.

With a vision in place, you can set objectives. Along with those objectives, you can establish measures of success (measures of failure?) with associated targets, to help guide the actions/initiatives.

Supporting the why/what/how, you’ll now determine who/when/where – very tactical things. These will surely send early project signals as to whether the ongoing status is trucking along or cause for concern.

Research and development (R&D) is well-understood to be something that the economy and society relies on for health. By its very nature, there are going to be lots of failing opportunities in relation to rather fewer successes. However, there aren’t going to be many people actively shutting down the notion of R&D activities. Indeed, there are tax advantages given to those who undertake them. Innovation tends to trigger prosperity. Nobel prizes are given out for them.

So, failing faster is really just a current colloquialism for the same thing. In the end, though, all it’s saying is: try. If it doesn’t work out, you’ve probably learned either a lot of good things for the next attempt or a decision to focus on something else. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. As in the attached photo, perhaps you learned that leaving onions to caramelize too long results in scorching; not tasty.

Of course, the speed at which “faster” is determined should be tied to the measurements set in place and a regular review of milestones. Also, the measurements set in place may themselves have been wrong, and can be corrected if required. As long as clearheaded decisions are being made – while reserving the right to be wrong – there can be very little risk with failing faster, in order to succeed sooner.

This year, give it a shot.

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