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  • Writer's pictureMichael McClanahan

Failing Fast Leads to Success

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” - C.S. Lewis

What would happen if expecting to fail was an integral part of the process? Instead of planning and predicting all of the potential outcomes and taking the “alleged” path of least resistance, the entrepreneur embarks on a course that accepts the consequences of failure. This course may cause a little bit of consternation, but failing fast allows the entrepreneur the ability to get across the minefield of change at a rapid pace, change direction when the need arises, and remain fully intact at the end of the journey. Failing fast is a core tenet of successfully executing a digital agenda.

Failing fast is not about some reckless behavior and a license to aimlessly move forward; rather, it is a common sense approach to drive unabashedly to the target objectives and expose the potential deal breakers as they begin to manifest and fix the problem as early and as often as necessary. This methodology can also eliminate Groupthink phenomena whereas a group decides on an approach which lacks any critical reasoning and forces each individual in the group to conform to the status quo. Failing fast places the team and individuals out front in the driver’s seat and removes the burden of detailed planning analysis to determine the best course of action in the here and now and not on here say and innuendo. What is the right balance of detailed planning vs. executing proactively?

Probably the easiest way to recognize you are going into analysis paralysis is to assess the degree of action against the degree of planning intended outcomes for a particular action. If you (or your team) is (are) spending time trying to estimate effort against potential events that may arise and developing detailed mitigation plans in anticipation of what might occur during execution of the proposed tasks to complete the work that should raise a red flag. The successful plan comes from spending time and energy parsing the tasks and prioritizing them based on importance and relevance it has to the rest of the tasks to be accomplished and boxing them into outcomes for the designated time period to get them accomplished. Accomplishing tasks, prioritizing backlogs, and grooming backlogs need to replace detailed risk definition analysis, planning, mitigation, and aligning potential risk tasks to the overall execution.

An entrepreneur needs to focus on the tasks and what tasks are the most important and have the highest degree of priority to support the definition of done. The team should also recognize the potential risk involved with accomplishing the set of tasks, but not paralyze themselves to the point on spending more time trying to figure out how to prevent something from happening on things that has not happened yet or have the potential to occur thus creating imaginary preventive tasks just in case. Take calculated risks and use that time to groom the backlog, anticipate the next steps in the execution process, and share lessons learned amongst each other as an integral function of the execution phase.

Some may be thinking that this is modeled after the agile software development execution process used in the IT world. Well, they would be right! This approach is just as relevant to successful agile business planning and execution for individuals and teams as it is to the IT software development world. In fact, the approach should consist of having short and concise daily stand up meetings that focus on three elements: What has been accomplished over the last 24 hours, what is planned for the next 24 hours, and what impediments are in the way to accomplishing the tasks that need to be removed. It’s also a time to briefly and concisely reflect on and share lessons learned for the benefit of the rest of the team members to leverage and use in their execution moving forward.

Even if delivering a business execution plan is a team of one, it is critical to set aside at least 15 to 30 minutes each day to implement this approach and recognize its inherent value at moving at a rapid pace and eliminating the needless time assessing the situation and burning the intended budget on mitigation of hypothetical outcomes that may never arise. Ultimately, failing fast is about proactively doing and reacting to obstacles as they arise in the execution process. Success is not measured on what it can do, but on what has been done to meet the intended outcomes. Avoid the hazards of the waterfall and paddle against the current by becoming action oriented through common sense execution and using failure as one of your critical success factors to completion.

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