Banking

The taboo of failure

The taboo of failure causes many organizations to treat failure as a happenstance event rather than a planned, sequential choreography.

This is a guest post from Michael Krigsman of TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet. You can follow Michael on his ZDNet blog IT Project Failures, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Business transformation initiatives that fail to accomplish key objectives generally suffer from two problems:

  1. The failed projects do not achieve whatever plans the organization anticipated. This is obvious.
  2. However, these projects also waste time, money, resources, drain morale, and generally contribute negatively to the organization and its people. Recriminations and lack of consensus come about when an organization does not know how to fail gracefully.

Since failure is a taboo subject of discussion in modern business, it's no surprise that graceful endings are decidedly uncommon. Since this taboo is a function of human interaction in collaborative environments (ie: business and government), the problem is widespread.

Addressing a London audience in July 2008, then Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, spoke directly about this issue. Although his comments refer to financial markets, they are completely applicable to the IT failures we see everywhere. The New York Times quotes Paulson:

To address the perception that some institutions are too big to fail, we must improve the tools at our disposal for facilitating the orderly failure of a large, complex financial institution."

We need to create a resolution process that ensures the financial system can withstand the failure of a large complex financial firm.

Parse the language and quickly translate to IT:

To address the perception that some institutions projects are too big to fail, we must improve the tools at our disposal for facilitating the orderly failure of a large, complex financial institution business initiatives."

We need to create a resolution process that ensures the financial system business projects can withstand the failure of a large complex financial firm IT initiatives.

My take. The taboo of failure causes many organizations to treat failure as a happenstance event rather than a planned, sequential choreography. Unfortunately, fear of failure results in unnecessary waste as organizations spend time and resources on unsuccessful attempts to avoid dealing head-on with problems.

How can we eliminate the taboo against discussing failure? Share your experience in the comments.

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