Do we really learn from failure

I came a cross a useful Blog about learning from failures. This Blog, written by Allan Kelly is really good and I have printed the first part of it here:

Its an often heard expression: “We learn from our failures”. Particularly when you’ve just failed at something: “Well put it down to experience.”

I’ve always had my doubts: if we can learn from failure can’t we also learn from success? But how often do you hear people say: “Great success! Now what did you learn?”

All too often we don’t stop, examine our failures, take time to reflect and actually do the learning from them. We’ve failed, failure is painful, we want to put that behind us, forget about it. Maybe we could make time but do we really want to? Who wants to dwell on what has gone wrong? Naturally, after a failure we are defensive, and when we are defensive our learning process aren’t at their most effective.

In the IT world failure isn’t an absolute. Its not like a football match, one side goes home knowing they scored more goals than the other and therefore “won.”

If an IT project delivers late is it automatically a failure? What if it succeeds in the other goals?
What if it is late, and costs more, but delivers more value to the business?

I often tell story I found when I was writing my MBA dissertation. For this project I interviewed a variety of software developers about past projects, one guys, lets call him Paul (because that’s his name), he said: ‘The project was a great success’

He went on to describe how the technology was good, the product did what the customer wanted and everyone was pleased with the outcome. Then I said: ‘You say the project was a success, but before that you said it took 12 months to complete, and how it was originally estimated to take 3 months. Some people would say a project that was nine months late on a three month schedule was a failure’

To which he replied: ‘I never thought of it like that’

Failure is ambiguous. So how do we know when and what to learn?

The whole blog can be seen here.

I’m really surprised that the accountants have not linked into project learning for cost and time reductions. Imagine that a project that does over-run and a formal review of learning that showed that the project has cost an extra 30% because of poor project management!! I’m even more surprised that senior managers can allow so many projects to go through without examining what was learnt.

As a previous blog asked: when will they ever learn? 

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