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IT leadership lessons you can learn from failure

Rich Hein | Jan. 7, 2014
Although you work tirelessly to prevent them, failures happen in IT. It's important that you discover the secret for turning mistakes into lessons you can use to become a more effective leader.

Set Up Processes Where Failures Are Examined and Learned From
Finding out why things went wrong is important and, of course, if there were blameworthy mistakes they should be handled, but the real purpose is not to find out who is at fault but instead to get to the heart of the problem, to find a solution, a workaround or a new direction.

"What you learn from [mistakes] is not to make that same mistake again. That is the net sum. This is the most difficult concept to let go of, especially if you are the one with the clipboard and or the one with the hammer," says Roy J West, founder and CEO of The Roy West Companies, an organization that focuses on talent management and employee/customer engagement.

Jetly likes to perform what is referred to a "sunset review" or "post mortem" report and offers the outline below on how this type of evolution typically goes. The designated meeting chair outlines the objective of the meeting and encourages everyone to share ideas without judging anyone else. Every team member is allocated pre-defined time to answer the following three questions:

  • What went well on the project?
  • What did not go well?
  • What could have been done differently?

Designated scribe takes notes and after everyone has shared their opinion, the meeting is open for discussions and analysis.

"Though this may seem like a stretch at times, these meetings provide valuable insight into how things really went during the course of project and hold a store of valuable lessons for the future," says Jetly.

Lombardi, on the other hand, offers this advice: "There's been a lot of progress in the past few years to combine iterative, testing-oriented methodologies like agile with the metrics-based approaches of online marketing. Formal methods such as lean startup and customer development are essentially a way to reinstate the scientific method back into our work, almost like we're reinstituting the practice of having R&D departments but in a more practical, customer-oriented way that's integrated with our normal project work. Using these methods, my recommendations center around distinguishing hypotheses from facts and knowing how to prioritize, test, and learn from your hypotheses."

Be an Effective Communicator and Know Your Workers
Communication skills are one of the most important skills an IT leader can have. Not communicating effectively has been the downfall of many an IT project. "Don Clifton, former chairman of The Gallup Organization and the father of strengths-based thinking, believed that fastest way to destroy someone was to demand or expect something of someone they are not capable of. Failure is predictive when the person(s) being charged with a task/mission does not have the talent to perform to success. It is also predictive when the Coach/Manager/Leader has not provided the desired outcome with great clarity and is not focusing on what the employee does best," says West.


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