What You Can Learn from Failure
What You Can Learn from Failure

What Can You Learn from This Year’s Failures to Make Better Plans for Next Year?

7 min read

As we quickly approach the end of the year, companies are beginning to celebrate their successes from this year and make plans for the new year. While these two activities are important, they are most effective when paired with an activity that is commonly left out: analyzing this year’s failures. While people are often uncomfortable associating themselves with failure, it would be a huge mistake to try and move your company forward without evaluating shortcomings. When you take the time to learn from your mistakes, you can prepare yourself (and your company) to overcome these challenges and make even more powerful plans. Whether you have completed your 2020 plans or just started thinking about the new year, take a moment to think about what you can learn from this year’s missteps to make even better plans.

How to Harness Your Failures

Our culture has a powerful fear of failure, which is understandable. However, if you are going to learn from your failures, you will need to embrace your fears and think of failure in new ways. Here are four approaches to thinking about failure that can lead to productive ideas and changes.

#1 – Be honest and realistic about failure

Admitting that something has failed is a difficult pill to swallow, but you won’t learn anything if you don’t acknowledge it. Look back at this year without judgment and ask yourself, what went well and what didn’t? The adage, “honesty is the best policy” rings true here. The more honest you are, the better you can equip yourself to overcome similar obstacles in the future. Also, be sure to use specificity when thinking about shortcomings. 

#2 – Take responsibility for shortcomings

Acknowledging that something didn’t work is hard, and taking responsibility for it is even more challenging, if not downright unpleasant. Because of this, people are tempted to attribute failure to self-serving causes, i.e., the market wasn’t ready for my product or users just weren’t smart enough to see the value of my product. As tempting as it might be to shirk responsibility, it will only hinder success going forward. When you take responsibility for failure, it can empower and motivate you to do better in the future.

#3 – You are not defined by failure

People often think of failure as a label they can’t get rid of, but the reality is that failure only controls you if you let it. We are often our harshest critics, but remember that this criticism can cripple creativity, innovation, and growth. 

#4 – Play to win

Most companies don’t actually play to win; they play to avoid loss. Don’t let your discomfort with failure keep you from taking the risks you need to move your company forward.

A Year in Review

2019 Project Portfolio in Review

Now that you know how to address and treat failure, let’s look at a few common shortcomings you may have experienced this year. To be clear, some failures might be completely out of your control or unavoidable. Maybe extreme weather prevented you from finishing a construction project on time or maybe a crucial employee suffered an injury that kept them out of work for a long time. These types of failures just have to be taken in stride. However, many failures are consequences of how your company plans (or fails to plan). Luckily, these types of failures can easily be overcome with a little work. 

You Didn’t Make A Solid Plan

This seems obvious, but many companies don’t make good plans. This makes it difficult for project managers to understand basic project needs like budget, resource utilization and priority. Maybe your project managers didn’t understand how important a project was, so they didn’t start the project until after they finished less important ones. Or maybe one project manager took all the available resources without realizing that resources were needed elsewhere. The bottom line is that without a codified, realistic and specific plan, employees are left guessing about which projects to execute and how to go about executing them (and most of the time their guesses are just that – guesses!).

Before making your plan for next year, take the time to ask your project managers what information they could have used to better execute and avoid delays, excessive budgets and uncompleted projects. Then make sure you include the necessary data for next year’s projects in your 2020 plan.

You Had A Plan But Didn’t Adapt It

You might have had a detailed and specific plan that was expertly communicated to your project managers, but that doesn’t instantly mean success. Markets fluctuate and businesses are dynamic. This means that your plans need to be flexible too. Your business needs and priorities may have changed during the year and if you didn’t adapt your plan to these changes, you likely missed out on opportunities or downright failed to deliver. 

If your plans were far too rigid this year, try building flexibility into your 2020 plan. Give yourself time, resources and budgets to experiment with new product features or markets. Also, have an understanding that the beautiful plans you spent so much time creating could be thrown out the window at the drop of a hat. This may seem hard but being able to adapt could be what makes or breaks your company. 

You Didn’t Prepare for Project Execution

A good plan and a little flexibility can take you a long way, but many companies fall flat in project execution because they didn’t take the initial steps needed to get a project off the ground and running on schedule. This often occurs when companies don’t fulfill the hiring they committed to in their plans or they didn’t complete the required dependencies for certain projects to continue.

Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the setup of a project. If you went through the effort of identifying project needs, do yourself the favor of actually fulfilling them. Commit to hiring more employees, finishing interdependent projects, and whatever else is needed for project success.

You Didn’t Identify a Problem Until It Was Too Late

It is natural for issues to arise in all businesses as you execute plans. The key is to identify these problems early, so you can correct them before they do too much damage to your business. However, it’s easy to get so caught up in work that even the most obvious obstacles go unnoticed. This can be devastating for successfully executing plans.

To improve your ability to quickly identify problems, plan to review your project portfolio at regular intervals, and give your project managers a process for escalating issues. When there are clear channels to review and address issues on the horizon, you can make sure you equip yourself to handle them before they get out of control.

Using This Year’s Failures to Make Better Plans

If thinking about and analyzing your failure this year has left you disheartened, don’t be. We can harness our failures and the lessons we have learned from them to better set ourselves up for success. If you’ve already made your 2020 plan, take some time to review it with the fresh perspective of learning from your failures, or if you haven’t started, keep your shortcomings top of mind when planning how to move forward next year. With a little effort and a bit of good luck, you can make next year prosperous.

Meisterplan and Lean PPM™ can help you Make Plans That Work by providing a framework and a tool for project portfolio management. Meisterplan is a resource management and project portfolio management software that lets you build portfolios with the right people working on the most important projects at the best possible time. Our Lean PPM™ framework outlines all the meetings and roles your organization needs to successfully manage your portfolio. To learn more about Meisterplan and Lean PPM™, contact us today to schedule a demo or start a free trial. 

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