Burning pancakes: learning from failures

I burned my pancakes this morning. Throwing them and the dough takes a second. What I would have missed by doing that is getting to know the new electric appliance and the time it takes to heat, the optimum heat my new pan can handle, the time needed to bring my new pancake thick dough to a beautiful golden. All these observed and analysed, my next pancakes have all the chances to be just the way i like them. Anyway, “what do burned pancakes have to do with project management?” I can hear you asking.

They reminded me of John’s experience, who was in charge of launching a new product for the clients of a bank he worked for. On 1 September, all bank’s banches were expected to open their doors at 9am with “Dear clients, as of today, we are pleased to offer this new service”. John was put in charge of a ten people team to make that happen.

It took time for their managers to designate them (remember the time my stove needed to heat?).

The IT and marketing guys did not see eye to eye (kind of the same “heated” relationship between my pot and stove).

Branches were undergoing internal restructuring so any new demand on their resources produced the effect the overheated pan produced on my thick dough.

On the set date, the product was launched by several branches only – a partial success. To roll it over through the entire network, John introduced a call center and a feedback form for all branches to signal anything they needed the project team’s intervention on.

He did not have the luxury of changing team members – ingredients remained the same. Yet, the relationships temperature changed through the call center and the feedback form, which depersonalised the demand for inputs and made it client-driven.

So, careful on dismissing an output or trashing a failed product. Perhaps, it is needed. But not so fast. A project manager needs to make sure it will not deprive him/her and the team of valuable learning experiences.

I believe that mistakes and failures are great teachers. The way you treat a teacher is a choice. The way one looks at failures is a choice. I put on my sun glasses of French origin and I see “allure” in the word “failure”. I ate my pancakes and John managed well his project. With allure.

There are plenty of sources on the psychology of failure, take this for a start http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20160316-the-hidden-psychology-of-failure


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