I ended the last series on Critical Conversations about CAD  with some quick advice on what to do when you fail. I wanted to revisit that topic and provide some additional comments on learning from failure. When failure happens you have to review how you got in that position. How could things have gone so bad? What can we do to avoid this from happening again?
Reevaluate what really happened. Do not just take the surface and obvious items that everyone can see. Look deeper. The obvious things might be key to finding root causes, but some things might lay just under the surface. Uncover more than you may have done in the past. Review the obvious and peel back each step to see if the failure was a gradual decline or a sudden fall. Did each step work as expected? Did the result of each step completely meet expectations? If not – Why not? You have to keep asking “why?” Why did this happen? Why did we not see this? Why did it not work?
Rethink what you might have done. What might you have done at each step that would have improved the outcome? If we applied more resources, what would have happened? If we had more budget would it really have mattered? Throwing money at a problem does not guarantee success. If we had another team member in the mix we could we have made better progress?
Get input from others. Specifically, someone that was not involved with the planning and execution. Some items may be obvious to others and seem hidden from your sight. Others may see it immediately while you may have to look beyond your preconceived perspectives.
Think about what you will do differently next time – then actually do it. Do not only devise or speculate on what you might change in the future… actually change something. Doing things the same way and expecting things to come out differently is pure folly. Manage the change so that you know that what was changed actually impacted the outcome. Too often we change too many things at the same time and never discover which ones had the greatest effect.
Don’t do nothing. Doing nothing only permits anyone to grab at what might have caused the failure and what might turn it into success. There is an inability built into each one of us to see beyond our immediate perception. We need to see beyond our original planning and seek to do better next time through specific modifications in our approach.
Don’t come to a conclusion too quickly. Some may ask “how long do we analyze this failure before we move on?” You should ponder your failures as long as it takes. Seem subjective? it is. Do not move forward until you have at least three actionable reasons for the failure. Don’t move after the first one you find. Don’t move on until you have specific actionable items to work on. Straining to find more than three can stagnate and frustrate. Three items seems like a good start.