Want successful change? Define failure!

‘No one is using the system’

‘This is not working’

‘Everyone is facing issues’

‘This is not working’

‘We need to go back to the drawing board’

I am sure all of you have heard these statements before – typically after the euphoria of a new technology, solution, process settles down and it all starts to move towards the dreaded BAU !! Around this stage, you suddenly start getting (premature) judgements on your months worth of work. More often than not, someone in an influential position declares that ‘this just has not worked’.  Ever wondered why this almost always happens? Here is the answer – ‘We do not spend anytime defining what Failure looks like’

Projects often spend considerable time defining ‘what good looks like’. Everyone (in the project team) is keen to declare success and is even more keen to know how will success look like. While there is nothing wrong in that, here is an unintended consequence –‘Everything that does not look like success is failure!’

This obsession with ‘what good looks like’ creates an illusion of everything else being bad. We enter into a binary world where projects are either success or failure but nothing in-between. I doubt if the world that we live in is so binary. I think there are different degrees of success ( currently termed as failure) as well as failure and it is important that we acknowledge that.  As far as I am concerned, most of the so called failures are not failures at all. Those are just undefined stages of success. This is not to say that there are no absolute failures but those tend to be much less common.

While defining ‘good’ or ‘success’ we usually miss 2 key aspects

  • Journey – Typically projects define ‘what good looks like’ at the destination and the destination could typically be months and in some cases years away. I must clarity that I am not talking about project planning or execution. I am talking about success after the go-live. I am talking about change, adoption and ultimately business benefits. These are typically defined in terms of the destination which is the ‘BAU’. Most of the projects, do not define what success will look like on the journey to BAU. How will things look like 3 months from Go-Live and then how will things look like 6 months from Go-Live and so on..  This makes destination our only reference point and it usually results in the feeling of defeat, despair and desperation!
  • Context – For me success or failure is usually is a function of context. Something that is viewed as a success in one environment might be a out right failure in another. The second issue with the practice of ‘what good looks like’ is that it is usually without the context or is meant only for a single context. For defining success, I would love to see a scenario analysis. We all know the risks and sure we all have plans to manage risk . What we don’t have is – if this risk materialises how does our definition of ‘good’ changes?  I am sure all of you will agree that if we have defined our success without context, we will always view it as a failure if the context changes. Context definitely impacts outputs so it should impact expectations too!

If you want successful change then here is how I suggest you define ‘what good looks like’

  • Have multiple definitions of ‘good’ for different checkpoints after go-live
  • Have multiple definitions of ‘good’ for different scenarios based on your risk register

Your ‘what good looks like’ definition should help you answer this one question – ‘Am I close to where I would be given the circumstances?’. If you are close, then it is not a failure. It is just taking you one step closer to success!

 

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