The key to success is failure.
There is much truth in that statement. It is also like a prism which can be perceived differently from many different angles. One angle is to say that, the difference between a successful person and an unsuccessful one is that the successful person tried again while the other person gave up.
But I do not want to talk about how everyone fails and victory comes after, if you persevere. I want to tell you that failure can earn you more than some successes.
Integrity and Transparency
Before we can get to failure, we must talk about capability. We often do not follow through on the goals that we make for ourselves. Commitments, however, have more success because external pressure gets created or forced upon us. That pressure helps fill the gaps in our motivation. More common than completed commitments are, missed deadlines or incomplete / low quality deliverables. Why do we fail to meet our commitments so often?
I have found that when we put in honest effort, the most common reason for failure is because we were not ever capable of delivering on-time to begin with. We lie to ourselves by ignoring factors which will slow us down. We lie to ourselves by not basing level of effort estimates on facts. We do not estimate, we guess.
After lying to ourselves, we carry forward by making a commitment, effectively lying to others. I have not met many people who agree with me that this is a lack of integrity but I maintain that it is. The only way to be honest with others is to be honest with ourselves. Learning this and building the discipline to only base estimates, such as LOEs, on facts is the first step to delivering on commitments, on-time.
The next step is to be transparent about the realities which affect your goals. Declaring that something cannot be completed in a certain period or that it cannot be completed with the resources at hand can be just as difficult as declaring that you do not know when you can deliver.
The admission of ignorance or incapability are both challenging because they often meet opposition. This should sound odd because we are talking about acknowledging a reality, being honest about the truth. However, others do not typically accept the realities as we see them. Instead, we are faced with negotiation strategies. As if our limitations are things to be negotiated. One challenge is when we face someone who demands a commitment simply because they need us to deliver. What is important to understand is that their need does not have any impact on reality. Their need is not a good enough reason for us to agree. The fact that they need something and the fact that we cannot deliver it are not mutually exclusive. Another challenge is when this person attempts to negotiate something down. Using a level of effort estimate as an example again, they will try to negotiate the LOE, not by modifying meaningful factors such as scope or number of human resources, by extending the conversational conflict until we agree to a new LOE. Any agreement in these scenarios is no better than us sacrificing our integrity by lying to their face. A happy lie, but a lie nonetheless.
Failure and Respect
Now we are committed. Committed or not, we estimated, we did not and do not know that we will succeed. So, we fail.
We need to analyze the project, task, or goal. We need to identify all the areas where we could have made improvements. Us. Not our team members. Not other teams. Us. Then, we need to announce our failures. How to do this is not of any importance. The only condition is that, while announcing our failures, we must not make excuses, back-peddle, or dither. It must be earnest. Half-heartedly accepting failure is worse than remaining silent.
Our analysis exposes lessons and we can learn from to improve for our next attempt at success. But, I said that I did not want to talk to you about failure leading to future success. Immediately after publicly embracing failure we are typically forgiven faster than anyone would have ever expected. This is because people care less about who is to blame and more about whether they need to fear it happening again. The wrong questions are asked. Even root cause analysis is not about root cause, it is about what actions can be taken to prevent failure or improve the likelihood of success for next time. Admitting failure puts you on the fast track to declaring a set of lessons learned which are also not the point. The actions we take because of those lessons are the point.
Forgiveness is given readily when trust, that the problem is or will be solved, exists. Everyone wants to move forward. Not only does our declaration of failure aid in building this trust but so does our previous actions of defending reality against those whom we ended up committing to. Integrity is self-supporting. At this point we have earned respect and that respect is success. I have been in multiple situations in my life where I gained more from handling a failure well than I would have from succeeding.
By using transparency, integrity, and failure to build respect and trust, we now have power. We have earned intangible benefits without achieving what we set out to achieve. Use the power as you will but, whatever you do, continue to let it grow. Follow the framework of failure and, as I said, your integrity will be self-supporting and your respect and power will not just maintain, they will also grow.