Council Post: Tech Leader Strategies to Learn from Failure


Steve Taplin Sonata Pie TechnologyWe offer experienced offshore software developers and engineers.

Leaders responsible for overseeing digital transformation projects in any company face a myriad of challenges to overcome. They need to set a vision and get everyone involved. CIOs must specifically manage budgets, talent, processes and data, and respond to competition. Many things can go wrong and mistakes are not uncommon. But leaders agree that failure can be an opportunity to learn.

Organizations spend hours reviewing past projects to find areas for improvement. They look at customer reviews, project notes, and employee feedback for clues to improve. However, often such efforts do not lead to meaningful improvements.

According to Professor Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School, organizations are misconceptions about failure. Edmondson provides a model for classifying failures. She offers three categories: preventable, complexity-related and intelligent.

classification failure

Leaders overseeing technology projects should anticipate each of these types of failure. This awareness helps leaders respond effectively to mistakes. This is because not all mistakes require reproof or assignment of responsibility.

Preventable failures occur when employees deviate from instructions. The best way to avoid preventable failures is to get regular training. However, a culture of hard work makes employees conscientious about their work. Today’s tech leaders not only need technical skills, they also need the ability to inspire people to work in a particular style.

Complexity-related failures are common in situations where employees are dealing with unique situations. Consider, for example, a software development project in a jurisdiction that does not have strong data laws. When new laws come into force suddenly, tech companies can clashed with authorities multiple times as they adapt to the changes.

Complexity-related errors are best avoided by adopting industry and company best practices that help employees make informed decisions. Organizations must make the failures associated with each complexity a learning moment, and ensure that their employees learn from these failures.

Intelligent failure is the result of a team trying to innovate. Every company’s digital transformation path is fraught with uncertainty. Technology advances rapidly and it’s not always clear how it will or won’t affect your business. Failure can arise from experimenting with new technologies, strategies and products, or attempting to reach new markets. Organizations must strive to make intelligent failures quickly without jeopardizing their financial position.

Creating a culture of learning from failure

What you can learn from failure is highly dependent on culture. Organizations undergoing digital transformation must be bold in trying new ways. Employees need confidence that the organization will not punish them for innovation attempts.

One way to instill a culture of learning is to create systems that reward innovation. Linking rewards for effort, not results, can help free people from their fear of failure. The second way is to discuss failure differently than most organizations do. Instead of asking “who did this?” when investigating failures, we should pay attention to “what happened?” People are much more comfortable reviewing the case without pointing a gun at them.

Language has a powerful influence on culture. Leaders who admit their shortcomings are more likely to make people more comfortable experimenting. People need psychological stability before admitting their mistakes. Leaders create this space by being human and embracing their mistakes.

Digital Transformation Project Planning

Successful digital transformation projects are the product of careful planning and execution. In many cases, existing systems and their weaknesses need to be reviewed. During this review, we can classify the shortcomings as seen above.

The transition process also has its own challenges. Some can be prevented through employee training and manual reference. But others require more than training. People develop good decision-making skills by adopting best practices and studying business cases. When making important strategic decisions, internal collaboration can help minimize mistakes.

Finally, consider working with a consultant who has previously handled large-scale technology projects and can plan the challenges and avoid mistakes. For example, if you are planning a major digital transformation project, you can get help by contacting a US-based consulting firm that understands the complexities of your local business environment.


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