Breaking the Cycle of Failure

After the firefights subside and a troubled project finally draws to a close, many organizations hold an inquiry into what went wrong. In theory, retrospectives help identify root causes so that subsequent projects can avoid repeating the same mistakes. In practice, despite the reviews, many organizations find they lurch from one troubled project and on to the next.

In many cases this failure to learn can be traced to the narrow perspective from which reviews are usually done. More often than not, reviews focus on what the project team did and didn’t do. While certainly mistakes are made at the project level, the danger in focusing solely on the actions of the project team is that we end up seeing symptomatic mistakes rather than their underlying causes.

Organizations that are trapped in a continual cycle of troubled projects are those that fail to see beyond symptoms. Where we treat symptoms rather than structural causes, the chance of future failure remains roughly the same.

The key to breaking the cycle lies in asking not only what the project team did and didn’t do, but also what the organization did and didn’t do. Ultimately people are the raw ingredients from which projects are wrought and the processes an organization uses for managing, training and developing their resources are likely to be the most significant contributor to a project’s outcome.

Organizations that have broken the cycle recognize that creating teams with the necessary skills is a management function. By focusing on hiring practices, training policies, the way they monitor performance and how they learn as a business, such organizations build the infrastructure needed for success.

Read the following article for a more detailed perspective on this posting – Intellectual Infrastructure