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Who’s afraid of project failure?

Adeline Teoh ed.
October 21, 2013

In case you missed it, Sunday 13 October was the International Day for Failure. While I didn’t burn my pancakes at breakfast, I certainly felt obliged to commemorate all those pancakes I burnt in the process of learning to make pancakes. And that’s what it’s all about.

In Silicon Valley, that magnet for technology startups and the venture capitalists that fund them, an interesting process of scrutiny takes place when a business pitches for investment capital. You see, it turns out that investors are a little wary of first-timers. Of course, they like seeing a track record of success. But most interesting of all is that they prefer it if you’ve tried and failed. Why? Failure is a great teacher and any lesson that the venture capitalist doesn’t have to pay for is a good lesson.

I wish this were the case in Australia. The market here is cautious at best and there seems to be few brownie points for having a failed business behind you. The project world is no different with all the hand wringing about project failure. But has any organisation really embraced the concept that failing could be good?

Look, I understand. No one wants to have a failure (especially an expensive one) on their hands. It may mean it can be hard to find project sponsorship and funding the next time around. But if all involved have taken the lessons on offer from the failure or, even better, have found a solution along the way, it isn’t a complete loss.

The International Day for Failure started in Finland a few years ago as a way to encourage people to be transparent about failure, embrace it, own it, learn from it and move on. Why is it taking so long for organisations to learn what Silicon Valley already knows?

P.S: I’ve been reading about agile practices which encourages the team to fail early to nip bigger problems in the bud. Have you seen this work?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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2 thoughts on “Who’s afraid of project failure?

  1. What’s your thought on documenting failures for your future investors. We might remember the big mistakes like when I melted the spatula to the pan but over time we may forget some of the smaller mistakes, like not having all the ingredients, that culminated to a large failure.

    1. I think mistakes should be part of the risk register as an issue and communicated at the end of the project as best practice knowledge management. This at least indicates that you recognise the mistake and have taken some steps to learn from it.

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