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Failure Resume

Falure has a bad name, generally discussing these events are resisted, we work hard to avoid failure and subsequent discussions. Avoiding talking about or sharing these failures is not benefical for the individual, the department or the company. A company that has a culture that encourages hiding these less than stellar performances or spinning the results, obfuscating any learning. It is important to refer to these events as what they are; if it is a failure, we should not delude ourselves into believing the results are something they are not.

Not sharing failures means those failures will come back to haunt other team members (or even the same team members), as they must learn about this failure by actually failing again. There is an agile saying: fail fast and fail often. This agile saying is used to encourage reacting to failure in a different way. Specifically, there should be no fear of failure; do not cover up the failure, but broadcast the failure so all can learn. However, taken to the extreme we may have a negative impact on the corporate culture.

Perhaps given the potential negative impact on the organization’s culture, a different approach is required. An approach that recognizes failing is not likely terminal, and certainly not the sort of thing of which we should be ashamed. Rather than focus on failing in the form of a saying that can infer our goal is to fail and fail often, we can drive the culture to look at failure as one of the steps toward learning.

A Smith College initiative called Failing Well is one of a crop of university programs that aims to help high achievers cope with the inevitable setbacks. Smith students were asked to create a “failure resume” — something any of us could do by jotting down a few setbacks, and any lessons learned — and then sharing it with others who have done the same thing.”

Analyzing past failures is not an academic exercise. Recognize that failures can have a negative impact on future work undertaken, including motivation. This initiative brings the failures into the light of day. We are compelled to talk about failures and thus reduce and perhaps remove any stigma that may be associated with failure. To paraphrase the old motorcyclist saying: there are two kinds of people, those that have failed, and those that will fail. Bringing these potential failures (and not be afraid to explore) to the surface this part of the work helps people and the organization grow.


Pre-mortems may sound like a peculiar way of thinking or approaching learning. We are perhaps familiar with the post-mortem. This is what happens after a death event. Post-mortems are used to ascertain the cause or causes of the death. The pre- mortem is used at the beginning of the project in an effort to draw the experiencs of the team to consider what will fail and how it can fail. To be successful, the team members need to be able to speak freely, to voice those things to which our project and organization may be subjected. How can our project fail? What will be the precipitating factors that will push the project into this failure mode? Thinking about this is thinking about the future and exploring what may happen in advance. The team will need to know the scope and the direction in which the project intends to take to achieve the project objectives. A diversity of thought is required to get a multiplicity of perspectives. At the end of this work, the team will have created a list of things that can go wrong within the project and perhaps rank the failures in terms of severity and probability of occurrence.

Tlie pre-mortem brings these possible future failures to the entire team into discussion, learning each other’s perspective those things that may go wrong. The results of which can help drive the actions to explore the probability of failure and [1]

perhaps alternative approaches or solutions to these areas of potential failure. Where there may be uncertainty regarding the risks or failure modes, for example, the input may be opinion or perspective related and not necessarily experiential, the team may devise experiments to determine the validity. Some of these risks can be avoided by altering the scope, strategies, and tactics that the project intends to undertake to achieve the project objectives.

Thought Experiments

You may have heard about thought experiments. These were made famous by Albert Einstein, and his exploration on relativity and the properties of light. He used thought experiments to explore the nature of things like time and light. These experiments provide input for further exploration to draw more substantial conclusions. This may manifest as process and product experimentation.

Discussion Boards

Discussion boards are a very inexpensive method for sharing what is known, and these are generally well understood. If you are into racing or automotive parts, you will see many discussion boards or forums on vehicle configurations to improve the speed or performance. The discussion boards are maintained perhaps by those communites of practice, where those who are having difficulty with some specific issue can post questions to the experts, connecting specific application needs with individuals who have greater experience in that area. For example, perhaps we want to know what level of configuration management should be applied to a project that is much different than our past work. We can pose questions to this group, and get their input on the best manner to proceed. Sure, we could easily walk up to the

Tools like Hot Potatoes can help with developing games to encourage learning and even assess what the student has learned

Figure 7.5 Tools like Hot Potatoes can help with developing games to encourage learning and even assess what the student has learned.

group and ask the question, but then this becomes a one on one event. That is not necessarily bad, but posting the question and responses via the discussion board now has made this experience known to anybody who would go to the discussion board seeking answers to this particular condition.

Gamification of Learning

Learning happens in many ways, and gamification is one of those things that is used to encourage the investment in time by the individual. We have used games in teaching classes, both in classrooms as well as in virtual class settings. The graphic above was made with Hot Potatoes. The tool can be found at https://hotpot.uvic. ca, though this is not the only tool available (by the way we are not connected with the tool or the developing organization). Another tool we have explored is Quandry2, which is a decision based tool found at http://www.halfbakedsoftivare. com/quandary.php. This tool allows the student to explore sequences of events. The generator identifies the ideal sequence of events that are based upon some principles articulated to the student. The student then applies these principles to unlock the ideal sequence of events. This can go for multiple rounds. This site contains some examples:

We have connections in business and at universities, and we have noticed that there are many organizations applying gamification to learning within the organization, to the point of developing specialized games on specific topics that the organization assesses to be instrumental for the success of the company. This is different than using tools produced by a third party. Gaming learning taps into the playing side of the individual which is different than the work or learning in the historical studying of a subject. This can also foster a healthy competition between team members.

One of us, during our undergraduate degree, had experience with a group of people that studied together, worked hard together, and shared what each other knew. However, this collaboration had limits. Each person worked to get better grades, finish the test quicker than the others, have better project outputs, and the like. This did not change the collaboration. It is possible to have friendly and constructive competition. We know this runs contrary to many beliefs.


Testing people is often maligned. It is thought of to rank the team members in some sort of hierarchy or show the individual just how much they do not know. That should not be the objective of testing and testing certainly should not lead people to thinking that is why testing is performed. We do not know what we do not know in many cases. Continuous learning, like continuous improvement, requires finding out what we know (not guess we know) and do not know, as well as learning what we need to know. Testing has a place, but not how it is perceived to be used.

The first part is to evaluate what a person knows in a very defined context. This does not mean the use of statements like “knowledge of configuration management.” This means nothing, and there is no way to evaluate this effectively. What does this mean in tangible and measurable attributes? A good way to think about what is needed is to consider Blooms taxonomy for how to structure the learning objectives.

Blooms taxonomy is a hierarchy that helps to establish the way to articulate the level of competency. There are degrees of knowledge when it comes to the topic under consideration. For example, simply being able to recall the steps in a process is one level of understanding. This level of understanding may be transferred from one person to another in several ways and perhaps in a relatively short amount of time. Recall is not truly understanding. The level a person is required to know on a topic likely depends upon the nature of the work. For example, an engineer may need to understand configuration management, but not be required to understand or create the configuration management system of the organization or for the project.

  • 1. Recall
  • 2. Understand 3- Apply
  • 4. Analyze
  • 5. Evaluate
  • 6. Create

Tlie objectives of the learning will be written based upon the level of understanding the team member or team needs to know. Writing learning objectives is like writing product specifications. It is important to write the objectives in such a way that confirmation of achieving the objective is well understood. That allows for creating a training event or teaching opportunity to be well scripted and planned. At the end of any formalized training event, there is a comparison of the objectives of the training and the results to ascertain the actual accomplishment via some demonstrable contrivance.

■ Poor objective: acquire knowledge of earned value management

■ Good objective: able to calculate Cost Performance Index, Schedule Performance Index, Schedule Variance, and Cost Variance.

Formative Assessment

Formative testing is used to ascertain what a person knows now at the begining of the training event. Where is the individual on this specific knowledge curve? This input will be used to move the person from what they presently know to the desired state of what we wish them to know. This exploration will happen in advance of the training or at the very least at the beginning of the training. This question approach works for more than contrived training events, but also for on the job training.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessments are those that happen at the conclusion of the training activities. The summative evaluation is used to ascertain how much of the training was actually absorbed by the student. Summative assessments let those providing the training know what portion of the training did not translate well and was not understood by the student. The point of the test is not to humiliate or to be used to brow beat the student, but to understand what portion of the training needs to be revisited with the student. Conversely, if the student understands the material well, the summative assessment will provide some clues to that end. When the summative assessment is handled well by the student, there is confidence that the student may be armed sufficiently to take on the challenge. That is the point of the training after all, to arm the student with knowledge to be able to meet the challenges of the workplace. This includes on the job training.

  • [1] Napper, P. & Rao, A. (2019). The power of agency: The 7 principles to conquer obstacles, makeeffective decisions, and create a life on your own terms. New York: St. Martin’s Press, page 13.7
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