How to deal with the risk of failure Premium

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Failure is an integral part of any project, but many decision makers neither recognize nor appreciate it. Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn, authors of Fail better, propose integrating failure into project management as a variable of complexity and a source of learning in resilience and endurance. Here is an excerpt from feature article published in the latest issue of Business Digest:

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1. Endurance: bring back smart mistakes
Small losses can create value, mostly because they are instructive. They eliminate options, enable detection of errors in reasoning, and refute hypotheses. Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn suggest privileging small, smart mistakes that don’t prevent teams from carrying out their tasks but also build their skills, practices, and understanding of an issue.

2. Forecast: anticipate, support, and learn
Adopt an iterative approach to managing projects at all stages of their lifecycle.
• Prepare the field (define the problem, analyze what resources are required, and analyze what individual team members can contribute to the project)
• Think ahead (plan with feedback loops, conduct tests to refine the project, collect and analyze data)
• Incorporate what you have learned and then share the lessons on a larger scale

3. Resilience: bounce back from mistakes
What you feared has come to pass: the project has finished in disappointment. What do you do?
• Analyze the outcome of your project in terms of investment, impact on teams, learning, and future inspiration.
• Consider the failure as an opportunity to progress and compare it to a past experience that ended well, putting forward a positive vision for the future. The lessons that you take from the experience can benefit others, lessons such as a better understanding of the market, process feedback, and customer insight.

Infosys sets the example
“There’s a lesson to be learned from every setback,” says Fadil Amarsata, who has been involved since 2009 in rolling out The Way of Failure program that encourages a risk culture at Infosys. According to the HR manager, the main challenge is to appreciate that the path to innovation is littered with mistakes!


Based on Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner by Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn (Harvard Business Review Press, November 2014), and the interview with Fadil Amarsata, head of HR development at Infosys, January 2015.

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