Learning From Mistakes: Project Management And Recovering From Failure

Michael Jordan didn’t hit every shot he took at the buzzer.  Warren Buffett has admitted to making poor investments in the past.  Muhammad Ali lost five of his fights.  On rare occasions, Bobby Fischer had to admit he was in checkmate.  Albert Einstein’s doctoral thesis contained a critical mathematical error.  And yes, even the best project managers can have a bad day.

The thing is, in a world where the failure rate for IT projects alone runs at an estimated total monetary loss of between $50 billion and $150 billion per year in just the United States (and a failed project’s effects aren’t necessarily limited to just the financial sector), bad days aren’t really something most project managers are able to have.  Project management can be a high stress job, where sometimes the only real acknowledgment of excellence is silence from the higher-ups while those rare mistakes are trumpeted from the mountaintops.

So, project managers of the world, what do you if the worst does happen?  What if a missed opportunity leads to a dramatic rise in the cost of completion?  What if a careless error causes a catastrophic drop in efficiency?  What if someone you assigned to complete a task is, to put it nicely, a bit underwhelming?

Well, that’s when it’s time to turn to the wisdom of others, and remember these fine quotes.

1) “A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer.” – Novalis

First and foremost, don’t just throw your hands up in despair.  Unsolvable problems are far more rare that most of us think, and it’s entirely possible to salvage a situation that most would see as impossible.  Hang on a little longer, keep pushing, and solve that problem.

2) “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” – Voltaire

Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed.  You and your team are more than capable of fixing whatever problems life throws your way, so long as you keep your heads on straight and avoid falling into a panic.  Gather your team and focus on finding a solution.  Once you find that solution, execute it and move forward.

3) “When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

Treating the cause is far more important than treating the symptoms.  Thoroughly investigate anything that might crop up in order to find its source, then make sure your solution revolves around taking care of that source before worrying about any after-effects.

4) “Inside of every problem lies an opportunity.” – Robert Kiyosaki

You started out well by not letting yourself get discouraged.  Then, you and your team put your heads together and came up with a solution that focused on the source of the problem.  The lessons learned from the experience about how well you and your team can perform under pressure are just as important as the ability to enact similar solutions in the future.  Remember, if you’re committed to learning from mistakes and determined to keep moving forward, what seems like a setback can become a triumph.

Joseph H is a blogger for Copper.  Why yes, he does have a shelf full of books of quotes, why do you ask?