What are we learning?

Google is a success with many failures.

Google is a company that has a lot of ambitious projects and it’s inevitable that some of them will fail. Eric Schmidt says that failure is actually a good thing.

“We try things. Remember, we celebrate our failures. This is a company where it’s absolutely okay to try something that’s very hard, have it not be successful, and take the learning from that.”

The key takeaway is this:  “What are we learning?”. Establishing a culture that says, “It’s ok to fail if you are learning why” is the real secret.  Ask this question before you start and set up systems that capture data on as a metric of success.  Create goals that align teams to creating metadata during the project not after.  Nothing speaks to failure like trusting revisionist history.

Let’s face the truth, no one want’s to publish failure.  We are trained to update on progress in meetings.  We document risks and challenges with a core assumption.  We will overcome failure and win.  The real go/no go choice is put off as long as possible with a review constructed from memory and often trying to play the blame game.  The infamous postmortem meetings are captured in templates where performance is above learning:  (See typical template at bottom of post).

What are we learning should be established front and center.  A mandatory record keeping process that travels with the project during the project.  A mirror image of what failure might look like so we;  “can know it when we see it”.  How can we know failure until we have it?  That is the real problem.  Setup a framework that tracks all reservations, concerns and objective data about failure upfront.  Real innovation comes with risk and failure but most business processes ignore that reality.  So let’s look to how Google is changing the rules in real time.  Right down to who they hire and why.

Graduates of top schools can lack “intellectual humility”

Megan McArdle argued recently that writers procrastinate “because they got too many A’s in English class.” Successful young graduates have been taught to rely on talent, which makes them unable to fail gracefully.

Google looks for the ability to step back and embrace other people’s ideas when they’re better. “It’s ‘intellectual humility.’ Without humility, you are unable to learn,” Bock says. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure.”

We need to capture failure as an asset.  Fail fast and frequently, but learn from it.  My class at Berkeley is structured to do just that.  Capture real pressure and learnings from small failures in a controlled way.  Documenting these challenges and how to craft success when everything seems against you.  Documenting those learnings in a real time format that you reflect on in stages.  It’s not about knowing it when you see it if your core assumption is success.  That is manifest destiny.  Have the humility to pivot or simply adjust to your potential failure, just as you prepare for success.  In other words, write both your acceptance speech and your postmortem when exploring your vision.

This blog a template by mashing up outlines created and posted all over the web.   A “best of” to be customized:

  1. Project
    1. Description
      1. Project Name:
      2. Client:
      3. Project Manager:
      4. Solutions Architect:
      5. Start Date:
      6. Completion Date:
    2. Project Overview [Describe the project in detail.
      1. Discuss the project charter
      2. What was the project success criterion?
      3. etc.
  2. Performance
    1. Key Accomplishments [List and describe key project accomplishments in the space provided below. Explain elements that worked well and why. Consider listing them in order of importance. Be specific.]
      1. What went right?
      2. What worked well?
      3. What was found to be particularly useful?
      4.  Project highlights
    2. Key Problem Areas [List problem areas experienced throughout the project. Be specific.]
      1. What went wrong?
      2. What project processes didn’t work well?
      3. What specific processes caused problems?
      4. What were the effects of key problems areas (i.e. on budget, schedule, etc.)?
      5. Technical challenges
    3. Risk Management [List project risks that have been mitigated and those that are still outstanding and need to be managed.]
      1. Project risks that have been mitigated:
      2. Outstanding project risks that need to be managed:
    4. Overall Project Assessment [Score/rank the overall project assessment according to the measures provided. A 10 indicates excellent, whereas a 1 indicates very poor.]



      Performance against project goals/objectives 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Performance against planned schedule 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Performance against quality goals 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Performance against planned budget 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Adherence to scope 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Project planning 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Resource management 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Project management 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Development 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Communication 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Team cooperation 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
      Project deliverable(s) 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
    5. Additional Comments:
      1. Other general comments about the project, project progress, etc.
  3. Key Lessons Learned
    1. Lessons Learned [Summarize and describe the key lessons and takeaways from the project. Be sure to include new processes or best practices that may have been developed as a result of this project and to discuss areas that could have been improved, as well as how (i.e. describe the problem and suggested solution for improvement).]
    2. Post Project Tasks/Future Considerations [List and describe, in detail, all future considerations and work that needs to be done with respect to the project.]
      1. Ongoing development and maintenance considerations
      2. What actions have yet to be completed and who is responsible for them?
      3. Is there anything still outstanding or that will take time to realize? (i.e. in some instances the full project deliverables will not be realized immediately)

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