Monday, March 28, 2011

FINAO and punishment

I was reading Dennis Brandl's blog about the "Seven Habits of Unsuccessful Projects" and I stopped on #4:

Project management has a “failure is not an option” mentality. While this is a good motto for a mission statement when your team is going to the moon, it leads to bizarre behavior in IT projects. If failure is to be punished, then people don’t report failures and management is often blissfully unaware of major problems. Similar unproductive project mottos are “right the first time” and “there are no problems, only opportunities.”

I've spent 10 years in back-office IT projects. From my experience, I don't buy that one. "Failure is not an option", aka FINAO, is not a succeed or punishment paradigm. It's succeed because there's a lot at stake, and failure is not to be accepted if humanly possible to avoid. But is most assuredly not "fail and you are punished".

If it comes to such a extreme, the operating plan goes out the door, but then in comes a new plan. Of course, the new plan may be only a sketch and it may depend on very agile working by all concerned, but no one was thinking punishment in that engineering shop in Ohio that came up with the rescue capsule for the Chilean mining rescue. Far from it!

Check what else I've written about the original source, Gene Kranz, for more explanation.

Coincidentally, I am reading the novel "Child 44". The setting is Stalinist Russia. The theme that underlies much of the story line is "fail and you are punished". Thus, fear permeates all activity. And fear defeats trust. Without trust, there is no team work.

If you've got a fail/punishment paradigm, my advice: change it now!

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