We set targets and make commitments and we don’t change them. We always want to know how well we can predict what we can achieve. If we move the targets to meet our results to make ourselves feel better we will never be able to learn from any discrepancies in our ability to plan. To continuously improve we need to stretch and achieve goals that are just beyond what we are comfortable with, and when we miss them, we learn, adjust, and try again. Failure is not a failure, unless we don’t learn from what failed. This is how we achieve Success From Failure.
Why do we need to be able to predict what we can achieve? Because we are not a collection of individuals working independently. We are a team of teams with interdependencies between all of us. To work efficiently the individual within a team needs to predictably deliver what they set out to achieve, so that the other individuals within their team can add to their work, or take it and build on it further. And so on out from the team to other teams that depend on their output, and so on across the company.
This is not to say that our plans must be so defined that we have everything mapped out in detail for an entire quarter. Our plan could be to run 4 campaigns in the coming quarter and the first one is all about recognizing students. We don’t know what the next three will be because we will use the results from the first campaign to learn what works best to define the next campaign, and so on. We know how much we want to invest and when, we have a return on that investment (measure of success) that we want to achieve, and we probably know the first step we want to take. We don’t know what comes after that first step because we are going to use an agile; build, measure, learn, process that mitigates risks by taking small incremental steps. That is Good Planning.
However, using the example above we may run our first campaign and the effort is far greater than we expected to get it off the ground, and the results from it can’t justify this expense. At this point we have a choice, continue with the three remaining campaigns because that is what we said we would do, or, break the plan and do something completely different. There is no point in continuing. The overall loss will be far greater. The better course of action is to state the plan failed, learn from it, and achieve Success From Failure. And Good Planning would make that call as far in advance as possible. The good planner won’t wait for the failure to be so large that it can’t be missed, they will instead be continuously looking forward and predicting what won’t be achieved and intervening to correct proactively.
The Good Planner recognizes the opportunity in failure. When they see failure, they take success from it by using it to improve themselves, and their team. To learn from a failure we use a very simple approach created by Robert Fritz that breaks the problem down into four pieces;
We start with the situation. We define it for what it is, no adjectives, superlatives, long stories or excuses, just the facts. Using the example above we may say something like; We had planned to deliver 4 campaigns this quarter and each one would achieve at least 100 new signups. We are halfway through the quarter and have completed one campaign (100 points of our total planned points of 400) and the campaign missed the measure of success and only achieved 10% of the expected sign ups.
Once we have a firm grasp on just the situation we then analyze cause. What caused it to happen. And we continuously ask why for every answer that we come up with. We need to get to the root cause of the problem that stopped us from predictably delivering what we had expected.
Using the example above the cause may be;
It took twice as long to create the campaign than we expected and the email open rate on the campaign was 90% less than forecasted. We only achieved 10% of the measure of success.
We used internal resources to create the campaign and they didn’t have enough time to allocate to the project.
The campaign didn’t speak to the audience we were targeting.
Our internal resources had another project they were working on and they didn’t have dedicated time for this project.
The quality of the campaign was poor because the creators were rushed and context switching.
We tried to run multiple projects in parallel.
We were concerned that we wouldn’t hit this quarter's targets.
We set the goal for this quarter too high.
At this point you now have a firm grasp of the cause that can be summarized as;
We promised a target that we thought we could deliver if we had people deliver multiple projects in parallel.
At this point we have a firm grasp of the situation, we know the underlying reason as to why we failed, so it is really easy to identity and state the correction;
We are cancelling the campaigns epic and we will fail to deliver the remaining 300 of the planned 400 burndown points for this work. We will miss our forecasted target for this quarter. For the remainder of the quarter we will focus exclusively on the other project and dedicate ourselves to completing it, and achieving its measure of success.
Next quarter we will set a target that can be achieved one epic at a time. No parallel projects or context switching required.
Take note that we didn’t adjust the target or the burn down. We acknowledge that discrepancy and we will hold on to it for the remainder of the quarter. But, we made it clear to all that with the resources we have we can only complete one project at a time and as such we are going to adjust the target to equal the results of that work. Everyone else now understands the situation and they can plan accordingly. This is good proactive communication.
Now we have to make sure that this plan worked. So we schedule a followup to check in on this correction at the end of the current quarter;
“Other” project completed successfully and subsequent quarter sprint lanes are delivering one epic at a time, and the team target for next quarter is adjusted in relation to the impact of the measures of success from those deliverables.
We are done. We have Success From Failure and our Good Planning is complete.