It’s Time for the C-suite to Start Embracing Failure

June 23, 2015 Nicole Klemp

fail fast

There’s been some talk lately around this concept of “Fail Fast” and its effect on success — particularly when it comes to application development. But what does it mean and why would you want to fail at anything?

Innovate by failing fast

A great example of failing fast comes from this guy you may have heard of named Thomas Edison. It’s been said that it took 10,000 tries for Edison to perfect the light bulb. He allegedly said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Imagine an employee telling their boss that although they’ve already failed 5 times on that really important project, they’d nail it if they only had 9,995 more tries. Of course, that is a little extreme. The point is, asking companies to embrace a certain level of failure in order to achieve something great is still unheard of in most industries, and can be a hard pill for many executives to swallow. But embracing the Fail Fast philosophy can spur the type of innovation that just isn’t happening in the traditional corporate culture.

Don’t kill creativity with bureaucracy

When it comes to app development, most large organizations have a long, expensive process chock-full of documentation and bottlenecks. The process ends up cannibalizing the project before it can ever really get off the ground.

What’s needed to bring a Fail Fast approach to life in a corporate setting is a change in culture, which needs to start at the executive level. Silicon Valley tech companies have been embracing the Fail Fast approach for development for a long time. In fact, bold failures are often seen as a badge of honor. But in most other organizations, employees fear failure more than anything — or at least getting blamed for failure. Only when executives start showing support and encouraging experimentation in the development process will technology teams feel more comfortable being creative and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

So, how can I Fail Fast?

In our eBook: Fail Fast: The Way to Success in Application Development, we break down some key ways to shape a Fail Fast culture:

  • Step away from the Giant RFPs
    • In the IT industry, a Request for Proposal (RFP) is a solicitation from a potential buyer, usually conducted through a bidding process for software and services. Vendors spend a lot of time answering RFPs, and they often create unintentional barriers to good communication. They end up being over-prescriptive, too large, and pretty much guarantee a bad software implementation.
  • Embrace an Agile methodology
    • The Agile Manifesto was produced in 2001, and is still sending ripples through organizations committed to a Waterfall methodology. Now, even organizations as staid as the U.S. government embrace Agile.
  • Prototype
    • Prototyping helps development teams get valuable feedback from end-users early on in a project, and provides them with something to show that gives vendors a better understanding of the project scope before putting it out to bid on an RFP.
  • Crowdsourcing
    • A reliable crowdsourcing vendor will take a client’s needs and divide them into smaller (i.e. granular) problems. The crowd solves these granular challenges almost simultaneously, and the assembling can happen as they are completed. Individual members of the community can fail at any point during the process, with each failure leading to yet another try (think of the Edison example). The result: Fail Fast, yet with no failure at all.

Fail Fast

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