Monday, December 3, 2012

Fail Forward to Success

By Al Norval

I watch as organizations practice the PDCA cycle. Typically, they do a good job setting up their plans with a hypothesis and begin to deploy them. But as time passes, they discover things aren’t going according to plan. They get frustrated, angry and jump up and down.

The problem is they expect things to go according to plan and in truth, nothing goes according to plan. That’s one of the reasons why the Check/ Adjust part of PDCA exists and why it is so important. If things don’t go according to plan – problem solve and get things back on plan. Lean organizations understand this and get good at rapid PDCA cycles so they can surface and solve problems quickly and make many, small adjustments to keep them going forward towards their goals.

They also understand the other part of Check/ Adjust. When things do go according to plan, standardize and lock in the process.

In both cases, lean organizations learn from using the PDCA cycle. When things fail the hypothesis at the check step, they problem solve and get to root cause. They learn from this and develop a deeper understanding of what is actually happening. When things pass the hypothesis, they learn as well. The key is they expect to have failures and expect to learn from their failures.

In both cases, it’s important to lock in the learning and to share it across the entire organization. This sets up the formation of a learning organization, one that is based on learning from problem solving using the scientific method.

The faster they check/ adjust, the quicker they learn and the faster they can meet their objectives. Thus Lean organizations get good at using rapid experimentation and many small PDCA loops.

This concept was summed up nicely in the following quote:
“Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. The only time you don’t want to fail is the last time you try something. One fails forward to success”

– Charles F. Kettering
The only real failure is not learning from our failures.


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