August 27, 2013, 11:30 AM — "Failure" has the most negative tone possible, which is why professionals intent on self-preservation (i.e., nearly all of us) stay as far away from the word - and deed - as possible.
But avoiding failure means steering clear of risk and chance, two elements IT executives say their peers should embrace not eschew.
IT leaders can't play it safe, note Jim Stikeleather executive strategist, innovation for Dell Services, and Sanjib Sahoo, CTO of OptionMonster Holdings.
"Instead of risk = bad, leaders need to understand that today, calculated risk = innovation, meeting marketplace demands, leapfrogging competition and creating true profit," they write in Harvard Business Review.
Stikeleather and Sahoo advise IT leaders to consider the following key principles when evaluating projects:
The failure to take on value-adding IT projects is worse than taking on IT projects that fail.
"It is not failed projects as much as projects not taken on that will most influence the future success of an enterprise," the pair write. "Almost half of IT projects run over budget and about 56% deliver less value than predicted. Fear of failing means many choose to do nothing."
A focus on acquiring gains will lead to better results than a focus on avoiding losses.
"Business and IT leaders need to view the glass as half full - 40% chance of failure is a 60% chance of success," they write. Stop basing projects on what they cost, but rather on their ability to drive revenue to the company.
Trying to preserve past investments delays value creation
"IT is particularly prone to this when trying to force fit everything into a previously acquired hardware or software platform, regardless of its applicability to the problem being addressed," they note. Sunk costs are already gone. Don't gamble the future just because another project failed in the past.
IT creates risk confusing leadership, governance, and managing
IT needs to lead and aligning itself with business is "outdated thinking," the pair say: "IT must lead by showing how technology is applied in IT itself, then influencing and guiding the organization in making the right decisions and coming up with an innovative product plan."
Small IT failures provide great opportunities to learn
Stikeleather and Sahoo call this "failing forward." They advise launching small, non-mission-critical projects first and learning from them. "The lessons learned from 'thinking big, starting small' can be critical when it does come to the bigger projects down the road and helps to earn credibility when IT presents a business case for them. Don't measure and punish failure; measure and celebrate learning," they say.
Failing fast and moving forward is a big win.
"If IT projects have to fail or a strategy needs to change, failing fast helps prevent losing big," they note.