It’s Going To Take A Failure Or Two


       “It’s going to take a failure or two.”  ~ Joe Acker

In my work on business and technology projects for various clients, one thing I’ve learned is that everyone’s business is harder than it looks. Similarly, I’ve also learned that most projects are more involved than they first appear.  This can be for one of two reasons.  Either someone has (1) not taken the time to appropriately consider the obstacles or (2) they don’t know enough to even consider the obstacles.

Man throwing paper ball into the trashWhen visiting with potential clients, there have been times my team has left the meeting and someone will say, “They haven’t suffered enough.” This is a private comment just for our team. And let me be very clear, it is in no way meant to wish ill upon anyone. It is simply an observation that the potential client appears to still have a limited understanding of the risks, consequences, and costs of their problems.  They don’t know what they don’t know. Or they don’t know what they refuse to know.

While technology projects have a long history of running over-budget, the real problem is that almost all of them were underestimated first. They were setup from the start to go over budget. The client (even an internal client or boss) wants a lower price. Technical staff are, for the most part, extremely optimistic. Vendors are competing, often on the client’s price expectations, to at least start with a low cost. And very few projects are properly vetted, so too many overly optimistic assumptions are made.

With this setup, projects often fail. Even if completed, some are still so late or over budget that it is hard to call them successful. Finished perhaps, but not really a winner.

Failure is a great eye-opener. Well, except for those who refuse to learn the lessons and instead just focus on excuses. If a business leader or company can get past denying or hiding these types of problems, there is a real opportunity to learn from the failures and problems. This is true even on projects that are completed instead of simply being aborted.

If my company rarely wins a project the first time, how have we managed to stay in business for more than twenty years? The smart business leaders learn the lessons of failures, the pain of false optimism, and the need to treat technology as part of a business process instead of magic dust.  When they understand better, they often call us again. We can’t force them to hear us at any time. They must arrive in their own way and time. Often that requires a painful failure or two.

The communication lesson here is that experience can teach us if we let it. We can learn that if we can stop being our own obstacles and communicate more clearly with ourselves, we’ll be better at avoiding self-deceptions that lead to poor choices. Optimism is great, it just has to be realistic optimism.


Glenn S. PhillipsGlenn S. Phillips is the author of the book Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself.  You can email Glenn directly at

Glenn is also the president of Forte’ Incorporated, a consulting firm that works with business leaders to understand and address the often hidden technology and business risks lurking within their organizations.

© Copyright 2012. Glenn S. Phillips, Forte’ Incorporated. (205) 985-1111


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.