In the world of Lean and Agile, you’ll often hear said that teams should be structuring their work to produce results early. Sometimes it’s called out as “fail fast”, “fail often”, “fail early” or “fail cheap”. Why all this emphasis on the speed to failure?
Nobody Wants to Think of Failure
For someone not familiar with the message, this language can sound very off-putting. Nobody wants to fail. And nobody wants to think about failure at the start of a project, when everyone is feeling at their most optimistic.
Think of Producing Results Early
So what is the real message behind this language? It’s about acknowledging that we’re going to come up against things that we didn’t plan or hope for (a.k.a. failure) and the faster we encounter those deviations from expectations, the sooner we can adjust our plans to produce the desired results. It’s really just another, more startling, way of saying produce results early. And here are 3 good reasons why you’d want to do that…
1. Increase the rate of return on your investment
Looking at it from an economic perspective, if you make an investment that starts to return benefits sooner rather than later, you’ll increase the return on your investment. Not only does that make the investor happy, but it also builds credibility for the rest of the project delivery.
2. Identify risks early
When we plan projects in a traditional way, we often take some time to identify the things we think could go wrong, the likelihood of them happening, what we can do to mitigate against them happening and what our plan will be if they do happen. This thinking is (mostly) valuable, but what about the things we didn’t think of? Setting your target on producing a result quickly means you’ll come face-to-face with the real issues that surface and can learn about them early in the project lifecycle, thus giving you more time (and money) to deal with them.
3. Put thinking into reality quickly so we can see where the flaws are
People tend to be optimistic about their thinking. It’s common to believe we’ve thought things through and the project will proceed as planned but, inevitably, we’re faced with things going nothing like we expected them to and we discover that our thinking was flawed, blinkered or we simply just didn’t know yet when we were doing the planning.
Aiming to produce a result early lets us discover the flaws in our thinking quickly and thus lets us course correct while there is still time (and money).
Is that Enough Reasons?
There are many more reasons, such as whole-team learning, maintaining energy, improved forecasting for project completion, being able to re-prioritise based on results, stopping when enough results have been achieved, and so on. But we think the above three are enough to want to make a change to the way you plan your work.