A Story of Failure

There is a remarkable amount of latent team energy ready to pounce on the potential for disaster.

Getting this energy to the surface is valuable not only to improve project design, but also to inspire group commitment as members darkest concerns are heard before the project begins. Prospective Hindsight has great value to offer long term projects that necessarily have less detail at the beginning, and those with lofty and strategic objectives.

Imagine your project turns into a train wreck, fiasco, a lingering death; a number of potential scenarios are valuable to explore. Have the team interactively develop these cases; add specific events and triggers, include external or internal dynamics that have the potential to upend the initiative. Imagine serious problems that are perfectly possible, e.g., a key employee leaves. Catastrophic events and outcomes will emerge galvanizing attention on the concrete impact of obstacles the team must be prepared to address. In the right environment, the team quickly becomes animated and a rich set of realistic scenarios emerge for exploration and group critique. It is an effective technique because specific failure modes can be explored in detail.

This approach only works, and only adds value if the participants feel comfortable candidly expressing what they believe are real and tangible threats to the project. The facilitator must create the opportunity to escape group conformity where people don’t express concerns out of fear of being perceived in a negative light (the perceived and tangible benefits of agreeing with leadership). It will also help shift the team and organization from initial boundless enthusiasm into a balanced mode of realism and sensitivity to what must go right for project success.

As a second step, craft workable solutions, work arounds, and alternative strategies. Those that have no realistic solution or mitigation path should be flagged and promptly communicated to the sponsor and key stakeholders. This is a lightweight and fast model that quickly adds excellent content to feed into the risk management process.