5 Things to learn from failure

No one tells you how to have the hard conversation and how to make the difficult decisions. As far as I know, there are no listicles on the 5 things to do when you can’t sleep and the client calls and your stomach sinks. Or when your deadlines slip with no chance of recovery. Here's a story.

The project started in May after being delayed in the design phase but I was sure, after a 2 hour consultation with my head of development that we would be sailing smoothly along after receiving the wireframes.  We reviewed and didn’t see any huge issues and plunged headlong into development.  But, something nagged at me as the designers disappeared and moved onto other projects. We needed more consultation time with the design team but couldn’t get it. The client had paid for their time and there was no more time for consulting. After a few quick calls, we started development. Below are 5 lessons I learned from one particularly difficult project.

Lesson 1: The line between design and development has eroded.

The old waterfall method of creating wireframes and design in old-fashioned creative silos and then ‘Handing off” to development is no more. Today, any mobile development worth its salt requires constant communication and collaboration between the design and development team. This should begin as early in the process as possible.

Lesson 2: Document EVERYTHING.

This is an old and fast rule and has been around for some time. But, never was it more needed than here. We had numerous conversations on Skype by phone with the client, designers, developers all trying to figure out what elements in the design actually meant. Nowhere was this documented. This meant that everyone had their own unique understanding of the project but nowhere had it been tactfully and tacitly explained in black and white. This made for a handy development disaster on the horizon.

Lesson 3: Acknowledge defeat early.

The ego is  amazing. It will lead you headlong into failure; all the while convincing you that its all salvageable. It is not. The moment you think it just might be over, it usually is.  The sooner you acknowledge this the better for everyone involved.

Lesson 4: Have the difficult conversations as soon as possible.


For me, this one was the most difficult. As a woman, I’d ignored my intuition throughout the project and now after being faced with the cold hard, truth, I struggled with ways to find the right words to tell my client that we would not be able to complete the job. In truth, this was apparent the day the first few milestones were not met. I hedged my way through conversation after conversation knowing that the worst was yet to come. But ultimately, thinking about having the conversation was far worse than actually having it. I felt immediately lighter.

Lesson 5: Regroup and move forward.

Port-mortems aren’t as bad as they sound. This is easy to say for a perfectionist like myself. But, in practice, this is challenging.  Projects will always be challenging, but it’s important to take time to revisit what went wrong and what you can learn from a failure or a less than ideal situation. All you can do after all of this is move forward. Take those hard truths, learn from them and be a better leader. It's worked for me countless times.