Sunday, March 23, 2008

Learning from Failure

Have you ever found yourself too busy "fighting your tail off" that you can't take a few minutes to save your tail from falling off? This is the challenge we all face. How do we stop the execution train long enough to do the maintenance necessary to keep the train rolling? How do we learn as part of routine operations and turn failure into future success?

In the military we call them After Action Reviews, or AARs. These are the brief sessions that focus on what is going well (and should be sustained and formally incorporated into business processes) and what is not going well (and should be improved). They are non-threatening, rankless examinations that lead to continuous improvement. AARs are how good units learn from failure.

This week, my team and I are conducting an AAR regarding a project we've been struggling with for several years. We finally broke through a major milestone. Time to celebrate -- you bet. But before we get too full of ourselves, we need to ensure that we look at how we can do better. And we can always do better. I know that within my organization there were mistakes and missteps, failures to communicate, and policy and process issues that must be addressed to prevent future shortcomings.

I talked in a previous post about people who struggle answering the question in job interviews about their greatest failure. People who regularly conduct AARs have no such difficulty! They realize that they can do better, that perfection is the goal, that anything short of perfection is a degree of failure that demands improvement! This is not about Zero Defects but Infinite possibilities! There is always another level to which we should aspire.

So what do you need to be AARing? Have you reached a project milestone, completed an important event, or finished a critical component of your schedule? Would you do well to include AARs at the end of each day...or week? If so, get going! Make AARs a part of your routine. Learn from your failure -- in the way that has enabled so much of the success of our military.

That's Leader Business.

P.S. For details on the conduct of AARs, see the LB Newsletter on this topic. Drop me a note about any recent AAR successes...or let me know how I can help you turn your failures into future success with more information about After Action Reviews. Hooah!

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