Three simple truths of failure

Three simple truths of failure

Summary: This great Dilbert cartoon expresses several truths of failure from which we can learn valuable lessons.

TOPICS: Google

If you search Google for IT failure, about a zillion different pages come up. Zillion is a technical term that means a whole lot of discussion takes place around failure. But, filter out the noise and several simple truths emerge.

This Dilbert cartoon summarizes a few of those truths:

Consider some of the meanings expressed by this short cartoon:

  • Complicated plans don't work. If you can't understand the plan, then be prepared to die (metaphorically speaking). Far better to break large projects into a program, or portfolio, of smaller ones. If you can't wrap your mind around the scope of a project, then it's too big and almost certainly doomed to fail.
  • "Spraying energy into the vortex of failure" doesn't work. Neither wishful thinking nor the vain imaginings of an enthusiastic team are sufficient to solve the complication problem described in the last bullet. Gawd, if only wishful thinking worked, the world would be a better place.
  • Your boss really doesn't care. Sure, it's a stereotype, and I beg mercy from all the great managers out there. But, fact remains, the myopia of disconnected management can be strong. Which means their project is actually your problem.

Fundamentally, these three truths express mismatched expectations at so many levels that it's almost impossible to separate the strands. At the very least, learn to recognize signs of potential catastrophe well in advance. If you know a problem exists, then there's some hope to fix it before doom strikes.

Are these truths apparent in your projects? Leave a comment and share your experience.

Topic: Google

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  • Most IT projects are no-win situations

    Anybody's who has been in IT for a few years has had experience with projects that were doomed the day they started. No amount of luck or overtime can make up for a project that is oversold, underfunded or unsupported by management. I am continually amazed at how many supposedly smart execs who deal in hard numbers every day will engage in fantasy and self-delusion when it comes to IT projects.

    For the staffers, we end up in one of three situations: 1) run for the hills early on and avoid ever being associated with the project; 2) jump ship shortly before delivery and leave someone else to clean up the mess; 3) ride the Titanic beneath the waves while listening to the band playing on.
    terry flores
  • There are some I.T. solutions ...

    where a pen and a pad of paper on a clipboard are the most efficient and effective methods.
    • That's very true, but unfortunately...

      in a "vortex of failure" situation, the top sheet of paper is your updated resume and the second sheet is your undated letter of resignation!
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    Because you can't plan for every special case that comes up to trouble your plan, so you need a simple but flexible one that can expand or cut or even scrap the whole plan and start over. And do it as soon as you see it.
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    From my experience, the project management industry are churning out IT project managers who have never worked in IT before and have no IT experience. That's the major reason for failure in projects I have been concerned with.

    The second reason is that old favourite "clearly defined deliverables" ... there aren't any, just an abstraction of what is required.
    • You're probably young...

      And have to be excused for not noticing that most project managers really don't have a clue about what they're doing, or are trying to manage a project that will fail regardless of the skill of the people working on it. Not much has changed since the 60's. Mind you I'd say that overall things have slipped below what would have been tolerated back in the day. For me, I'd prefer that software people could be held legally accountable for the pap they produce.
  • The answer lies with competence and the notion of nepotism

    You see there are two problems that plague any IT project failure-- all others can be traced back to these two abstractions.


    90% of the people involved in technology projects are NOT qualified to be involved. I think this speaks for itself.


    When I say nepotism, I mean favorable treatment to people liked rather that people who perform (not the literal definition of nepotism, but something like it)...or as most call it, favoritism. The issue is that incompetents tend to group quickly while the competent tend to not rely on the masses-- thus alienating themselves inadvertently from the "herd" so to speak. When the herd starts running, the fast and smartest lead the way, neverminding the fact that they will be first to be taken by the pack of wolves awaiting the herd on the dark side of the hill.

    Analogies aside-- if EVERYONE was held accountable for meeting deadlines and the problems they created, the cream of the crop would rise to the top and failure would fall off of a cliff.

    But in a culture where everyone is obsessed with holding hands and singing kumbaya-- progress will be slowed to the pace of the slowest dimwit on the team because the really, really talented people won't perform to out themselves. They'll perform at the level of everyone else just to keep a job.
    • As true as the LAW of gravity

      Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.<br><br>Rule #1 of IT Management:<br><br>1000 copies of Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence" DOES NOT HELP getting things done.
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
    H. L. Mencken

    At the highest level, this quote from Mencken is abundantly clear because aggregated plans of projects of an enormous scale are clearly too large to comprehend at one instant.

    Fortunately I am engaged in a project where the planning has been and is at the correct level.
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    At my company, 10% of the people are doing 90% of the work. In my department there are 17 technicians and 8 supervisors. The smartest and most efficient workers, the "glue" that actually holds the company together and keeps it going, are too busy working to play politics. The parasites, the ones who do no work but are savvy enough to observe which way the winds are blowing, are standing on the shoulders of giants whispering to the boss. The boss is a gum-bumper, only here to have his ticket punched on his way up the corporate sewer-pipe. We don't have a project or even a plan, at least not one that is communicated. We spend our days putting out fires. If there is a vision, only the boss knows about it and as a tech you usually find out what it is only when you do something wrong. Even the supervisors are falling all over each other trying to compete for recognition and that fabled, end of year, "bonus".
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    A retired army general made an interesting observation in his bio:
    <br>A lot of the officer careerists that prosper in peacetime are rapidly replaced in wartime.<br>

    To me, a project is a wartime activity with no room for incompetence or self serving. Why should IT be any different and why should a peacetime corps ever be allowed to develop.
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    Before I start a project, I give two gifts to every member of the team (including the Executive Sponsor).

    The first is Fred Brooks "The Mythical Man-Month". I put a small yellow sticky on Chapter 4 ("Throw the first one out") with the question "Is this the first one?"

    The second is the movie "The Pentagon Wars", about the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. It has a sticky note on the front that says "This is what will we NOT do".

    I then schedule a discussion two weeks after giving the gifts. If they've flipped through the book (or at least Chapter 4) and watched the movie (it's less than two hours), then we move on to the next phase.

    If they didn't, I start looking for another project.
    Marc Jellinek
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    I think wishful thinking does work and the world is a better place because of it, just not always. What's your alternative? Surely without it this would be a very boring world.
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    All True. The sad part is..
    1) the ignorance of person selling the concept to upper management
    2)upper management is even more inept in understanding that the Person that they chose to manage the project is totally clueless.

    No offense to the vision impaired but, Its like the blind leading the blind.

    It reminds me of the saying, we the willing doing the impossible for the ungrateful...
    • RE: Three simple truths of failure

      Here is the Full quote..
      ?We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.?
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    #4, this blog.
  • RE: Three simple truths of failure

    To a non-project manager, there seems to be a lot of good information at "" or some also at "" These are not specific to IT, but general topics in PM.