Three tips for studying IT failure

Three tips for studying IT failure

Summary: The analysis of IT failures can yield great insight and help guide us toward success. Here is advice for anyone who wants to discuss failures in public.


Readers sometimes ask why this blog focuses on failure rather than success. It's a great question with a simple answer: discussions about success tend toward pure public relations while detailed analysis of failure can teach us genuinely worthwhile and important lessons.

One should not study or discuss failure lightly or with disrespect. Although some situations described in this blog demonstrate outrageous waste and even abuse, many are dumb mistakes caused by well-meaning people. It is sometimes impossible for external observers to distinguish error from abuse, which is one important reason to shine the light of transparency with balanced and fair neutrality. Although sensationalism is an easy way to gain readership and attention, it devalues serious analysis.

For those interested in writing about failure, I suggest these guidelines:

1. Go with the facts. Evidence tells its own story and can sometimes take you down an uncomfortable road. Let the trail of evidence, rather than your personal preference, define the path.

2. Be fair and balanced. Stories about failure can affect those involved; for this reason, maintain an impartial and respectful attitude toward the people and companies you discuss.

3. Expect a backlash. If you write about failure, people will try to prove you wrong, so your facts must be correct and your analysis airtight; careful and accurate research is key to surviving the inevitable threats you will receive. On the other hand, when you are wrong (which is bound to happen, if you do this enough), admit it plainly and do whatever is needed to repair any damage.

The following video discusses some of these issues along with other topics related to studying IT failures. It was recorded during a recent interview appearance on The Pulse Network.

Topic: Software Development

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  • Keep up the good work, Michael...

    I agree that your blog isn't the kind of sensationalist "entertainment" (read "troll-bait") that many other IT blogs seem to be, but I find it by far one of the most valuable.

    Another good answer to "Why talk about implementation failures:" The same reason we talk about World War II, the Great Depression, Sexually transmitted diseases, child abuse, and thousands of other bad things in the world - because bad things can only be prevented when they are exposed and discussed, again and again.
  • RE: Three tips for studying IT failure

    We learn mostly from mistakes...fortunately, they do not always have to be our own.