Learning from failure is the cornerstone of continuous improvement. Perceiving your shortcomings as opportunities will ultimately facilitate an environment of motivation, engagement and dedication.

Way too often, I have conversations with customers at Nave who are trying to discard certain data points from their analytical dashboards. When the motivation comes from fixing an error in the workflow that request is reasonable.

More often than not though, the goal is to make the picture look nicer. I understand where this is coming from. Managers are being held accountable to keep the pictures of their teams pretty. This is fundamentally wrong, and this practice has the potential to lead our businesses straight down the rabbit hole.

Today, we’ll explore three strategies for learning from failure that will help you overcome that behavior.

#1 Promote Transparency & Awareness to Enable Continuous Improvement

Let’s take a step back and think about the purpose of adopting Kanban metrics and analytics in the first place. The main goal is to gain visibility of the current state of our workflows. The ultimate purpose of these tools is to help us identify opportunities for improvement. We learn the lessons and then take action so that we don’t make the same mistakes again.

Learning from failure is the foundation of success! It is the secret ingredient that enables us to continuously improve our working practices, organizational culture and ultimately increase our business outcomes.

As soon as you start tweaking your flow metrics to make the picture nicer, take a pause and acknowledge that behavior. You’re heading in the wrong direction.

More often than not, managers feel jeopardized when they see long cycle times of unstable systems, with high variability in their delivery times. Honestly, this is my favorite stage of business development. Why? Because achieving that level of awareness is priceless – it enables so many opportunities! Having transparency makes it possible to actually improve our capability, our delivery speed and the predictability of our workflows. From here, you can only go up!

#2 Embrace Shortcomings and Turn Them into Opportunities

Let’s explore the example below. This is the Cycle Time Scatterplot of a development team that was struggling to handle the continuous stream of customer requests.

Learning from failure: Cycle Time Scatterplot

As you can see, by the middle of July 2018, their delivery times didn’t look good. Their customer requests were continuously growing and with that, their cycle times exponentially increased as a result. They were failing to deliver in a consistent manner. With a constantly increasing work in progress, it was impossible for them to provide a reasonable level of predictability to their clients. That was a huge business struggle.

Instead of pointing the finger at the team and holding them accountable for the long delivery times, the management of the company moved their focus to the root cause of the problem – excessive demand.

They embraced their failure and turned it into an opportunity. A decision was made to adopt a new strategy to demand management. They stopped committing early to their customers, and they no longer initiated new requests at the moment they arrived. Instead, they considered their backlog items as optional and only started as many tasks as the team were able to handle at a time.

The results? Learning from failure allowed them to make the most out of their efforts. Looking into the trends by the end of August 2018, the team managed to achieve 4 times faster delivery times in just a couple of months! It’s not that they worked harder. They only made a simple change to how they managed the flow of work.

Learning from failure: Cycle time trends

Don’t worry too much if your flow metrics don’t look good right from the start. Look into the trends instead. Explore how the changes you make affect your performance over time. If the trends are improving, you are in a great place.

Furthermore, don’t expect miracles overnight. Here is my secret mantra: progress, not perfection. Move the focus away from the target, enjoy the journey along the way, and celebrate every single win. As you make progress, and one small change follows another, you are gradually building up massive improvement.

#3 Perceive Learning from Failure as a Competitive Advantage

There is a need to shift our perspective. We should shake off the feeling of intimidation and embrace learning from failure as a competitive advantage.

Your biggest competitor is your own business. You’re competing with your status quo. Learning from failure will enable you to build an environment of evolutionary change and a culture of trust, respect, and appreciation.

Failures should never be approached with the motivation to point fingers and keep individuals responsible for the shortcomings. Your business success strongly depends on the unprecedented support and effective collaboration of your people. Encourage this behavior. If you want to blame someone, blame the organizational policies and management practices and strive to improve them.

People are never the problem. The problem always boils down to how effectively you manage your work. Developing this mindset will open countless doors for your business.

Always keep this thought at the front of your mind: every failure is an opportunity. It is another chance to take a step further and improve the way your teams work together, your systems operate and how your business develops as a whole.

If you’re striving to build stable delivery systems and achieve consistent predictable business outcomes, I’d be thrilled to welcome you to our Sustainable Predictability program.

The fact that you see these problems is the first step towards solving them. The more you recognize, the more you will be able to straighten out. Don’t get threatened by unpleasant pictures. Instead, embrace them and take action!

Use these three strategies for learning from failure and start making small evolutionary steps. That’s the shortest path towards developing your management practices, improving your workflows and making your business thrive in the long run.

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