Friday, 18 July 2008

Acheiving your goals means being good at fixing mistakes

I just had to write about this presentation I just watched on how our response to failure is key to learning how to succeed.



The presentation is focusing primarily on business but to be honest I just feel it applies to life. I was lucky that in certain areas of my life, particularly at school, my parents didn't worry about failure. They encouraged and allowed me to grow. To make mistakes and encouraged me to learn from them.

In my work I've really embraced the concept of being prepared to fail. By getting good at learning from and fixing failures I learn how to succeed where others couldn't. Much of what I've done has been in new areas either to the company I'm working for or for the market. This has a lot of pressure as we're always pushing the envelope but I learnt quickly to keep it simple.

I've learnt that creating a good solution is one thing. But adapting that solution to the constantly changing enviroment and demands is what defines whether it will be a success or failure. In the same achieving a goal isn't just about being good at something. It's often about being good in the situation you're given. Building a business when you have no capital to invest, losing weight when you don't control the meals you're given and find exercise difficult, learning to drive when you can't speak thelanguage.

I've adopted the KISS principle of keeping it simple and I pretty much view it like taking a journey. You don't have to do it the way I describe but if you had to get some where at a particular time, for a particular reason and you didn't know how to get there then there are a bunch of standard steps I'd take before even leaving the house.

In the rest of this article I've taken this idea of a journey and tried to show it's relation to a general project. For this article I've kept the idea of a project very vague as, too me, it's just a case of something you want to get done and how you do it and make sure it gets done.

First off I've put some bullet points in how I'd prepare for the journey. Then I've described the key aspects of the journey, how things went wrong and how they were fixed. the I've gone on to do the same for a project. This makes things clear for me because taking a journey is such a simple and logical thing. Viewing it this way I can see project management, and the process of achieving your goals, as a simple logical process too.

The Journey
So here's a short list of a few things I'd do even before we start out:
  1. Get an address: An address is where you are going. without it you'll go to the wrong house or country even (Boston UK or USA?). You'd also double check the address to see if you've spelt it wrong.
  2. Get a map: the map gives you context. How far away is the address. 10, 100 miles. What towns is it near. It helps if your directions aren't as clear as you though they were and it helps when you get signposts cos you know ifyou're going in the right direction:
  3. Get directions: Sure you've got a map but it helps to either plan you're route using the map or ask some one in the know to give you a few directions. If some one already knows something it's silly not to ask.
On the road
So now you're prepared well what if it's a bank holiday and there are massive traffic jams right through where you're going. But you know there is a good back road through that'll get you there on time. It's a concert for gods sake, you've been waiting for months and you don't want to be late. How do you get there and deal with this problem?
  1. Communicate: You've got your mobile on you and you call your mates who have local knowledge. The tell you the roads to take.
  2. Local knowledge: Your phone dies but you've got enough info to follow the map you've brought. Everyone said you wouldn't need it because the route was straightforward but now you're going cross country and one wrong turn could get you lost. the maps recent and it has enough details you can find the country lanes ok.
  3. Keep checking: You keep wondering if you've gone the wrong way because it's dark and it all looks the same. one sheep loks like another to me. So you check at a few petrol stations. At one point you're fine but the other you were heading the wrong direction and wouldn't gone back to the traffic jams and got stuck.
  4. When you're close you can use the directions you printed originally, if you have the ones provided by the organiser even better.
The Problem
Ok, now we've shown how to get from A-B without a hitch, how do you take this approach to other problems. I've matched the bullet points from previously and then given the relevant answer.

I haven't attempted to write down all the thingss I'd check. Just those key points I feel I do all the time and which are crucial.
  1. Address: Make sure you have a pretty good idea what you want and write it down so you can refer to it later. Get it agreed in writing. For web projects I had an html mockup because words weren't good enough. It took a little time to figure out how to make it efficiently but saved all that time at the end cos we had a clear map of where we were going.
  2. Map: What is the context of the project? what is the history behind it. Are there other solutions already available/in development. do other people already know how to do this? can you learn anything from them or their work. What subjects are relevant to this. Do you know where to find info about it if you need.
  3. Directions: do you have a list of key milestones where you expect to acheive key things. for each of these is there already an example of something like this that you can use as reference and learn from. i.e. can you learn from the work they've done and save time.
How it was fixed
  1. Communicate: keep the lines of communication open with your client.
  2. Local Knowledge: use your contacts or your skills with google to get up to the minute info and get yourself out of a jam. Rather than have a big library of my own. I now being good at finding the info when I need it from whatever resource is handy and relevant.
  3. Keep checking: It's easy to get lazy or over confident. I'd rather stop and check a few time. Sure it'll take a little time but, if done right, it's never as much time as you'll waste if you get stuck on the wrong path. I've seen entire projects get binned and redone at our expense just because we didn't check.
  4. When you're close: part of constant communication really but it's so important to get together with the client and revisit the initial brief. Where did you expect to be and where are you now. Can you get there within this project and budget or should you go with what you've got now and finish the rest in another project. I like to do this as early as I can. Say it's a 6 month project. I aim to do this atleast beginning month 5 preferably a few weeks earlier. Reason being, so we still have time and resource to address things we may have missed or new things the customer wants to add. Particularly if it turns out that we've had a different vision to the client.
So there we go. a short set of steps. Done properly I find this really does help me get from Design to solution very quickly and with minimal hassle time and time again.

Getting back to the video that started this post. You'll notice that the steps are really all geared towards checking we're on the right track and that we can recover quickly if we aren't. We don't like to go for too long down the wrong path and we need to have a good idea what's the right pat and what's not.

So we aren't worried about failing because we're good at fixing mistakes. Which means we're confident that we'll get wherever we want to go no matter what hurdles are in our way. As long as there is a path we can follow we'll get there. Or create one for ourselves.
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