Failure is a pretty scary proposition, especially in the context of project management. And yet, it doesn't have to be this all-consuming nightmare; it is a challenge that should be confronted head-on. According to famed political economist Douglass C. North, institutions lose their ability to lead strategically because they stop thinking creatively and instead become tied down to process, often because they are paralyzed by the fear of failure. North also observes that the most successful organizations look at challenges as opportunities to thrive. Over the past few weeks, I've come across a number of examples of projects failing needlessly that I think are helpful to consider in the context of a strategic "gut-check", a series of three simple tests that can help stop bad ideas dead in their tracks.
"Sensible Strategy" is a blog series that explores these three simple tests and showcases real world, high profile case studies of spectacular yet entirely avoidable failure.
Test 1 - Evaluate the Purpose, Objectives, and Goals.
Every project needs to start out with a clear vision of its intended end-state and then all actions, including policies and processes that exist in the project, should be put to a basic standard: does it fit? It's more than simple compatibility; it's the "Why am I doing this?" of any project, from building a website or sitting down to write a cookbook. If the task at hand isn't directly involved in the furtherance of an objective or goal, then, it's probably out of scope and irrelevant or worse, detrimental.
Case Study: Real ID Forum Fiasco
The universes of computer gaming and project management unexpectedly collided earlier last month when the world's most popular online game, World of Warcraft, enacted (and revoked three days later) a policy of requiring that customers' real names be publicly displayed when they post to their community forums. This policy was promulgated under the auspices of Real ID, a program intended to link in-game accounts with out-of-game social tools, like Facebook and Twitter. Don't see the connection? You're not alone: users didn't see the connection either and they posted over 50,000 replies to a forum thread protesting the change, citing it as arbitrary censorship at best and an invasion of privacy at worst. It quickly got the attention of the international news media: it was a featured leader on MSNBC.com's Tech category, was being reported by the BBC News Service, and was even being discussed on the morning news. After days of silence and inaction, Blizzard's CEO Mike Morhaime had to deliver a humiliating public reversal which cost the company precious prestige.
The Real ID Forum Fiasco is an example of a bad idea that tried to solve one problem (moderating forums by mass-removing disruptive users) by linking it with another challenge (adding value to users by allowing them to link their game accounts with trusted social networks). Often times, there are synergies between different programs and using policies to cross-pollenate the administration of two or more projects can be effective. This was definitely not the case because there were no shared goals or objectives between these two, and instead, by trying to advance one set of objectives by leveraging tools and resources designed for a completely different set, Blizzard ended up undermining both efforts and caused tremendous waste, needless drama, and a costly loss of confidence.
In our next installment of "Sensible Strtaegy", we'll examine the second test - Synthesis of Approach - and look at how the world's greatest search engine struggled to take on the world of social networking.