Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Admitting Project Failure

Buckminster Fuller said, "If I ran a school, I'd give the average grade to the ones who gave me all the right answers, for being good parrots. I'd give the top grades to those who made a lot of mistakes and told me about them, and then told me what they learned from them."

This quote characterizes the new website,
FAILFaire, which provides an online forum to report and discuss project failures. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, all too often most project evaluations do not mention any project shortcomings or failures. The international development community often highlights success and files away failures. But this is a mistake!!! Only by "talking openly and seeing where we have failed may help us learn, make better decisions, and avoid making the same mistakes again." I believe it is no secret that many project just don't work...for various reasons.

Hopefully, though, most projects should be based on sound evidence that they will work prior to implementation. But, for those occasions when projects do fail they should be talk about for lessons learned. 

Besides the website,
FAILFaire holds conferences. The 1st was held in New York by MobileActive and focused on technology and the 2nd was held in Washington DC in July by the World Bank.

One example reported at a FAILFaire conference was by UNICEF. It was the 5 Million Stories by
2010 Project
. UNICEF Innovations’ Chris Fabian and Erica Kochi co-presented what they jokingly referred to as a “zombie project”, because despite the fact that the project couldn’t get off the ground, it kept being half-heartedly restarted over the years. “Our Stories” was designed to give children around the world the chance to tell their stories to be published online as part of a look at the global experience of childhood, with the ultimate goal of having 5 million stories posted by 2010.

Launched in 2007, Kochi and Fabian estimate the project had a .008 success rate, since it only gathered 400 stories. They say that this project was a failure of real world application, in that although the idea was good, there was no real desire for it among the community it targeted. As Kochi explained, “No one asked for this.” Other problems included using proprietary, non-open source code so that they couldn’t adjust when there were problems, a lack of ownership and commitment to the project by key stakeholders, and a long timeline that mean that resources never aligned with needs – in 2007 there was money for PR, in 2008 pro-bonoe design resources, in 2009 the software development. In 2010, they finally shelved the project.

So, if you have a failed project, please proudly post it on FAILFaire.
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