Hallmark of a Great Organization Is Safety in Failure

This is a follow up to https://www.tinselai.com/trial-and-error-and-succeed/

Buzz Word Bingo:
You hear all these buzz statements about "fail well," "fail fast," and "fail friendly." Ok, I just made that last one up, but you get the idea. If you enter into something as an experiment, I challenge whether it is really a failure if it doesn't go as expected. Success is in learning, success is in incremental improvement, and success is in being able to handle things not going as expected. It is only a failure if others who didn't opt-in to the experiment were impacted.

The Goal:
The goal should be to learn quickly; each learning contributes to the desired outcome and/or the following experiment(s). This is often discouraged and/or difficult to do in many organizations. Unfortunately, experiments do not appear to overtly contribute to a deliverable and are thus considered wasteful.

Scaling Walls:
Building a complex system or software is like scaling an incredibly complex wall. Extraordinary climbers just don't walk up to El Capitan and decide to free solo it. They are experts at climbing, yet take months of study, planning, and experiments...with a rope. If you have yet to see Free Solo I encourage you to watch it. It gives insight into what it takes to do this and the immense preparation. Suppose you ignore the anxiety and dizzying heights. In that case, there are a lot of parallels between Alex solving complex challenges on the shear rock face of El Capitan and the challenges in building complex systems.

If Not Encouraged...Then Teach:
A hallmark of a great organization is that it encourages experimental behavior, leaves room for learning, and gives you some rope and a parachute. When you fall off the 2000ft (~610 meters) shear face, you get an excellent snap sound of a rope tightening or a scenic ride down. Encouragement can take many forms, from leaving room in people's day for experimentation to celebrating failure. Celebrating failure is the most mature stage I have seen for this type of organization, and it can take a few forms. The general hope and best practice are that experiments occur in a controlled environment or system without the risk of impacting other systems or people. Then you don't have a "post-mortem," but you have an "after party." This "after party" helps determine what went well, what you learned, and what not to do again. It should be shared and celebrated. Don't wait for the rare leader(s) who invests and provides this kind of environment. Learn to sell the value of experiments. Counteract the notion of it being wasteful...the best time to do this is just after a "big win." Then you document and present the significant experiments contributing to the "big win." Teach leaders the values and others how to do the same.

Remember The "Solo" in "Free Solo":
FYI: If you knowingly deploy to prod or an environment in which your experiment is bound to impact others. Then it is like you are climbing a wall with hundreds or thousands of others, and since you decided to Free Solo it, everyone else's rope disappears, and you are taking them along for a perilous climb. Don't be that person. Think through the consequences...better yet, be the team and the leader who provides that safe wall to climb with a rope, parachutes, and a party waiting at base camp. So...constrain your experiments and build in safety.

A serious challenge in doing experiments is knowing what is good enough when you have learned enough and when to stop polishing...basically, knowing when to quit.

Knowing when to quit will be a future post...if I don't decide to quit before then! ;-)

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