Learning Fast & Failing Forward

29 June 2015
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While many organizations and PMOs are realizing that “failing fast” is a smart approach, New Product Development (NPD) has been doing this for years, and doing it successfully. They refer to the process as Stage Gate, where ideas are turned into products; to sum it up the stages are “Activities” + “Analysis” = “Deliverables”. The reason that NPD has adopted this practice is that engagement levels and investments (both monetary and time-wise) are so high in product development, that they need to fail & learn fast before going too far – otherwise the loss would simply be too high.

So what is failing fast? We would actually prefer to call it “Learning Fast & Failing Forward”, meaning failing early on in order to learn fast; the core of most innovative businesses. The idea lies in testing out a product early (and often) in the development stage, so that the right lessons can be learned before taking the next step. All with the intention of saving time and money, before it’s too late to turn back and before the losses become too high to handle. The key is to innovate by engaging in a set of experiments that are designed for the purpose of learning.

However, there is a point that I would like to highlight: it is not so much about “failing” fast as it is about learning fast. You can “fail” fast or “fail” slow, but the most important part is to find the key insights early and often, so that you can modify your plan to take advantage of these learnings.

A perfect example of this concept can be seen with how writers develop their work. You will rarely (if ever) come across a writer who gets their article, book or any other composition right from the first try. The process usually goes a little something like this: Stringing some words together to create a usually “crappy” first draft, which then propels a better second draft and an even better third draft. Most writers don’t actually know what they will create until they simply start writing – with the first “crappy” and quick 1st draft as the basis for improvement.

There is a common trait among successful people that can’t be denied; they act quickly despite the possibility of failing and they adapt just as quickly along the way. Instead of fearing the mistakes and failures that they may encounter, they acknowledge that these are actually opportunities to learn and move forward, a.k.a. learning fast and failing forward.

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