The Failed Gorilla: Just because you failed doesn’t mean you didn’t succeed.

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It was like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. No matter how many times I moved the boxes around, the data still showed the damning truth. Failure. The project was a failure and there was no amount of lipstick I could slap on it to make it anything else. The executive review was going to be painful.
“FORE!” A golf ball whizzed past my head and shot out the open window. All but picking myself up off the floor I shot a look out my open door. Cheerfully striding down the hallway was Hogarth, wearing the most ridiculous golfing outfit I’d ever seen in my life. All right, the outfit wasn’t so bad, but on Hogarth it was awful.
“Hogarth!” I snapped.
Ignoring me, he cheerfully swept into my office and over to the open window. Casting a critical eye out the window he gave a dissatisfied grunt. “Dang, I was hoping for an eagle on that hole. Be lucky if I make par.”
“HOGARTH! What on earth are you doing?”
He turned and offered me his ivory smile. “Practicing for the launch party golf trip, of course. This is going to be so fun!”
I buried my head in my hands. “Hogarth,” I muttered from the depths of my palms. “There isn’t going to be a launch party.
The project is a failure.”
“The project the customer is using right now?”
I nodded, “Yes, that project.”
“Maybe I’m dense, I mean I’m just a gorilla, but isn’t shipping to the customer a definition of success.
I threw myself back in my chair and cast my arms in the air. “The Project was a failure! We shipped a full quarter late and went over budget by fifteen percent!”
“The customer is so happy they are doubling their order and you’ve failed?”
“Yes! We failed to ship on time and on budget. That’s two of the triple constraints. We failed!”
“Huh,” he grunted. He took a seat on the corner of my desk, eliciting a groan of protest from it. “I’m not sure I’m following you. The product shipped, the customer is happier than ever and they are planning to order more and that’s a failure?”
I nodded. 
“Hmm, okay. Let’s take a new approach. You remember Apollo 13. Was it a success or a failure?”
“It was a success; they all made it home alive. You can’t argue with breathing.”
“Yeah, but they were supposed to land on the moon…”
“Who, cares about landing on the moon! They lived.”
There are dozens of stories about the stunning percentage of projects that fail. And yet we still do projects. You’d think with ratios upwards of 80% project failure that whole departments would be getting shot on a daily basis and a lot more companies would be going under every week than actually do. So why doesn’t this failure have a greater impact.
Just because you failed, doesn’t mean you didn’t succeed. Just because a feature is broken, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. So tied are we to the infamous Iron Triangle of Cost, Schedule, and Scope, that we often lose sight of two of the most important things.
Are we delivering value to the customer?
Are we delivering value to the business?
Whether you use Agile in your development process or not the value of communicating with your customers just can’t be overlooked. When you communicate and communicate often, you will find the needs of customer shifting. This can drive many folks mad, as they try and keep features locked down and fixed. But at the end of the day we are selling the product to the customer. If we build it exactly to the original specifications and that doesn’t meet the customer’s needs, then you’ve got a real failure.
What’s a bigger failure? Being three months late, but the customer is happy. Or being on time and the customer doesn’t want the product?
Make sure you are in touch with your customers, internal and external and don’t let the Iron Triangle sink you to the pits of despair.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
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