I’m fascinated with project failures, especially with postmortem reports. They’re oddly more interesting than projects that run smooth and successful, because you always learn something when things go wrong – even if it’s only another validation of old wisdom.
I just downloaded Half Life 2 for my laptop (because that’s how I roll with my computer hardware – cheap and 5 years behind), and on a lark I started looking around for Mods to download. In searching, I came across this post:
This case isn’t an abject failure, but clearly the author is reflecting on a less than successful close to his work. The honesty and lessons interest me in these situations.
This is also why I like Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares (thank you BBC America). The yelling Scott barges into a failing restaurant – always a situation of people, practices and resources not striking the right note – dramatizes the low points, and holds a brutal mirror to the staff. Almost always, the people `fess up and acknowledge what they are or aren’t doing. But here’s where the British show trumps the later Americanized series: a lot of times, after a week of coaching, the business still fails.
I don’t know why, but these examples always are more striking to me than the ones that just take a nudge and steer in the right direction, calamity averted. Just like those disastrous military campaigns they feature lazy Sundays on the History Channel. I was watching a 2 hour piece on the Knights Templar, which walks through 200 years of their history, up through their last major battle in the Holy Land. The forces comprised of Christians from all over Europe were starting to dissent into factions, and their captain was a dim, hot tempered idiot. They’re a day away from an larger army, and in the dry desert everyone agrees the right thing to do is dig in and let the enemy come to them.
And that’s when the egotist captain, determined to assert authority over dissenting factions, orders a march through parched dessert with no water. Everyone marches for a day until every man nearly collapses from dehydration and exhaustion, and then the enemy army surrounds them and picks off the lot of them within an hour. Apparently the shmuck captian takes off – a taboo action for Knights of any order, let alone Templars – and lives another year until he loses his head during a later battle.
Fascinating stuff. OK, maybe not fascinating, but it sticks with you.