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When is failure an option?

I don’t know who coined the phrase that “Failure is not an option.” I think it comes from war movies. On the other hand if failure is not an option in military maneuvers; why do they have a bugle call for “Retreat!?”

When it comes to projects, we have all seen examples of failure. I was talking to someone that was managing a non-healthcare project that was doomed for failure. The sad thing was that they had the mentality that “Failure was not an Option.” So the project sponsors and program managers were looking at ways to maneuver resources and re-define milestones in order to fit what was now a scaled down scope, for a project going down in flames. It’s like starting a road trip to Disney World, figuring out that Gas is too expensive and stopping at a roadside attraction instead.

Nobody plans to fail. Unexpected changes in resources happen and unsupported projects are the first on the chopping block. Changing the game plan to avoid failure is often a political decision rather than an operational one. When is it acceptable to change direction in the middle of a project? Have you ever had to pull the plug on a project in order to stop the bleeding?

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