Plan to Fail: Two Questions to Ask When You Miss The Mark

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On February 26, 2013

Individuals who are serious about building a great company know they importance of good planning. They know it’s critical to have realistic, measurable goals that drive specific activity.

They also know that they can’t just make a plan once and then put it in a file and forget about it. They understand the importance of regularly reviewing their plans, evaluating their plans, and adjusting their plans as necessary. Some things they review quarterly. Others get looked at on a monthly or a weekly basis. And some activities need to be monitored daily. They understand that a plan is simply a plan—it’s not a guaranteed result.

Successful business people also understand that some plans fail. They may not plan to fail, but they know that failure is part of the business equation. What makes them successful, however, is what they do when their plans fail. They have a plan for when they fail, and that plan is built on the answers to two key questions.

1. What did we learn from our failure? Failure happens. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” How many people remember Edison’s “ways that didn’t work” today? We all remember his successes because Edison learned from his mistakes. If your plan failed, it’s probably because of a faulty assumption or because or poor execution. Pointing fingers and assigning blame won’t help you learn. Figure out if you made assumptions that were wrong—and what lead you to them. Then take a look at how you executed your plan. What did you do right? What did you do wrong. Then move on to the second questions.

2. What corrective steps do we need to take? If your failure is the result of poor assumptions, what can you do to get better information? Do you need an independent, outside source of data? Do you have a trusted adviser who will challenge your assumptions? If your failure is a result of poor execution, what specific steps can you take to remedy that situation? Were your team members adequately trained to do the tasks required of them? Do you have the knowledge, expertise, and skill to train your people? Or do you need help to make sure your employees have the training and skills they need to execute your plans properly?

We all miss the mark now and then. You could almost say that smart business people plan to fail (it’s not their goal, but they know that they won’t hit the mark every time). People who are ultimately successful subscribe to Winston Churchill’s philosophy: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” The courage to continue, however, must be bolstered by learning—by taking an honest look at the plan (assumptions) and the execution of the plan.


How do you plan to fail?