Fail fast, learn quicker!

It’s a part of the agile mindset that can be difficult for people to understand or really embrace as Failure has been traditionally seen as a negative thing. Not being able to do something or failing to be a success has long been something that everyone tries to avoid. What if that wasn’t the case? What if you tried to embrace failing and looking at is as an opportunity to develop? Or as an opportunity to learn quicker?

There’s a really interesting TED talk on the subject of failure that I’d thoroughly recommend if you haven’t seen it yet.

The fear of failing can make it difficult to try anything new or attempting to transition. I’ve seen extremely good colleagues who could have been excellent Scrum Masters failing at the opportunity because they didn’t like failure or trying new things. In the current project management market, this attitude and not wanting to diversify or expand your knowledge could lead to you becoming stagnated in the profession and in your career.

How can we learn quicker?

Whilst going through the transition to becoming a Scrum Master there are a few things that helped me:

  • Reiterating that it’s not failure, it’s learning. Yes, I made a mistake during today’s retrospective by taking notes and not giving the team the empowerment to do it themselves. Next sprint, I’ll do better and give them that space to learn.
  • Giving myself a break! I’m one of my harshest critics when it comes to where I could improve and what I need to do better/differently. I don’t like myself failing so when I did fail, I tended to look upon this as a negative. Instead, I became lenient with myself and saw the opportunity to learn for what it was; an opportunity to develop.
  • Make it a team activity! This is one of the biggest aspects of my success. I encouraged the team to share their ‘learning experiences’ and what we’ve all done better. At the start I did use the words: “where did we fail this sprint?”(said in a laughing tone) but I changed that to “What did we learn this sprint?”. Having the team see that we’re in this together and learning together helped us all develop and grow as a team. This also helped our bonding and going through the team formation phases.
  • Be active! Be an active failure! 😀 Give yourself the chance to fail. Take the initiative to try more, try different things and don’t just stand still. Be active in searching out different ways to do things in an agile environment, join your peers through a meet-up group. You need to be able to try things to be able to know if it’ll work or if it’ll fail.
  • Try. When we first transition we can sometimes be looking for a list of things to do or how we need to be scrum masters, why not TRY and trust your instinct for how it should be done? Why not TRY a new way of managing that retrospective? Why not TRY to address your team in a different way/tone/manner. What have you got to lose?

In my personal life, I love running and marathon running is my favourite distance. When you’re training for a marathon you need to try a lot of different things to know what works for you. Whether that’s: which shoe/clothing choice in the best? What’s the best gel? what’s the best energy/food to use? It’s all learning. Even during a marathon, you fail a lot because you need to try it out and see what works for you and find that ‘magic combination’. I have run over 120 marathons and I still learn something new in each race. Whether that’s about which clothing choice is the best during a specific weather, or what gel isn’t great at Mile 20 when it’s a hot day and I haven’t drunk enough! When you’re learning a sport or trying to get better, failure isn’t seen as a negative. It’s seen as a necessary part of the process that we need to go through. Why can’t we look at our professional careers in a similar view?

Why is failure vital to my success?

Success is a difficult road and it’s not as straight it might appear. It takes time, trying and opportunities presenting themselves. To be able to be a success without trying is impossible and success is also impossible without the risk of failure.


What are you doing this week to be a success? Turn the possibility of failure into a playground and discover more about yourself. Let’s start looking at failing as an opportunity to learn quicker!

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