The Importance of Failure

This month’s New Architect has a great piece called Devil in the Details describing some IT implementation failures. The article’s focus is on examples like the Oracle boondoggle in California, but the larger trend of technology implementations going horribly wrong is one that’s all too frequently ignored by the press in the computer industry. It’s an especially egregious oversight given the huge percentage of projects that either fail outright, go over time, or exceed their budgets.

The focus on the lessons to be learned from other organizations’ IT projects is the reason that I have been quite taken with a newcomer to the realm of technology publishing, Baseline. A relentless focus on metrics for projects, as expressed by the name of the magazine itself, gives their stories a relevance and usefulness that I haven’t seen in any other magazine in recent years. Even giants like the various other Ziff Davis magazines or InfoWorld, each of which keeps extensive labs for testing things like system benchmark performance, miss the point that the raw MIPS and gigahertz and megabytes are essentially worthless measures of technology, compared to the all-too-common technological phenomenon that’s usually expressed by a user as "Well, they put in this fancy new system, but nobody uses it."

This is the same sense of learning from others’ mistakes that typifies Failure, another magazine that I’ve been tracking for a few years now. But without the raw information that informed the decisions of the people involved, or that indicates the scale of the failure, this magazine is less successful in telling stories that we can learn from. I’ll let Alanis analyze the irony of that.

Perhaps the most telling metric when a project fails, at least in my experince when I was running my consulting company, is to watch it over time. See how things progress against an x-axis that’s based on the inexorable march of time. Baseline provides those things. You get a sense of that progress in the New Architect story. Now I want more of those examples from the other technology publications that I read.