Responding to cancelled projects

January 9, 2024

This month (welcome to 2024, by the way) Reitse Eskens (@2meterDBA) asks us about our failures. Our abandoned projects. More specifically, what we’ve learned from them.

Thanks Reitse. My failures are just what I want to turn my mind to at the start of a new year.

But let’s be clear. He’s not asking about our failings, but our failures. They’re very different. Failings are those areas where we have a tendency to fall down. Our failures are where we actually did. Failures are not always caused by our failings, but repeated failures can sometimes alert us to something deeper. This blog post is not going there. Do talk to someone about your failings – trusted people, not the whole internet. I’m seeing a psychologist (professionally), which helps.

But many failures (particularly as far as projects are concerned) are not down to our personal failings. They might be because of changes beyond our control – budget changes, personnel changes, technology changes – or mistakes. Mistakes are the things we can learn from best.

It’s very hard to learn lessons about a project failure when it was cancelled due to a budget change. Or that the customer hired a new CEO and this CEO had other ideas about how things could work. Or that some new technology got released that made the project pointless. We’ve all seen this type of thing, and it sucks. The leaps in artificial intelligence are making that last one more and more commonplace.

But what can we learn from this type of thing?

Resilience, certainly. We can choose not to beat ourselves up, understanding that these things are typically out of our control. And that even if it was a mistake of our own, that mistakes happen. Maybe we can mitigate the negatives, by improving communication, building/managing expectations, reassuring team members, but at the end of the day, we often need to simply choose kindness.

Bad things happen. We can have regrets from our mistakes, but choosing to be kind, to our team mates, to our customers, and to ourselves, is the best course of action.

There’s a lot of negativity in the world these days. So let’s choose kindness instead, and make that our standard response to failure.


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