Sometimes we need a plan for how to respond to things not going to plan
“What do you do when things in your business go exactly opposite to plan?” asks Senior Director Jenn Steele in an article written for Entrepreneur. Dealing with things occasionally going wrong is an integral aspect of business management. The trick is to make sure that we don’t repeat our mistakes. Nobody likes to dwell on failure, but as contentious and painful a process as it might be, Steele strongly advises businesses to undertake a thorough ‘disaster diagnosis’ before moving on.
What’s the problem?
Every project should come with goals attached. To define the problem, you need to be clear about where the project failed to reach these goals – what exactly did you want to achieve that you did not achieve? The answer to this question will form your Problem Statement. It might be tempting to focus on why the project failed, but at this stage it’s important to focus solely on defining in what sense the results fell short of expectations.
In the fictitious example of a failed marketing campaign for Bobby Socks, the problem statement might read something like this: “We launched the Bobby Sock marketing campaign, and…expected a 10 percent month-over-month increase in site visits, a 10 percent lift in inbound leads and three press write-ups. We saw a two percent month-over-month decrease in site visits, zero lift in inbound leads and only one press write-up.”
Who did what?
Once everybody has agreed that the project did indeed fail, the next stage involves creating and agreeing on a step by step record of how the project went down. This is not about what was supposed to happen, or whose fault it might be that it didn’t happen that way.
Focus clearly on what did happen; avoid pointing fingers or offering solutions. Enlist the help of a moderator if necessary, and identify an agreed timeline of who did what, and when they did it.
Where did it go wrong?
Did you drop the ball anywhere? Did you proceed from the point of false assumptions? Were there any external factors at work? This stage can be quite contentious, but it’s important to avoid apportioning blame, or even looking for solutions. You may want to use a moderator to ensure that everybody sticks to simply identifying what happened.
For the bobby sock campaign, this could be something along the lines of: “We learned after launch that our PR agency needed a four-week lead time, but we only gave them notice two weeks before”.
Why does it matter?
It matters because once you know exactly where and why things went wrong, you can start to put action plans in place to prevent a recurrence, which is the whole point of the diagnostic process.
For example, the Bobby Sock campaigners could conclude that in future they will ensure that the PR agency is given the four-week lead time they needed.
The moderator’s most important job throughout the process could be to remind everybody that hindsight is 20/20, and that what matters is to learn from our mistakes and move on. Everybody makes mistakes, but a wise manager only makes the same mistake once.