The Peace & Power of a Positive Perspective


Planning to fail…

I attended a presentation recently by Patrick Stroh, President of Mercury Business Advisors entitled: Business Strategy & Leadership: Plan, Execute, Win!  (see  I was intrigued by the executive role at companies today called the Chief Strategy Officer.

The most intriguing part of Patrick’s presentation was his review of the planning tool and process known as FMEA: Failure Mode Effect Analysis.  Hmmm planning to fail?  Tell me more.

Patrick Stroh offered that FMEA originated in the 1940’s during World War Two, in battle planning mode.  Then FMEA morphed to NASA and the space program.  And today exists (or at least, should exist) in the business community.

My summary understanding of the topic is the need to plan in advance for all of the possible bad things that can (and likely will) happen during an initiative because once the initiative commences, there is no time to start the planning process on how to react to the failure points if they arise.

This makes obvious sense when we think about the space probes we build and program on earth and then hurtle millions of miles into space.  Once launched, our only control is through (delayed) communications.  Once in space, NASA can only transmit software commands to address issues.  They don’t have any ability to retrofit physical repairs or replace things that wear out or are damaged in flight.  If they didn’t think about these possible failure points in advance, the entire mission (and tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars) would be lost.

This type of advanced planning with a failure-avoidance orientation makes me think about my profession – selling software.

Weinberg’s Law:

If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization. 

Gerald M. Weinberg

Throughout my career I continue to be amazed at how customers (and sales reps) focus more on negotiating a purchase price vs. going through all of the little implementation and upgrade intricacies that can (and usually do) fail.  We prefer to pay big bucks to our attorneys for contract negotiations just in case the project fails vs. entering into focused project planning in the sales cycle.   I suppose if the project fails at least the attorneys’ fees are covered.

I believe in the marketplace today the customer values a sales rep’s project planning skills more than the rep’s selling skills.  But that’s just me I guess.

When implementing or upgrading business systems it’s almost a surprise if a project goes well, isn’t it?  Does this sound at all familiar?

The stages of Systems Development: 

1. Wild enthusiasm

2. Disillusionment

3. Total confusion

4. Search for the guilty

5. Punishment of the innocent

6. Promotion of the non-participants

Arthur Black

Nope – no FMEA done here.

I get it – implementing new systems is complicated.  Getting our people to adopt new processes takes a huge effort.  The thing is; many of the pot holes projects run over are the same pot holes the same projects have been running over for as long as I can remember.  Maybe a little FMEA vs. attorney time would offer a better ROI, true?


Hello, thank you for calling Application Consolidation Services.  We’re sorry for the problem s you’re having.  We know you’re sorry for buying the software in the first place.  We feel your pain.  But that’s life.  Please hold. 

CIO Magazine 5/15/1997

Selling software successfully doesn’t have to be rocket science; but FMEA shows we can learn a little from the space program.


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