Why I Hate “Fail Fast” and “Good Enough”

November 17, 2012 — Posted by Al Shalloway

I’ll start by stating three things I believe.  I don’t know that I can prove any of these.  I “believe” them.  But I know a lot of other smart folks believe them. And a lot of some smart folks probably don’t.  So intelligence and logic cannot prove them. I believe them from experience:

  1. Our world shows up to us in our language
  2. What we focus on in our speaking we manifest in our world
  3. Our subconscious mind manifests what we speak about, except it knows of no negatives.  So, “fail fast” merely means “fail” to it.  “good enough” merely means settle for.

I continuously hear the terms “fail fast” and “good enough” in the Agile world.  Let’s take why I dislike both of these. 

Let's start with "fail fast." No matter how you speak about it, failure has a negative connotation.  We don’t set out to fail No one is proud of failure, although we may be proud of overcoming failure.  The mere term “fail fast” implies we don’t want to fail slow – we want to get through the failure as soon as possible.   The truth is, what we really mean, is to learn fast.  To correct quickly if we are off course.  That we don’t even consider going off course a failure.  With this attitude we actually never fail.  Fail fast is not our goal. Learn fast is.

Now with “good enough” I know people mean to avoid extra work that doesn’t have enough value to warrant it.  But why don’t we say that?  I guess we think sloppy speaking is “good enough” (sorry, couldn’t help the pun).  I don’t think so.  I think Agile requires precision in our speaking and our actions.  We want to focus on the most important thing, where we can put our best efforts to get our best results.  Agile requires precision, not sloppiness.

I also want to be clear I am not attacking anyone who says these terms.  I am advising them to improve their speaking because they are worth betting quality results. Allowing people to act in an ineffective manner without providing feedback is a kind of disrespect to me.  It doesn't recognize people's inherent value.

So let’s stop talking about failing fast and good enough.  Let’s start focusing on value and learning quickly.  Let’s have value and success be what we focus on.  Let’s have our subconscious mind work on what we want, not what we don’t want.

Alan Shalloway
CEO, Net Objectives

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With over 40 years of experience, Alan is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, SAFe, Scrum and agile design.


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