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Don't be a chicken: Fail quickly!

Rooster in grass.Image via Wikipedia

The people who design jet engines use a chicken test. This test fires chickens (usually purchased at the supermarket) at a running engine. They attempt to run this test as early in the design process as possible because if the engine can't pass the test, there is no point in spending additional millions designing it.

Fast failure is acceptable; slow failure is not. But even more unacceptable is NO failure. If you aren't failing anywhere at work, then it's likely that you're not trying hard enough. You are not pushing the envelope.

The following related story may be urban legend but it's a good one. (It comes from David Thielen's, The Twelve Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management.) A British company asked Boeing for one of its chicken guns to test a new jet windshield. After using it the Brits called up Boeing and reported that the chicken went through not only the windshield but also the brick wall behind it. Boeing sent an engineer over to England to investigate. After watching the workers run the test again, Boeing added to the instructions, "Make sure chickens are defrosted before firing."

The point? Identify failure as fast as possible.

  • Sit down and try to come up with everything you're doing that could lead to failure. (It's usually pretty easy to accurately predict all the things that could trip you up. The surprise is usually in which of the predicted items actually did cause the failure.)
  • For each item on your list, figure out how to determine, as early as possible, if this is a showstopper.
  • For each showstopper, don't give up. See if you can find a way around the problem.
  • Only if the problem is truly unsolvable do you kill the project.
  • Oh, and be sure to read the instructions. All the instructions.

- Shirley Poertner

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