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Failure is an Option

Alistair Gerrard
August 31, 2023

“Failure is not an option” is a famous quote attributed to Gene Kranz in the film Apollo 13, and there is no doubt circumstance where this rings true. But let’s just pause for a second. On 16th July 1969 the NASA’s Apollo 11 mission did land men on the moon, and yet Apollo 13 is almost equally as famous but because it nearly failed, and only by overcoming adversity were those astronauts returned safely to Earth.

The history of space exploration is littered with failures too: Space Shuttle Challenger on 28th January 1986; Space Shuttle Colombia on 1st February 2003; Apollo 1 on 27th January 1967. Delve a little deeper and you will see a catalogue of failures tracing back all the way to 1930. I recall watching a documentary on the experiments conducted by von Braun on Peenemunde and seeing spectacular footage of when controlled explosions to propel rockets become uncontrolled explosions. A phenomena repeated by Elon Musk’s team of engineers frequently as they developed the Falcon rockets over the past two decades. But this time with HD footage of each “rapid unplanned disassembly” available on YouTube.

Reverting back to our opening quote, failure may not be an option but it is inevitably something which happens, even in multi-million dollar projects. What is apparent is that each failure, whilst being a significant set back, did not stop the process but provided learning and improvement to prevent the failure from recurring.

We may not face the same pressures when delivering testing on a project but it can often feel that “failure is not an option”. Yet is seems this is not the lesson we should learn from those moments in history when failures occurred. The lesson must surely be that “people learn from their mistakes”.

Clearly there is a balance to be struck between unmanned rapid unplanned disassembly events and manned missions to the Moon in terms of failures. And yet by allowing people to try, and to try again, wonderful things can be achieved. By investing in innovation you may well see some unplanned results but, every so often, you might just achieve something spectacular through early adoption of new technology, through trying to make something which hasn’t been done before, suddenly you might find you are leading the pack.

Sogeti as an organization seeks to encourage and nurture innovation and to take risks. This has led to Sogeti as an organization creating new products such as Cognitive QA and OneDeliver which both broke new ground in an ever-evolving and challenge industry. So let people play, let people experiment, and let people fail. And help them get back up again and try again.

About the author

Managing Consultant 1
Upon graduating I applied my problem-solving skills into supporting production software directly with end-users, leading a role testing charge card authorizations for Diners Club International, and ultimately this gave me my first opportunity in automation when I automated regression testing for authorizations and performance tested the international authorizations switch.


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