The Agile Tribe

Safe to fail – Blame worthy or Praise worthy?

on August 19, 2011

Author: Phil Abernathy

In the April 2011 issue of the Harvard Business review , Amy Edmonson , Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business review, has a great article on strategies for learning from failure.

It made me think of  how the Agile way of working looks at failure and how we learn from it . In Agile the ‘safe to fail’ mantra is often talked about and just as often abused in more ways than one.

Sometimes teams and people are blamed for failure and hence don’t feel safe, sometimes teams use the ‘safe to fail’ umbrella to not follow any procedure or agreed rules and just do what they want.

A ‘safe’ environment is essential for improvement and innovation, creativity and morale, the key ingredient to creativity and morale, the key ingredient to creating this safe environment is clarity of what types of failures are ‘safe’.

The Failure Spectrum



Leaders need to recognise and make clear that failures occur on a spectrum from blame worthy to praise worthy.

If there is a belief, or ingrained attitude, that all failures are bad then organisations will not learn from them. Failure is the greatest teacher. If an organisation is to ultimately succeed and improve then employees must feel safe admitting and reporting failures.

Clarity is the key to creating this environment.

Employees would actually expect to be held accountable for blame worthy behaviour, providing the spectrum was clearly understood. This would also encourage creativity and innovation at the praise worthy end of the spectrum.

The idea goal is to detect failure early, analyse the root cause and then from it so that the organisation continuously improves.


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