Thomas Edison tested thousands of different filament materials before releasing the first commercial light bulb. His experience teaches us to look at failure for the value it brings. That’s why automation professionals, whether they’re employed in the manufacturing or processing industries or with system integrators, should plan for both success and failure to have the opportunity to thrive.
Anticipating mistakes during a project can enable a professional to overcome setbacks and continue to make forward progress. The key is to account for mistakes as part of the process and use them to your advantage.
Mistake #1: Not anticipating failure. Look out for pitfalls and plan for the potential occurrence. Time cannot be recaptured, so failing fast minimizes the investment and damage resulting from a mistake. Projects that fail fast may be recovered from with forward momentum if knowledge was gained during the failure.
Mistake #2: Not addressing career impact. The outcome of a project will have human consequences related to the career prospects of those involved. It should be understood what the impact of a project will be on the personnel involved. However, assumptions should not be made about career implications in relation to project outcome. Prior history should be reviewed to understand the vantage point collaborators bring to the project. Good teammates give credit to colleagues for successes and assume responsibility for failures when they occur.
Mistake #3: Not emphasizing the upgrade path. Automation projects are typically iterated upon and become integral to processes and systems over time. The first iteration is never the last. Small projects lead to big projects. Even the smallest project may potentially support a huge vision. Therefore, when engaging in a new project, look ahead multiple generations at where the path of the project may ultimately lead.
Mistake #4: Not thinking long term. Having a customer for life means the customer is not always right. If you don’t work well together early on, you shouldn’t plan a future relationship. It is important to find out early on how the parties in a project respond to adversity.
Mistake #5: Out of sequence sales. Serving a customer professionally means reducing their exposure to risk. A customer should not be asked to agree to higher value projects until qualification has been performed. System integrators should identify opportunities for smaller qualifying projects prior to contracting the final deliverable.
Mistake #6: Not testing assumptions. One test is worth countless opinions. Testing a new idea is ripe for healthy failure. The alternative of only envisioning success may result in a more damaging failure which takes longer to unfold. Slow-to-develop failures don’t offer opportunistic rebound opportunities.
Mark Perlin is an automation project manager at Symation. Symation is an integrator member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Symation, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.