How Google Learns From Failure and Why You Should Do This Too

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What’s your failure process? If your organization doesn’t have a documented failure process, then take the lead from Google and model how they learn from failure and why it’s important for your company to incorporate a failure process into its culture.

Recently, Google described its postmortem – the internal process they use to document and learn from mistakes. Ideally, postmortem also stops the mistake from escalating into a larger problem or repeating the same failures.

3 Lessons to Learn from Google’s postmortem

  1. Identify the most important problems.

A postmortem is the process our team undertakes to reflect on the learnings from our most significant undesirable events. Incidents happen, but not all require a postmortem.” explains Google’s site reliability engineers.

  • Google creates postmortems for any event they wish to avoid in the future, or if a partner team wishes to document the root cause of a breakdown (or a close call).
  • The first step of Google’s process is to define what constitutes a ‘significant’ event. In Google’s business this equates to service outages, data integrity impacts, slow customer resolutions or failed error detections.
  • When developing your failure process, what would be a considered significant event?
  1. Document objectively.

The next step in Google’s process is to develop a written record for what happened:

  • Why, and its impact?
    How the issue was mitigated or resolved?
    What we’ll do to prevent the incident from recurring.
  • “For us, it’s not about pointing fingers at any given person or team, but about using what we’ve learned to build resilience and prepare for future issues that may arise along the way. By discussing our failures in public and working together to investigate their root causes, everyone gets the opportunity to learn from each incident and to be involved with any next steps.” explains the Google team.
  1. Encourage blamelessness, improvement and collaboration.

Some of the cultural tenets within Google’s process they find valuable are:

  • Encouraging blameless and constructive feedback. Removing blame from a postmortem can enable team members to feel greater psychological safety to escalate issues without fear.
  • Focusing on improvement and resilience. Centering on the importance of improvement and learning can reposition failure as an opportunity for growth and development rather than as a setback.
  • Promoting an iterative and collaborative process. Real-time collaboration and an open commenting system for your postmortems can enable the rapid collection of data, ideas, and solutions. Regularly recognizing postmortems with your team and with senior management can additionally increase the support and effectiveness of the solutions you develop in response. 

Benefits of Implementing a Failure Process

As Google itself says, “Introducing a postmortem culture to your organization is easier said than done; such an effort requires continuous cultivation and reinforcement.” By having a failure process, your company demonstrates to current and prospective employees your values of continuous improvement and culture of transparency and blamelessness.

Finding Top Tech Talent

Finding top talent technology professionals is challenging in today’s competitive job market. By implementing a published failure process and developing an internal culture of transparency and blamelessness your organization will be attractive to top tech talent. The expert technical recruiters at ASK Staffing have the resources to help grow your company. Contact our professional recruiters today.


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