Everyone Makes Mistakes

by Alan Willett

“I have learned all kinds of things from my many mistakes. The one thing I never learn is to stop making them.” 

Joe Abercrombie

About 23 years ago, I did a course in software development where I tracked every mistake I made. It was shocking and disheartening. I made too many mistakes. And I found that those mistakes were costing me too much time. The rework disrupted my days and ate up a significant amount of personal time.

So when I saw the data, I did the natural thing. I tried harder, much harder, to stop making mistakes.

At first, I was shocked that trying harder did not make a difference. In the course, we normalized the data against both size and time. My rate of mistake-making did not change when I tried harder. It was only when I saw the experience of all the people in my cohort that I felt better about this. Everyone in the class was making mistakes at similar rates. And everyone was complaining that trying harder did not work.

Over the last 23 years, I have been able to study data sets of many thousands of people with over 30,000 data points about mistakes, or what I now usually call defects. I can tell you without a doubt that everyone makes mistakes. They make mistakes at a similar rate, and simply trying harder not to make mistakes doesn’t make a difference.

The following are three of the many things I have found that make a difference in reducing rework, increasing speed, and having more fun building great things.

  1. Track the major types of mistakes that get into your work products. You can learn from them.
  2. Create checklists for the types of mistakes you make. The lists must include the errors you make most often and the most expensive ones.   You will find that using these checklists helps immensely in finding the mistakes before they leave your personal workspace.
  3. Find inspectors who will be thorough and brutally straightforward. Each of my projects has improved immensely as I benefitted from the feedback of the toughest reviewers I could find. I looked for reviewers who would give honest feedback for my books, not those who would try to protect my feelings. They did a good job. And it made my books better.

In the Quality Deep Dive experience that is coming up in February, you will learn how to implement each of these techniques and many other ways to master methods that improve your quality and speed.  

It is also good to know you are not alone. I am Alan Willett and yes, I do make mistakes.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett