How To Deconstruct Costly Mistakes & Prevent Them From Recurring

Let’s face it, we all make mistakes and yet some mistakes are more costly than others. A mistake can cost us some lost time, a lost client, a lost account, a lost market opportunity, and in the worst situation a mistake can cost a life.

Good innovators and thinkers know that being able to deconstruct ideas swiftly and effectively can help us understand why mistakes happen and how to prevent them from happening again. This method can also give us the opportunity to look for an improved solution or innovation that can save us time and effort, and get us a bigger return for our endeavors, what ever they may be.

Unless we have professional saboteurs working for us, neither us or our teams intentionally set out to make mistakes. Mistake making usually falls into one of the following three categories; a 'Real Mistake' happens when we’ve executed the wrong process, a 'Blackout' occurs if we’ve forgotten part of the process or a 'Slip-up' eventuates when the right process has been executed but incorrectly. There can be a number of contributing factors and some other levels involved, yet in general these are the three key categories of mistakes that happen.

  • Real mistake - the wrong process is executed

  • Blackout - part of the process is forgotten

  • Slip ups - the right process is executed incorrectly

Let’s use some simple examples:

Real Mistake

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A client is two weeks overdue on an invoice that must be paid. The accounts receivable clerk sends out a ‘overdue payment demand letter’ that states that if the payment is not received in the next 7 days legal action will be commenced and notifies their debt collector. The accounts clerk should have used the overdue reminder process which would have sent out a friendly reminder letter of the overdue account. The wrong process was executed, hence it being called a Real mistake.

Blackout mistake

A contract is sent to a client for finalising a business deal and yet there are no instructions for what the client should do with the final signed documents. This a Blackout mistake. Someone has forgotten to attach instructions and a prepaid and addressed envelope to make sure the signed contract comes back delivered. It may not seem like a big mistake, yet if the client has any doubts about attention to detail for the contract, they’ve just reinforced them.

Slip up mistake

A company has just agreed to secure the services of a design firm. The design firm admin team start to implement their ‘new client on-boarding process’. A ‘welcome gift pack’ is produced, a booking confirmation form is created and a deposit invoice is generated. The process order should be 1. Send ‘welcome gift pack’ (day 1) 2. Send email booking confirmation (day 2) 3. Send deposit invoice email (day 3).

The admin team however, have a slip up. They send the deposit invoice first, then they organise the ‘welcome gift pack’ for the next day and the day after that they send the deposit email booking confirmation. The right process is executed poorly and whilst not losing the client, it ruins the customer’s on-boarding experience.

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Mistake Sources

Not only do we have three categories of mistakes, we also have three sources of mistakes that can be used to further ascertain what the mistake was caused by, and how to prevent it. They are:

  1.  Rule-based - the rules we are supposed to adhere to

  2. Knowledge-based - what people know about a process, activity or situation

  3. Skill-based - the skills and abilities of people to execute a process step/ activity

Let’s use our previous examples to see what mistake sources were in play and how they can enlighten us to prevent the mistake happening again.

The accounts’ real mistake

The Accounts Clerk was new to the job and new to the world of accounting. Despite being advised on their induction day about the different type of processes, the accounts team leader failed to show them where to find all the relevant processes and pre-prepared emails. The accounts clerk did a quick search for the word ‘overdue’ on the company intranet and the first search result came up with the ‘overdue payment demand letter’ and that was what they used. This was a combination of a skill based mistake (not knowing how to find the appropriate email message) and a rule based mistake by implementing the wrong process.

The sales contract blackout 

The new Sales Assistant sending out the contract had the skills to add instructions to a pre-paid envelope and knew about it, but in the haste to get it sent by the end of the day didn’t refer to the contract procedure check list and forgot to add it. The rules were not adhered to and thus this is a rule based mistake source .

The design firm slip-up

The admin team had the appropriate skills to complete the activities, they were aware of the on-boarding process, which is why they completed all the activities but they lacked a knowledge base  as to why customer experience is so important. Without the knowledge base as to why the on-boarding process sequencing was so critical, they didn’t comprehend the impact that implementing the process out of sequence could cause.

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Contributing Factors

Finally, we have contributing factors which can affect our mistakes. There are four core contributing factors:

  1. People involved - the number and type of people involved e.g. leader, team, colleague, client, supplier

  2. Planning elements - tasks, priorities & timing 

  3. Technical provisions - equipment, technology, workplace

  4. Outside influences - time, mood, weather, economic climate

By now, you should be able to see the power of deconstructing the mistakes. The table below this article will enable you to bring all these components together so that you can quickly deconstruct a mistake and then generate innovative solutions to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Conclusion

Mistakes happen, yet by deconstructing them, not only can we prevent them from happening in the future we can create superior processes and procedures to increase our output and execution of our important projects.

If your organisation is looking for ways to flip costly mistakes into innovative solutions, feel free to reach out for a chat to see how be might be able to help.

Cheers,
Nils Vesk
Founder of Ideas with Legs

To download the table below, just right-click and save the image so you can use it when you want to try the deconstructing mistakes method.

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