We all make mistakes.  I make them from time to time, some silly little mistakes, some a little bigger.  But then what if you make a silly little mistake more than once, and don’t learn from it?

I recently missed an appointment – the osteopath – it was on the calendar, but my head was obviously elsewhere.  Luckily, there was no harm done.  I apologised, and the appointment was rescheduled (phew).  But what if I were to make the same mistake again?  Next time, it might not be as easily fixed; this time I could end up losing a client, or just plain looking bad, but then the mistake won’t seem so little or silly.

If we repeat the mistakes that we make, we are being careless and being wasteful of our resources – effort, money and time.  All the time that we spend correcting a mistake is time that we could have spent doing something more valuable.

So, how do we as businesses learn from mistakes and error proof our work?  At The Organised Business we believe there are three key steps to follow.

  1. Shift your mindset

You need to decide that you will never repeat mistakes again. That sounds simple.  But it is hard to make that kind of commitment and it will require your self-discipline.  Each time that something goes wrong, you need to decide to take action.  Whether that be now, or later – you need to make sure that action gets taken.  (We like to use an action decision tree, adapted from Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done, to see whether we should attack that action now or later).

  1. Review what happened and why

This is again straight forward.  Take time with the people involved in the mistake and find out what went wrong.  And, don’t just take the answer at face value.  When something significant happens, you need to get to the bottom why.

We like to use an exercise called “5 whys” to get to the root cause of problems.  It is called that because you should get to the root cause when asking “why” 5 times… here is an example of when a customer receives their delivery late:

  • Why was the delivery late?  Because the driver went to the wrong address
  • Why did the driver go to the wrong address?  The wrong address was in our database
  • Why was the wrong address in our database?  It was manually entered incorrectly
  • Why was it entered in incorrectly?  Because the Sales Advisor made a mistake
  • Why did the Sales Advisor make a mistake?  Because he is human, and that can happen

So, the solution to this example problem could be to use an automated, postcode based, address list, rather than type it in manually (and have potential other delivery errors because of incorrect addresses in the database), but also a review of all addresses to ensure they are correct would be needed.

By working out why things went wrong, we can plan how to overcome the problem so that we NEVER face it again.  That leads us nicely into step 3.

  1. Adjust your system

When you find the solution to solve the mistake, you need to make sure that your system (the processes and procedures that you use) does not allow for that mistake to happen again.  This is called error proofing.   In Japanese, they call error proofing Poka-yoke and it means “the implementation of fail-safe mechanisms to prevent a process from producing defects.”  Now, that doesn’t just apply to the manufacturing of widgets.  It applies to everyday life, even my little diary management issue.

Once you have adjusted your system, make sure that you inform and involve all the relevant people of the change to make sure that they follow the new rules.

Another little tip to make sure that you record all of your problems, so that you can see if there are any trends in the issues that arise, and “batch up” some time for problem-solving.

At The Organised Business, we like to help small business owners build better businesses.  If you would like more tips on how to solve problems, manage your time, or even find a group to share your bigger problems with, we might be able to help you.  Please contact us at https://www.theorganisedbusiness.co.uk/contact-us/ for more information.