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Learn from the Error, Every Time

by Joshua Rapoza
February 4, 2014

Learn from the Error, Every Time

by Joshua Rapoza
February 4, 2014 | Comments (11)

A couple of weeks ago I sent out an email to several thousand (all right, let’s be honest, well over 100k) people reminding them of a webinar LEI was doing in a few days. After following the standard work, which includes two proof readers and system tests, I clicked send. Even after years of doing large mailings like this I still get nervous every time.

This time the computer system malfunctioned causing everyone’s first name to be replaced with [FNAME]. I wasn’t aware of the error until about 10 minutes after I sent it, when I started receiving replies from the recipients pointing out the error (500+ responses). Some were polite, some weren’t. This didn’t bother me. What did bother me is that there was an error in the email, the email had my name on it, and it was not correct.

Lean thinking tells me to swarm the problem: identify it, adjust the process, test the new process to ensure the error does not repeat, and more important than anything, learn from the error. The next step was letting our members know that the problem had been handled and will not occur again.

Here’s the reply I sent out.

For the most part, this was remarkably well-received. Many folks sent some great words of encouragement, others again weren’t so polite.

I’ve captured a few of the replies/snippets of the replies below. Thank you to all that wrote me back:

Methinks your kicking yourself is muda. Funny how we do things that we think will make us feel better, but really is a waste?

You should be excited by the visibility of the problem and the opportunity to improve!

It's also comforting to see LEI walking the talk on improving the process. One point though: as a psychologist supporting primarily behavioral and cultural changes in mindsets, I feel you are playing it very hard on yourself! I believe in working through mistakes in a development vs redressing perspective. Seems to me you're learning from that mistake and that's exactly what we are looking for. Anyone being hard on you for making it didn't quite get what we expect of a LEAN leader...

Forgive yourself. We are human after all and lean is a journey to perfection - one with a never-ending road.

I guess making mistakes is also very much a part of learning... so please don't take this so hard on yourself.

Mistakes to inventions:

1.     The New World (North America)
2.     The Phone
3.     The Microwave
4.     Rubber
5.     Penicillin
6.     Corn Flakes

Rejoice we are human, look it up to find more. Stop kicking yourself.

Now, have I begun to be afraid of mistakes? No. Will this still haunt me? Perhaps. The reason this bothered me so much was that I genuinely care about our community and I didn’t want anyone to feel like an "FNAME" (just another name in a database). I have the good fortune to have a job where I get to make things better for people and help companies thrive. I don’t want anyone to think of me or LEI as bumbling fools.

So thank you for your kind and no-so-kind words. They are all greatly appreciated. I will keep the mistakes coming as long as the learning follows, and here at LEI, we're swarming the email problem.

How do you treat your mistakes and the mistakes of your team?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  culture,  problem solving,  root cause
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11 Comments | Post a Comment
Mark Graban February 04, 2014

Thanks for your transparency and honesty, Josh.


I've personally sent out a mass email that had an incorrect registration link (that was only to about 1000 people). But, I felt bad and there was a fix (a URL redirect).


What I've learned from working in factories and hospitals is that it's hard to predict how somebody will react emotionally to a mistake. Some people brush it off, some people blame others, some get upset and cry.


I appreciate you not blaming others, as is so tempting to do.


I think the key questions, for this any situation with an error are:


1) How do we contain the problem?


2) Should we apologize for it?


3) Do we understand what led to the error?


4) What can we do to prevent it from reoccurring in the future?

 

I hope you've gotten that far in the problem solving... that would be interesting part of the story to share (#3 and #4). Are there lessons learned that can be shared with others who do bulk emails?

Reply »

Mark Graban February 04, 2014
It's a shame if some members of the LEI community were rude or insulting to you over a simple mistake. I guess that goes to show how difficult culture change can be

Reply »

Joshua Rapoza February 04, 2014
Thanks for the kind words Mark. Its a great idea to share the 3 and 4. I'll get to work on that

Reply »

Martin B February 04, 2014

I'm not saying this is the case here, but:
One reason that some people could be upset is that this is a common email marketing technique. Send out one email. Claim there is a mistake, apologize and send out another email. Maybe its a missing link, an attachment or a typo. The point is, some less scrupulous email marketers do this on purpose. They get to send two emails and the open rate is higher, since the recipients get two chances to see the same thing.

I'm sure this is not the situation here, but perhaps you can understand some of the pushback from readers. 

Reply »

Anonymous February 04, 2014

I think the link to the webinar (promotional) in the "oops I screwed up" email made it seem like less of a sincere apology and more of an attention grabber.

An apology should have been limited to just a mea culpa and a discussion about the corrective action.

Reply »

Joshua Rapoza February 04, 2014

Believe me the apology was sincere. I truely value our community and would not dream of wasting your time. As for the link in the email, I knew there were going to be a lot of people viewing the apology before reading the email with the mistake, so I made a choice to put the link in it.

I would definately be more hesitant I was selling a book or something of that nature, but I was promoting a webinar. Which we do not charge for.

Notice I do not call our webinars free here, because I know they do cost you time. Which is why we try and add as much value as possible.

Reply »

Anonymous February 04, 2014
Fair enough. Thanks for all of the free content!

Reply »

Ben Davies February 05, 2014
Great article Joshua.  I think this is something almost everyone can relate to.  I personally sent out emails falling victim to not proof reading well enough, just trying to reply to someone too quickly.  It is something that rings true whether you are sending a email to 1 or 1000 or more people.


It also shows us that even the smallest, simplest of tasks, can be "Leaned", so to speak to improve upon.  


Reply »

Tess Diver February 10, 2014
2 People AGREE with this comment

Josh- I really enjoyed your response to this "mini crisis".  Keep up the great work (and don't pull your hair out!)





Reply »

Jay February 13, 2014
That was an awesome response email you sent out! How can anyone be upset with you when you are already beating (kicking) yourself up over it.


By the way....in your response, you mispelled "root" with "route". Just sayin'.... 


Reply »

Mark Graban February 13, 2014

Speaking about email goofs, I wonder if you and LEI can help them with root cause analysis and corrective actions?

MIT admits admissions e-mail goof

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/12/mit-vassar-ucla-fordham-admissions-students/5419261/

 

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