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Error Proofing – If it wasn’t for those people things would run so much better!

By Ian Crocombe

‘I’m only human … born to make mistakes’. So said The Human League back in the ’80s (our younger readers might need to Google that one).

The thing is, The Human League were spot on. Whenever you get people interacting with your online user interfaces or participating in your processes (as customers, employees or volunteers), there’s always the potential for something to go wrong.

In manufacturing operations there’s a thing called ‘poka-yoke’ – don’t worry it just means error proofing to you and me, but it can be applied to any sort of process/activity.

The approach says there are a few ways to prevent human error from occurring and a couple more to mitigate the effects if something’s gone wrong. Simple and useful!

So, prevention might take the form of:

  • Redesigning and eliminating the activity so that the bit that goes wrong is no longer required
  • If it can’t be got rid of, try redesigning the process/activity so that it’s impossible for the error to occur
  • Replacing the error-prone activity with a more reliable component
  • Simplifying the activity or providing more guidance and support to remove errors

With the best will in the world, bad stuff might still happen and then it’s important to understand first, how you’d detect something had gone wrong and how big an impact it will have and second to figure out how the impact of the error can be mitigated. I know you’ll be delighted to know there’s an approach for that too, called FMEA. Guess what my next post might be about …

As always, if you want help figuring out why stuff goes wrong and how to put it right, our specialist advisors at UKBA are here for you.

Ian Crocombe | UK Business Advisors (

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