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Error Proofing – Why you need to think about the bad stuff

By Ian Crocombe

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a crystal ball to see into the future and avoid all the bad things that might happen?

Well, this post doesn’t quite do that but what about if we had a neat way of at least thinking about the potential bad things that might happen, planning for how we’d spot them as early as possible, understanding their likely impact and how we could do our best to minimise that impact.

For a long time in engineering there has been an approach called ‘failure mode effect analysis’ (FMEA) and in the context of industries like aerospace, medicine, automotive (and I’m sure there are loads of other examples) you can easily see why understanding the things that could go wrong might be critical.

It’s not so different in customer-facing interactions, back-office processing, change initiatives or the increasing incidence of digital technologies as service enablers. We will always want to understand what might go wrong and why so we can put mitigating activities in place.

There are lots of textbooks and web material on this subject but at its core, it is very simple.

  • Step 1 – Identify what could go wrong and what the likely impact might be.
  • Step 2 – Think through what the causes of the failure might be.
  • Step 3 – Assess (and score) the severity and probability of the error/failure happening and how easy it would be to detect.
  • Step 4 – Work through for each identified error/failure what activities, controls and measures you could put in place to prevent or mitigate it.

By using or adapting a standard FMEA template and scoring definitions (you can find these for free on the internet or I can help) you easily prioritise the areas you need to concentrate on first.

From a prioritised list you can also create and monitor an action plan to ensure you follow through with error prevention and remember of course this is a repeating and repeatable exercise to continually improve as new threats, ideas and insights emerge all the time.

Training, coaching and doing FMEA are all available from UK Business Advisors.

Ian Crocombe | UK Business Advisors (ukba.co.uk)

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