I believe it is very important to look closely at why things went wrong when things go wrong. We can learn from our mistakes. But how can you look closely at failure without your desire for ‘better’ devolving to a blame game?

Before answering that question, we have to agree on the value of looking at failure as a means of finding opportunity for improvement. If we can’t agree on the problem, we won’t agree on the solution. Remember that when you pitch ideas at work that never seem to be accepted.

Looking at why things have gone wrong, in an organized and dispassionate manner does yield interesting solutions if the approach is correct. Think of the Wizard of Oz. Because because because….because of the wonderful things he does! You want solutions, right? You want to reduce costs? If so, read on. If not, get back to work.

How to Conduct Failure Analysis
Start at the end of the event. Gradually drill down. Look at each step along the way for means of avoiding the same error in the future.

For example, let’s say a customer received damaged goods. That problem creates a cost. We have to ship a new item and we have to pay to get the damaged item back. Time is lost in the process as well as hard cash. Correcting problems is expensive. Avoiding problems is cheap.

We start at the end. Customer received damaged goods. Because? Because the box was crushed in transit. Because? The box wasn’t sufficiently robust to endure the trip or there was insufficient packing material around the item. Because? (This is where most people stop. Just blame Alex for not packing the item well enough.) Because? Alex has been ordered to control material costs in the shipping department. (Oooops. Maybe Alex is not to blame?) Because? Because the price of oil has pushed the price of Styrofoam  peanuts through the roof and so Alex tried to get by with less packing material per shipment. Because? Because a cheaper alternative was not given to Alex. Because? Because we’re all too damn busy to flip through catalogs of alternative packing material. Because? Because we don’t allocate the time to do so such things! Because? All right, already! Enough.

When you hit that point, when enough is enough, you’ll see a string of actions that led to the problem at the end. Stopping at Alex’s ‘failure’ to put enough packing material in the box does not get us to the real root cause of the failure. That gets us only to whom to blame.

By going down the yellow brick road, because because because, we get to the actual problem.

In this case we should learn several things. Foremost, when we order an expense cut, we need to let people know that it is okay to report back on the consequences of that cut. Alex might have warned us that saving a little on packing material might end up costing us a lot in damaged goods. Are we listening to Alex?

When we cut an expense, it’s a good idea to discuss the consequences and possible alternatives. And if we can’t find alternatives, we must closely monitor the expense cut to be certain that it does not create a new, much bigger expense.

Because because because…because of the wonderful things he does. No blame there.

Mistakes are very expensive. But just because they seem to be made by the same person doesn’t necessarily mean that person is to blame. Have too many restrictions been placed at that point (person) in the process? If so, open the constraint.

If you don’t like this post, don’t blame me.


Chris Reich