I started my career in the 90’s working in the metal industry where the culture was extremely hierarchical and mistakes were swept under the carpet. For some reason I never acquired the talent of hiding problems, instead I admitted the mistakes I had made even though I knew it was frown upon – I have always had the notion that the sooner you admit a mistake the less severe the consequences are when the ugly truth gets out.
Now that I am working in software industry the culture is much more relaxed and it seems quite rare that a mistake is deliberately hidden, instead there seems to be a need to find out who made the mistake.
I have always found the hunt annoying so I started to volunteer as the perpetrator in a hope that once the hunt is over we can focus on the real issue; how to prevent the same mistake from hapening again. Now I must admit that this kind of man hunt is quite rare but it does happen.
I am trying to get rid of the last bits of the man hunt culture by advocating the celebration of mistakes, more glorious the mistake the better the party should be. I don’t think mistakes should be taken lightly but adding some humor into the situation relieves people from the initial shock and encourages them to come forward with the problems as soon as they are discovered – knowing that the only thing that is going to happen is that we learn an important lesson and perhaps I’m going to have to wear a funny hat for a while. In any case, everybody knows how bad the whole team feels if the mistake has caused serious problems.
We once had a situation where we needed to perform a database wipe for our quality assurance server but there was a problem with communication and we assumed we could do it in the morning when infact our customer had a demo ongoing. As soon as we dropped the database, phone started ringing – I don’t need to tell what kind of panic that caused. We tried to restore the system but in the heat of the moment we failed that also. There was little we could do at this point so the demo went bust and we got a reclamation – rightfully so.
We cried internally but had a good laugh as that was some glorious stumble – no man hunt needed, it was a team effort after all. When we analyzed what had gone wrong we noticed that we did not have a calendar for customer demo events and that our database restore process needed improvements. We implemented the calendar and rechecked the restore procedures and so far we have managed to avoid similar problems – lesson learned.
So the next time your team makes a mistake, embrace it as the valuable learning experience it is – and should you notice a man hunt commencing, raise your hand and yell: “I am Spartacus”, hopefully the hunt ends there and the party can begin.