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Preventing Mistakes

Mistakes are inevitable. That’s what we’ve always been taught, and, in a way, it is true. My mom’s grandmother used to say: “She who enters not the kitchen has no burns”. But I would like to retrace my steps and begin anew with a question: is preventing mistakes even something want to do?

And after the glorious Jewish tradition, my answer would begin with: “it depends”. Truly, it is not clear-cut.

Some would interject in at this point with: why? It is very clear: what we want above all is prevent mistakes. After all, this is the purpose of Quality Assurance and we are taught to work from prevention, are we not?

I shall elaborate my point, why I do not consider it clear-cut.

Illustration: preventing mistakes

Thus said the Sages.
Quotes by people worth heeding:

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.

— Albert Einstein

If not preventing mistakes, then what?

Mistakes will always happen. We shall never totally eliminate them and it’s not the purpose, either. Not only that, but they are essential.

We only learn from mistakes. That is, we only improve due to our mistakes. And we somehow manage to eliminate mistakes altogether, we shall have nothing to learn from and nothing to improve, as everything shall already be perfect. This is not what we want. The conclusion is therefore – what we want is to make mistakes, not preventing mistakes from happening.

On the other hand, we do not want to repeat mistakes already made. Hence, we would strive to investigate any mistake we can, including root cause analysis, that is, what allowed the mistake to happen in the first place. We would define corrective action for the process to prevent the repetition of the mistake. What else are we able and willing to prevent? We do not want mistakes to happen which we could have predicted. Thus, we make use of tools such as FMEA or FMECA, and take relevant corrective action for the process, to prevent potential problems from happening.

So we want mistakes to happen; we want non-conformance, because it allows us to learn, grow and improve. But at the same time we remember that the purpose is learning, and as Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley would say: “I never make the same mistake twice”. 

The conclusion is, therefore, that the expression itself is erroneous, incomplete. The purpose is, not to completely prevent mistakes from happening, but refers to mistakes we have already discovered or identified the potential for their future occurrence.

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