Measuring Failures Before They Happen

Oct 5th, 2002 by Tony in QSM2

Over my four decades in the information systems business, there have been many unsolved mysteries. For instance, why don’t we do what we know how to do? Or, why don’t we learn from our mistakes? But the one mystery that beats all the others, is why don’t we learn from the mistakes of others?

In order to prevent failures, we must observe the conditions that generate them. In searching out conditions that breed failures, I find it useful to consider that failures may come from the following eight F’s: frailty, folly, fatuousness, fun, fanaticism, failure, and fate.

Frailty means that people aren’t perfect. It is failing to do what you intended to do. Folly is doing what you intended, but intending the wrong thing … Fatuousness is being incapable of learning. Fatuous people do stupid things, and continue to do them, time after time … Nobody can predict what somebody else will consider fun, which is why fun is the most dangerous of all sources of failure … I will confess to a little fraud of my own. I have often used the (very real but minimal potential) threat of fraud by their employees to motivate managers to introduce systematic technical reviews, after failing to motivate them using the (very real and significant) threat of failure, folly, fatuousness or fun … Fanaticism, like fraud, is a way of getting management’s attention … Failure attributed to hardware may actually be caused by human error. These are really system failures … Fate is what most bad managers think is happening to them. It isn’t. When you hear a manager talking about “bad luck”, substitute the word “manager” for “luck”. As they say in the Army, There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.

— Jerry Weinberg, Quality Software Management Vol 2, Chapter 10

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