Nothing is better than the wrong thing

When you notice an error: stop. Do nothing. Then do this.

Nothing is better than the wrong thing
Photo by Luke Chesser / Unsplash

Whatever you’re making for—or giving to—people, it’s good to provide:

  • the right thing,
  • at the right time,
  • in the right amount.

(Figuring out what that means is hard. It’s figuring out what good means. Value stream thinking can help get you there, as will a statement of your organization’s purpose.)

Responding to errors and wrongness

When you notice something in the work that isn’t right—that contains an error, or is the wrong thing entirely, or will need to be reworked in some way—what should you do?

First: stop. You will already have to discard, fix, or rework the error you just noticed. At this moment, there’s no point in doing more work that isn’t right. It doesn’t matter how far behind you are already. It is better, for the moment, to do nothing than to do the wrong thing.

Second: notice what is happening. What is the problem, exactly? Where and how did the error get created? Is there more stuff that’s already been handed off that is likely to have this same problem?

Third: fix that shit. The path to quality is to build quality in at the source. The longer a wrong thing sits around, the more it is additionally processed or handled, the harder it will be to patch it up and turn it into the right thing. Once you identify exactly where and how the error was created, let the people who do that work figure out how to build quality in to what they are doing.

This takes time, space, and faith

I’ve never met anybody who wants to make the wrong thing.

I have met plenty of people who waste their time in an inchoate, exculpatory search to find some rube to hold accountable for problems after they arise. These people could better use that time to open space or create structures for folks to stop, notice, and fix the sources of errors where they occur. This is a case of management and leadership not being properly developed—nobody wants to make the wrong thing, not even your leadership.